Restoration work will force closure until November.
The storied past of the Palace Theatre can be found in its details. It’s in the sweeping grand staircase and the crystalline chandelier dangling above, welcoming audience members since 1926. The theater’s vaudeville beginnings can be found in the crimson seats where audience members were treated to anything from singers and dancers to the death-defying acts of acrobats to the illusions of magicians. The walls still contain the sounds of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, when the sweet, bluesy melodies of artists like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby echoed off their plaster moldings. The past lives of Broadway shows can be found in the scuff marks on the stage, where dancing shoes have told their own tales.
Today the Palace Theatre hosts more than 100 performances each year under the management of the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts, better known as CAPA, adding to its history. However, the 92-year-old theater is beginning to show its age.
The Palace Theatre is undergoing its first renovation since 1984 and will be closed to the public for six months from May 2018 until November 2018, says Todd Bemis, CAPA’s vice president of theatre operations. The work is needed to repair damaged plaster, provide a fresh coat of paint in a new color scheme and install refurbished seats on the first floor and balcony. The replacement of the seating on the first floor will reduce the theater’s capacity by 146 seats and allow for more handicapped-accessible seating. The renovations will take the historic theater back to its French-inspired roots, as original architect Thomas Lamb took inspiration from King Louis XIV’s Palais de Versailles in the theater’s designs.
The renovations currently underway add to the theater’s complete makeover in 1980 under Katherine LeVeque, owner of the Palace from 1975 to 1989, when it was gifted to CAPA. Katherine’s husband, Frederick, bought the theater next to the family’s namesake skyscraper in 1973 but died in a plane crash 1975. Under Katherine’s leadership, the theater—once earmarked for possible demolition—was saved, sparking the rebirth of the entertainment epicenter.
The process was immortalized in “More About Those Wonderful Old Downtown Theaters,” the second book in a trilogy about local theaters by Phil Sheridan, a Columbus native and theater enthusiast. Sheridan worked in the media his whole career, but his interest in the history and preservation of Columbus theaters was apparent in his almost nostalgic retelling of the Palace’s restoration.
"... As if by magic, much of [the Palace’s] faded beauty had been restored,” reads an excerpt from the late Sheridan’s book. He eventually met Katherine in 1977 when he was seeking information on the Palace for his books. That meeting led to a friendship that ultimately landed him the general manager position at the Palace, where he was able to put his passion into practice until 1989.
Bemis, who’s spearheading the restoration efforts, hopes to sustain the legendary structure so it can inspire others in generations to come.
"[The Palace] holds so much history,” says Bemis. “Preserving that history keeps Columbus a vibrant, healthy community. We’re adding to that history, those memories.”
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