The Lorain Palace Civic Center
“The Birth of a Dream”
After the devastating tornado of 1924, the “largest one-floor theater 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 facade 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 vaudeville 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.
Opening Night: April 19, 1928
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 film – a pre-release of Paramount’s silent comic film “Something Always Happens” starring Neil Hamilton and Esther Ralston – flashed on the screen. The program ended with a finale by the Palace Concert Orchestra Theater. 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 reinforced 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.
INTERESTING HISTORICAL FACTS/STATS/INFORMATION ABOUT THE LORAIN PALACE THEATER
– The theater was built in 1928. Four years after the great tornado hit Lorain. It was owned and operated by Warner Brothers.
– Décor above the proscenium arch are not coffin lids!
– The same decor can be found throughout the country.
– In 1928 the theater was the largest one floor theater in the State of Ohio.
– We were the first theater in the State of Ohio with talking motion pictures and we still have the original amplifier.
– First fireproof projection booth in the State of Ohio.
– Manual sprinkler system for the State that was also a first.
– The theater has never closed. It has gone through hard times but has never closed.
– The exterior was restored to its original appearance in the years 2011 and 2012. A ceramic tile overlay put on in the late 70’s was removed and the original cast and glazed terracotta was repaired. New pieces were cast to replace missing or badly damaged units at a cost of $68,000.00
– The exterior lobby ceiling has been restored to its original height and appearance at a cost of $12,000.00.
– In 2010 all of the storefront glass and doors were replaced to more closely resemble the original appearance. Cost $15,000.00.
– All of these repairs have been made possible through a cultural facilities grant by the State of Ohio.
– The chandelier weighs ¾ of a ton and was made especially for the theater.
– It has 87, 40 watt bulbs and if operated 5 days a week for 8 hours a day for one month, we would have a guaranteed electric bill over $300.00.
– In 2014 we launched a “Go Green” campaign to raise money to replace the bulbs with L.E.D. bulbs. The bulbs were all replaced that same year.
– No, the chandelier has never fallen.
– The crystals seen are Yugoslavian cut crystal.
– The bottom basket of the chandelier is the heart of our state-of-the-art emergency lighting system to safely exit the theater in case of an emergency.
– In 1977 when the Civic Center Committee was in negotiations to purchase the theater from Stern Theater Company of Ohio they wanted to take the chandelier. The Civic Center Committee said absolutely not!
– Many historical items were removed from the theater including the original chandeliers in the outer lobby and the marquee windows that announced the upcoming shows.
– In 1928 the theater seated 2000 patrons.
– In 1977 there were 1573 permanent seats.
– In 1991 the theater seats were taken out leaving just the decorative end irons. We then expanded the back-to back seat depth for taller people leaving us with 1477 permanent seats.
– Until 1979, the stage changed very little from what it was like in 1928.
– Sandbags were being used as counterweights and the batten bars which hold the curtains had not been replaced since 1928.
– The first major restoration project was to put in a counterweight system and expand the fly system allowing us to handle most major shows at a cost of $260,000.00.
– In 1980 the curtains cost us $35,000.00
– A new screen to accommodate the new digital 3D system was installed in the winter of 2011. This is now the largest near I-Max screen in the State of Ohio.
– In the spring of 2001, the Palace spent $85,000.00 to upgrade the dressing rooms.
– The basement area is where the orchestras would gather back in 1928.
– The first room to the right is the conductor’s room.
– The restroom was for men only.
– There were no women in the orchestras back in 1928.
– Presently, we use the basement for a massive gathering for some of the choirs and larger groups.
– This is now a brighter and more professional looking dressing room facility.
– Behind the grill work are the pipe for the mighty Wurlitzer.
– At one time the Wurlitzer was vandalized, but we were able to repair it.
– In 1977 a group came in and cleaned and re-worked the organ and have voluntarily continued to repair it over the years.
– A shipping tag is still attached that states the organ was shipped by Wurlitzer to the Palace on February 25, 1928 and an inspection form,dated April 1928, states that it was installed correctly.
– In 2014 the organ lift was repaired and began operating again
– In 1931 wall panels were installed when it looked like talking pictures were going to be around for a long time.
– With all the plaster exposed, the sound just rattled around in the theater, so these panels were installed to help the acoustics.
– The exposed panels you see are the original colors of salmon, turquoise, ivory and gold.
– Eventually we hope to replace the lights behind the walls that circle the two rims and have them running all the time.
– The Palace is noted for having over 5000 light bulbs!
– In 1991 when all the old theater seats were removed, the ceiling was painted and sealed in one color as this was all we could afford.
– Until 1996, the projection booth was like walking back into the 1930’s and 1940’s. Very little has changed to this date.
– When you have an opportunity to look at our museum display, you will see what it looked like right up until December 1, 1996.
– It took two projectors to show one movie. The old projectors are still on display in the marble lobby.
– Also displayed are old RCA amplifiers. These were put in the theater during the 1950’s and have tubes in them.
– We have modified the projection booth and replaced the 1996 platter system. The amplifiers are now located below the stage and are 16,500 watts. We use Dolby Mono,Dolby A, Dolby SR, Dolby Digital and Dolby DTS. The entire project including the electrical revamping came to just over $96,000.00.
– In the museum, you will see 18” of film that passed through the projector every second with 24 frames per second. The bulb is so bright, at 4500 watts, the frame has to be water cooled or it will instantly melt the film down to a piece of nylon string!
– A new digital 3D system replaced the film. Movies are now loaded on to a single hard drive that is inserted into our new projector. This looks like a large power point projector.
– The first lobby when you enter the theater is a marble lobby with one foot marble squares about 3” thick. When we first took the theater over in 1977, everyone thought it was a linoleum floor and that we brought a chemical company out to clean it. Yes, it is REAL marble.
– The mirrored lobby is where you will find our main concession counter. This counter was renovated, relocated and widened in 2012 for more efficient use. This concession counter was originally at the “Three Cheers Bar” at Heilman’s Restaurant. It was saved from the wrecking ball by our City Council and with their permission the counter now
resides here at the Palace.
– Until the early 1950’s there were no concession counters or stands in historic theaters. People could buy pop, popcorn and nuts at the “Nut Hut” which was right next door, where our park area is now located.