People’s Bank Theatre – History

Marietta, Ohio has quite a history of being ahead of the curve in the area. There are numerous buildings that utilized technology, like boiler heat and a primitive air conditioning system before these household necessities even had a name. The one technological advancement that most do not think about is in the entertainment industry.  Marietta had its’ fill in this department as well. The People’s Bank Theatre made strides in theater performances with their backdrops and scenery as well as in the luxury of their clientele adding comfort levels unheard of in the past. The theatre also advanced into the future utilizing state-of-the-art cinema screens and speakers even during those first moving picture releases. Maybe some of these advances, which allowing both audience and performers alike to feel like they were truly on top of their field and seeing the best shows on Earth, made them come back in the afterlife. There is unparalleled activity that takes place in the People’s Bank Theatre and so well documented that some audience members come more for the spooks than the shows anymore – and they are more than welcome to do so by the apparition of a former manager.

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The Past

The People’s Bank Theatre has gone through many ownership and name changes throughout its’ tenure in Marietta, Ohio. The original home to the first theatre in the small town was actually at a different location altogether. Its name was the Hippodrome and was built in 1911 to host approximately 650 audience members. The Hippodrome was home to plays, shows, projections, and silent movies for nearly six years.

Disaster struck the Hippodrome in 1917. A fire engulfed the theatre and burnt it down to its’ foundations. In time, the Dime Bank building was eventually constructed in its’ location on the corners of Second Avenue and Union Street. Meanwhile, the C&M Amusement Company bought open land across town and planned to rebuild the theatre but make improvements upon the original structure. 

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In 1919, the revitalized Hippodrome Theatre was opened to the town. This newly designed theatre was built to incorporate Broadway shows and larger scale performances. This re-imagining helped the Hippodrome Theatre become the largest theatre in the Midwest United States at the time. The new structure included the newest design feats for the time including a total of seven dressing rooms, carpeting throughout the theatre, upgraded seating up to 1,200, a silver screen for movies, props like scenery, and a chorus room. The orchestra pit was enlarged and lighting was both upgraded from the original theatre as well. To top it off, the new Hippodrome had state of the art boilers and cooling systems. This allowed the facility to be both air conditioned and heated providing audience and visitors with comfort all year long.

For over thirty years, the Hippodrome was the pride of Marietta. It brought in tourists statewide and the top shows of the time. The Hippodrome was purchased by Shea Theatres and a modernization of the theatre began in 1949. The exterior façade got a modern brick facelift and the interior was slightly re-designed updating the carpet and drapes. Once renovations were complete, to gain some added publicity, a contest was held to rename the theatre. The Colony Cinema was born.

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The Colony Cinema hosted more than just movies and small shows. Large acts including the most popular celebrities and politicians from the time saw the limelight at the Colony Cinema. The biggest stars of the era to grace the stage included the likes of Frank Sinatra, Minnie Pearl, Judy Garland, and Jimmy Stewart just to name a few.

A second round of renovations took place twenty years later allowing a transition into a more modern cinema. The construction also increased the size of the concession area and again updated the flooring and interior decorations. The biggest change was the reduction of seating on the main floor from 700 seats to 500 seats to incorporate more leg room and reclining chairs.

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In 1975, the Colony Cinema was purchased by Cinemette of Pittsburgh only to be bought again shortly after by Ohio Movies. Not long after in 1980, a boiler failed and pushed the Colony Cinema on the brink of closure. An employee at the theatre since 1968, Marjorie Bee, made a proposal to purchase the theatre and became the majority owner in 1981. The theatre only stayed in business for another four years until the local hero of Mrs. Bee was forced to close the Century Cinemas doors in 1985.

Sitting in disrepair for years after its’ closure, the Cinema Theatre was bought for pennies in 1989 by a local businessman named Dan Stephan. He simply wanted to prevent any other business from owning and ultimately demolishing the dilapidated building.

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Between Dan Stephan’s contributions and the Historical Theatre Association, the Colony Theatre has been transformed back to its’ original magnificence. It took some time and a lot of donations and fundraising, but the theatre was restored and the doors re-opened in 2016. Upon this grand re-opening, the theatre’s name was once again changed to People’s Bank Theatre. The theatre currently operates the way it once did hosting movies, shows, and music.  However, during this resurgence, the theatre has also diversified by hosting more local and affordable acts like dance and ballet recitals, traveling acts like magicians and dramas, and even opening its’ doors for events like graduations and corporate meetings.

As it stands today, the People’s Bank Theatre’s business shows no signs of slowing down and has been allowed to return to its’ past form of a theatre that pushes the envelope and stays ahead of the curve. It has allowed Marietta, Ohio to once again revitalize the past and boast its’ historical prowess.

Paranormal Experiences

It’s easy to see why anyone would want to enjoy the luxury and gorgeous splendor of this classically themed theatre time and time again. While audiences enjoy the theatre’s shows and take in the historical beauty during the day, there is something else that lurks in the darkness at night. It seems as though some people who enjoyed their time in the theatre so much during their life that they have returned in the afterlife.

The renovations to restore the theatre to its’ former grandeur seemed to stir up some paranormal activity. While recording in the theatre, a local captured the clear sounds of someone walking onto the stage in tap shoes.  This could possibly be the residual haunting of a spirit who loved the stage, and in this theatre in particular, so much that they returned after their worldly body perished.

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An employee of the theatre, and a volunteer during the construction, explained that her husband and her experienced some very odd disturbances while volunteering their time over night. As they were preparing to cut some wood in the back stage area, both of them heard the distinct sound of a set of keys jingling on a key chain. There was no one else around and the sound of keys kept bouncing around the auditorium, from front to back and left to right. That same employee, on a different evening, brought her grandson to visit the theatre. Again with no one else around, they both heard a man’s deep voice calmly explain that “Oh, they are just hanging around.”

A longtime manager of the theatre passed away recently, but never really left. He was originally noticed during the renovation leading up to the re-opening. Children seemed to be the only ones who could see him at first. The children of the volunteers would ask their parents why a man is sitting in the auditorium not helping them. Over time, Mr. Shea has been seen wondering around the auditorium, particularly during rehearsals. He never really disrupts or interferes, it’s more like Mr. Shea is just watching the pre-performance and ensuring everything goes well. 

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