EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is responding to a reader-submitted question through Open Source, a platform where readers can submit questions to the staff. Ashland Source reader William asked, "What is the progress on the old movie theater in downtown Ashland, what are the current plans for the building?"
ASHLAND – Four years ago, the worn-down Schine’s Theatre on Center Street was purchased with the intention of restoring it to its former glory. Now, the theatre's restoration organization says the completion date is within sight.
Ashland Source caught up with Bill Sample of the Ashland Schine’s Theatre Organization after a reader asked for an update on the restoration progress. According to Sample, the organization is about 25 percent finished with the restoration, but has plans to reopen the theatre by the end of 2020.
"It's feasible if we get some more grant money and private donations from the community," Sample said. "Everybody loves it, they can't wait. And it can't go fast enough for me, I can't wait for it to open."
In the last year and a half, the Ashland Schine’s Theatre Organization, with the assistance of general contractor Simonson Construction, has completed $800,000 worth of renovations to the exterior of the building. These funds, which came through two state Capital Bills over the past two years, paid for a new marquee and facade restoration, a new security system, roof replacements, and new electrical and HVAC systems.
"Now we're dry inside and we can actually start the (interior) restoration," Sample said. "Until you can control the moisture, you can't do anything."
On March 27, 1942, Schine’s Theatre on Center Street first opened its doors to the public. The theatre featured live entertainment along with movies and drew throngs of Ashlanders to the 1,500-seat venue.
The theatre was built by the Schine family who owned a chain of movie theaters in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Several are still in existence and have been restored, including one in Galion. In 1966, the Schines sold the theatre to the Nussbaum family.
The theatre was converted into a triplex in the mid-1970s and continued to show movies in the three theaters until Ashland Square Cinema closed its doors in 2011. From that point, the building sat unused for four years until the Schine's Theatre Organization purchased it in July 2015.
In the early days of the theatre, it continued to show movies but also played home to live entertainment, including Buddy Ebsen who visited Ashland in 1943. Sample said the goal of the restoration is to get the theatre back to this dual function.
"We're going to try and keep it exactly like 1942; the only thing that will be different is we'll have state-of-the-art equipment in there," he said. "If you're going to a $3-4 million project, you don't want to put in bargain-priced audio/visual equipment. You want the best."
The next phase of the restoration will include replacing the ceiling, extending the stage and re-plastering the walls. Luckily, the bones of the building are sound.
"When you look at the inside of the building it looks really bad, but what you're seeing is water damage and a lot of plaster coming off the walls," Sample said. "Structurally, the building is sound. There's a lot of work to go into it still to get it to completion, and being a nonprofit we will always be working on this even after we open for business."
Sample hopes by the end of October, the iconic marquee will be lit again, signaling a turning point in the restoration. Until then, the organization hopes to apply for more grant funding and raise money through fundraisers and selling merchandise in its gift shop.
"It was just another piece of historical downtown that was going to disappear," Sample said of the theatre. "Unfortunately the attitude in town here is tear it down and make a park. The city doesn't need to own any more land, we need buildings where we can have retail, where we can have low-income housing. But they'll learn."