The Lorain Palace Civic Center
“The Birth of a Dream”
After the devastating tornado of 1924, the “largest one-floor theatre in the State of Ohio” would serve as the cornerstone for a new Lorain. The exterior of the Palace was designed in Gothic style with a facde of terra cotta and elaborately cut stone, while the inside was reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. Both the inner and outer lobbies boasted ornate sculptured ceilings elegantly painted in soft shades of turquoise and coral, and highlighted in gold, and graceful domed ceiling of the main auditorium featured an exquisite three-quarter ton crystal chandelier.
The Palace also boasted a fireproof projection room and two Peerless Simplex projection machines. These machines allowed pictures to be run continuously without a break for re-winding.The 28×100 foot stage contained 23 sets of lines for flying scenery, making it suitable for charity and vaudefille shows and the full orchestra pit was accessible from both the main seating area and the basement.
Money was no object; the total cost of construction and equipment was $500,000.
Patrons flocked into the Palace’s 1720 upholstered leather seats to watch a talking movie for the first time and were treated to a “film resume of world events.” They viewed a comedy and novelty reel, followed by Syd Sampliner and his Palace Concert Orchestra, and three acts of vaudeville. The spotlight then moved to the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ as it rose from below the stage, thrilling the audience with its pulsating crescendos. Finally, the new talking film – a pre-release of Paramount’s “Something Always Happens” starring Neil Hamilton and Esther Ralston – flashed on the screen. The program ended with a finale by the Palace Concert Orchestra Theatre. The program for opening night took over eight months to program and was done so by the Variety Amusement Company which owned and operated the Palace for many years.
The 30’s and 40’s
The advent of talking pictures required some changes both for theater operators and patrons. One program from the early days of the Palace admonishes the audience to refrain from “unnecessary loud conversation” while entering or leaving the theater and demanded “absolute silence” so the “Talkies” could be understood and enjoyed by everyone. It also noted the “Gentlemen’s Smoking Rooms just off the main foyer.”
The full program of seven units listed for the opening night appears to have continued for a number of years (news, a comedy, a “short subject”, the Palace Orchestra, 2 or 3 acts of vaudeville, the might Wurlitzer, a talking pictures and orchestra finale). Live music, constantly being adapted to the action on stage, did much to heighten the excitement of the performances, be they singers, acrobats, comedians, dancers, animal acts or magicians. The program changed twice a week with variances for legitimate shows. There were continuous performances from noon until 11 p.m., seven days a week. During the Depression, movies and vaudeville were a great escape from the harsh realities of the times. People flocked to movie houses across the country.
During World War II there were a number of special live shows to promote the sale of War Bonds. From 1944 on, the Palace was almost exclusively a movie theater. It gradually suffered the same decline of other entertainment palaces around the country, but one thing was different….Lorain’s Palace never closed.
A Civic Center Committee was appointed in June 1972 by Lorain Mayor Joseph J. Zahorec. This four-woman group was created to do preliminary studies to determine the need, interest and possible support for a civic center. Results pointed in one direction – that of a growing need for a center with a major focus on community wide activities in the deteriorating downtown area.
Combined with the assistance of the Lorain Community Development Department and monies from numerous civic groups and individuals, the committee became incorporated as Lorain Civic Center Committee, Inc. a non-profit organization.
In 1974, “Civic Center Madness”, a major fund raising project, took place in the urban renewal area of north Broadway. Forty civic groups participated in this week long street fair, Stores soon to be torn down were converted as if by magic into an old fashioned ice cream parlor, a “Second-Hand Rose” shop, a casino, a book and plant store, an open air barbecue, international shops, etc. The Saturday night “Great Gatsby Party” at the Palace climaxed the week’s activities.
On March 1, 1975 with the support of the city government, the Civic Center Annex was opened at 319 Broadway to serve as a temporary headquarters for meetings and fund raising projects. In the months that followed, the people of the city pitched in scrubbing, repairing and painting the Annex. Scores of talks were given to clubs and organizations to spark interest in and support for a community center. Artists, hobbyists, craftsmen, culinary buffs and citizen from all walks of life rented booths and sold their wares and brought increased activity to the downtown area.
With the threatened demolition of the Palace Theater and an advantageous purchase price, the Committee felt this historic building could be the focal point for the renovation of downtown Lorain. The building was structurally sound as it had been designed and constructed with every effort toward making it tornado proof. It had steel re-inforced concrete walls and a sturdy roof. The skillfully molded ceilings and interior walls displayed a craftsmanship seldom found today. Much of the original equipment was still usable. The crystal chandelier, the Wurlitzer pipe organ (one of only four remaining in theaters across Ohio), the two spacious loges, are just some of the features which made this building worthy of being preserved.
Twenty-five thousand dollars was tendered as a down payment toward the purchase of the $100,000 building. A capital funds campaign was launched and in May of 1977 the Palace Theater building was purchased and a grand opening was held.
More talks to civic groups followed, more months of scrubbing, repairing and painting, this time at the Palace. Individuals and groups came forth to aid in the renovation of this once beautiful structure.
December 10, 1977 was a landmark date. On the stage of the theater that night following a Christmas musical program, the mortgage was burned ceremoniously, thanks to the generosity of many groups and individuals.
With the Palace owned free and clear, the Committee set forth on its program to restore both the interior and exterior of the building.