HISTORICAL TIMELINE OF THE MAJESTIC THEATRE
Site of first bank in Chillicothe. In 1809, a building was erected on this site for the use of the Bank of Chillicothe and the alley that borders on the east became known as "Bank Alley." The bank remained here until they built a new building on West Second Street in 1826, now the home of the Elks Lodge.
The bank's lobby area was used for plays, setting the stage for a future theatre.
When the bank re-located, the Masonic lodge then took over the old bank building as their meeting hall. In the 1830's the Bank Alley Thespian Society was formed and they put on plays in Masonic Hall. Sometimes their cast included actors who came here on canal boats from Albany and New York City.
April Fool's Day, a livery stable caught fire and burned down 2 block of buildings. The Masons bought the property. The rebuilding of the large hall marked the beginning of better entertainment in the city and stock companies often came here. Sometimes patrons of the art put up purses to secure outstanding attractions.
On June 3rd the corner stone was laid. The Masonic Opera House was opened on October 7th. Dramas, comedies, farces, minstrel shows, and operas were performed. Edwin Forrest, the leading tragedian of the day, came here for a guarantee of $200. Among the other great artists brought here by drama, appreciative citizens was "Ole Bull", the renowned violinist. In addition, in 1855, a panorama, or series of paintings of the overland route to California, was exhibited at Masonic Hall. The seats, which were on platforms, could be pushed back and the floors leveled with wooden panels to allow for dancing and roller skating.
The members of the Masonic Lodge contracted with Mr. John F. Cook, the local architect, to design a new opera house in their hall. A decorator from New York was hired at a fee of $1,000 to "handsomely frescoed" the ceiling in their new opera house. This expense left them strapped and having no money for new opera seats, they had to use the wooden ones from the old hall. The frescoes on the walls represent the four seasons. There was a higher ceiling above the one you are able to see now, it had scenes of the four seasons painted on it; however, the ceiling was lowered to add support beam for the floor of the ballroom. The white panels around the balcony ceiling contained paintings, which were considered vulgar by the women of the time and were painted over. The theatre was also enlarged: 2 more floors were added, the ballroom and the "knights" room. As for the dressing rooms, the stars on the doors were once bronze but were stolen and replaced with wooden ones. The "M" on the curtain represents the Masons.
Minnie Maddern and Richard Mansfield appeared in "In Spite of it All". Admission prices were 25, 35, and 50 cents at the matinee and 25, 35, 50, and 75 cents for the evening performance.
On the 29th of July, the Masonic Opera House was lighted for the first time with new electric light. Red, green, blue and white globes were installed to produce different effects. It was one of the first buildings in Chillicothe to have electricity - the opera house had its own generator and even sold electricity to the city.
One of the featured attractions at the Masonic was the Edison Vita Scope, showing life-size moving pictures. This was the first showing of motion pictures in Chillicothe.
A.R. Wolf bought the theatre from the Masonic Association for $8,500. He enlarged the stage, 535 permanent seats were built in, plus he added the stained glass windows in the front. Fire escapes were also put up. These renovations made it possible to bring the best attractions to the city. Among the many top stars brought here by Mr. Wolfe were: DeWolf Hopper, Eddie Foy, Eleanor Robson, Elsie Janis, George Arlis, Sophie Tucker and George M. Cohan. In 1907, he bought and installed the arch, which spans Second Street. (It is the last surviving arch of 22 which stood across High Street in Columbus.)
Three Myers brothers, Edmund, Clarence and Robert bought the theatre and changed the name to the Majestic Theatre. Mr. LeConey Greenbaum joined the Myers as a partner. They had live productions but eventually went to motion pictures only.
The words "Vaudeville" and "Majestic" were added to the arch in neon lights (Vaudeville was removed when the theatre began showing films). During the vaudeville era, many famous performers appeared at the Majestic including: Milton Berle, Laurel & Hardy, George Arliss, and the George M. Cohan family to name a few. Of the top 100 performers in America, the Majestic had at least 88 of them here. We have also had Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, minstrel shows, dramas, comedies, and every other type of entertainment including burlesque. The Spanish Influenza struck the country hard. At Camp Sherman (north of Chillicothe where the prisons are now) hundreds and hundreds of soldiers died due to the flu. The local mortuaries could not hold all of the bodies. Lowery Mortuary, across the street where the beauty shop is now, used the theatre for a morque. The bodies were stacked like cord wood in the dressing rooms until they could be taken to the stage for embalming (sometimes one of the bodies would be found to be alive and would be taken to the hospital). The blood and other bodily fluids were thrown out in the alley; therefore, to this day the alley is called "blood alley".
The Majestic acquired new owners, Harley & Evelyn Bennett. A lot of renovations were made including the original wall paintings, new seating, new front doors, restrooms and the lobby. The brick wall on the alley side was sandblasted and the plastic squares out front were removed and brick facing installed. Additionally, the building received a new coat of paint, reparations made to the marquee, a new roof and spouting.
The Majestic was purchased by Robert Althoff, Robert Evans, and David Uhrig as a non-profit organization. The Majestic received all new wiring, fire safety and security systems. A heating and cooling system was installed. This system utilizes the 52 - degree water from the Teay's Aquifer, which is circulated through coils with air blown over them.
The seats were removed two rows at a time and taken to the veterans hospital where they were cleaned and reupholstered including new foam pads. At the same time, all of the old balcony seats in the center were removed and the floor was completely rebuilt. New seats, which were exact reproductions of the original seats, were purchased and installed (with only 3 seat spaces being lost). The seats on the wings of the balcony were cleaned and reupholstered. There are 11 love seats (some chaperone seats). We may be the only theatre with such seats.
The Majestic is honored with a federal grant that preserves historic sites that links a community to its past, the Saving America's Treasures Grant.
The Majestic Theatre added a new addition to the historic building, that included a new lobby and restrooms. This feature also allows for additional expansion to the upper floors.
Within its 167 year history, the Majestic Theatre faced its second pandemic beginning March of 2020 that forced states to issue "Stay at Home" orders, closures of businesses, and efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Indoor entertainment venues in Ohio were closed for five months and slowly reopened with measures in place to limit indoor capacity.