Land Bank acquires long-abandoned theater

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PAULDING — Ronald Reagan came to the opening, if only on screen. More than 1,500 guests lined Perry Street to watch the future president star alongside Patricia Neal in John loves Mary. They also got to see Roy Rogers make an appearance, as his film distant frontier coupled with a news clip to complete the opening night billing at the new Paulding Theatre.

The price of admission for this first night was as varied as the audience present. The new operators, Jack O’Connell and Arthur Weaver, had decided that all opening night profits would go to charity. So they turned to the Paulding Chamber of Commerce to help them identify a worthy source. They chose the Paulding County Hospital Building Fund as their cause, given the $50,000 expansion the hospital was undertaking at the time. Customers donated what they could, ranging from a single dollar to a $200 bill purchased by a local doctor.

Inside, the theater could only seat 668 people, so several shows were held to ensure that anyone who wanted to attend had the privilege of doing so. Outside the theater, the Paulding High School Band played in the street, and village volunteer firefighters set off an aerial bomb to signal that the theater was open. Between shows, a gala was held at Eagles Aerie to raise additional funds for the event. A total of $5,130 was raised for a maternity ward on the third floor.

On that Thursday evening in March 1949, the theater rises from the ashes of a Labor Day fire three years earlier, while today local leaders hope its demolition will allow Paulding to rise from its own metaphorical ashes.

In 1984, the lights in the marquee had gone out and the spotlights were silent. No longer a theatre, the building slipped into slow decline which mirrored others around the city. Rain and water have rusted the structural I-beams of the foundation. Parts of the roof collapsed. Falling stucco from the marquee endangered pedestrian safety and resulted in the closure of the sidewalk under the marquee.

Years of neglect and disuse sealed the fate of the building.

Last Friday, the Paulding County Land Utilization Corporation, commonly known as the Land Bank, took possession of the building, intending to demolish it.

“Unfortunately, the structure was too advanced to be cost effective to rehabilitate, and security was becoming an issue. I am grateful that we were able to secure the building and were using state funding to clean up the site,” said the County Commissioner and member of the Land Bank, Roy Klopfenstein.

Fellow commissioner and member of the Land Bank, Mark Holtsberry, added: ‘I was there today with other people, and it’s a mess and total disrepair. It’s just not safe and it’s not recoverable.

With the Land Bank owning both the site and an adjacent building, Paulding County Economic Development Manager Tim Copsey described the aftermath. “There will be a final environmental assessment this week, and from there an application package will be put together which will include all the environmental things that need to take place in the bid.” Once the bids open, whoever wins the bid will plan the dismantling of the structure. “The hope at the moment is to have flat, stone land and with that, once it’s cleared and passed, it will be put up for sale or sealed auction. Then whoever buys it can make some what he hopes to do with it,” Copsey said.

Holtsberry concluded, “I think it’s a good thing that we can narrow that down and create an opportunity to put something better in there. Someone will buy it and something positive will come out of it. I am on.”

There will be a press conference on Thursday, April 14 at 10 a.m., in front of the theater to announce the acquisition of the property by the Land Bank.

UPDATE: Thanks to information provided by readers, we now feel comfortable putting 1984 as the year the theater closed. A previous version of the article stated that the theater closed in 1996. Although there are several secondary sources that listed this year as the theater’s closing date, further investigation was unable to verify this date or produce a definitive date. Therefore, we have replaced the closing information with “In the mid-1990s”, which, although more vague, more accurately describes the events. The Paulding Progress is committed to the accuracy of its reporting and we welcome reader feedback.

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