Oberlin College Alumni and Friends Group Funds Purchase of Oberlin's Historic Apollo TheaterFeb 02, 2009
OBERLIN, OH – Acting to preserve a cherished local institution, Oberlin College announced today that it has reached tentative agreement to purchase Oberlin’ s historic Apollo Theater, one of the few single-screen movie houses still operating in the United States.
College Properties of Oberlin, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the College, has agreed to purchase the theater, located at 19 East College St, from twin brothers William and Sandy Steel. College Properties of Oberlin will continue the operation of the 840-seat venue as a movie theater. Because it is being purchased by a College subsidiary, the theater will remain on the City of Oberlin’s tax rolls.
Funding for the purchase and
renovation of the Apollo was provided by generous support from Oberlin
alumni, friends of the College and local community members. Donors include
the Steel family, famed television director and Cheers creator
James Burrows ’62, and his wife Debbie Burrows, the Goldring Family
Foundation, Oberlin College Board Chairman Robert Lemle ’75, the Nord
Family Foundation, and an anonymous Oberlin High School graduate.
Known for its distinctive ambiance,
eclectic selection of motion pictures, and reasonable ticket and concession
stand prices, the Apollo Theater is beloved by generations of Oberlinians.
The brick theater was built by William Hobbs in 1914. Its first show
featured Thor, Lord of the Jungles,
a three-reel, silent thriller starring silver screen pioneers Kathlyn
Williams and Tom Santschi. In the Apollo’s early days, live musical
and vaudeville acts were presented on its spacious stage.
Jerry Steel, a film distributor from Cleveland and father of the current owners, purchased the Apollo Theater complex, which includes commercial and residential space adjacent to the theater, in 1928. That year, the Apollo screened the first “talkie,” or sound film in local history. The theater was remodeled in 1950 in “Zig-Zag Moderne” style. Its distinctive triangular marquee with traveling neon lights was added, along with a façade of gleaming black and red Vitrolite tile, and interior walls of padded vinyl and glossy crimson velveteen.
“The Apollo adds so much to our quality of life. Going to the movies at the Apollo is a great Oberlin and Lorain County tradition,” said Marvin Krislov, president of Oberlin College. Mr. Krislov said that as a member of the Oberlin community, the College has an obligation to preserve important cultural assets and enhance the town’s quality of life.
“Our hope is that the Apollo
will become more than just a movie theater,” Mr. Krislov said. “We
would like to see it become a venue for showcasing the wealth of theatrical,
artistic and musical talent that thrives in Oberlin. We also see it
offering exciting new opportunities to students and faculty in our Cinema
Studies and theater programs.” A number of Oberlin College alumni
have gone on to outstanding careers in theater, motion pictures and
television including William Goldman ’52, Avery Brooks ’ 70, Julie
Taymor ’73, Eric Bogosian ’76, James McBride ’79, Bill Irwin ’73,
John Scheinfeld ’75, Ed Helms ’96, and the late John Cazale.
The first phase of renovations
bringing the theater in line with building codes will be done this summer
in partnership with local businesses and other interested parties. The
Apollo’s grand re-opening is expected to take place in fall 2009.
While the Apollo will continue to be a working movie theater, the second phase of the project includes transforming the theater into a new performance space as well as a venue for community events.
To support the second phase
of the project, a Friends of the Apollo organization with local
and national members has been formed. It fund-raising activities will
benefit the theater’s ongoing and future programming and educational
outreach activities. The Friends
steering committee members include actors Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito,
filmmaker Jonathan Demme, local arts advocates Kevin Flanigan and Jaqui
Willis, and Oberlin alums Elizabeth Ignat-Bausch ’91, and Justin Ignat-Bausch
’90. For more information regarding Friends of the Apollo,
contact Zach Pretzer, associate director of The Oberlin Fund, at Zachary.Pretzer@oberlin.edu.
“The Apollo is a truly vital part of the Oberlin area’s history and contemporary life, and the case for preserving it was compelling,” said Robert Lemle. “It is important given the difficult economic times that the College was able to fund the purchase of the Apollo and its initial operating expenses entirely through private gifts. That reflects how important the theater is to the greater Oberlin community.”
The theater is a key part of
the Downtown Oberlin National Register Historic District, said Pat Murphy,
executive director of the Oberlin Heritage Center, the local historic
society and historic preservation organization. “It’s amazing we
still have such a wonderful, historic movie theater that has been the
centerpiece of our downtown,” Murphy said.
247 W. Lorain St., Suite C
Oberlin, Ohio 44074