(November 2003) On Main Street in the center of downtown Madison,
Ind., is the historic Ohio Theater. The theaters marquee advertises
the current movie offerings, most of which are family-oriented. No
rated R films are shown there.
Tony and Laura Ratcliff, the owners, purchased the theater from John
Galvin in July 1996. Built in 1938, it had been closed since 1993
and needed some work, but the Ratcliffs were determined.
by Don Ward
historic Ohio Theater.
Tony Ratcliff had worked for Showcase Cinemas National Amusements,
and he knew what was needed to operate a movie theater. After a few
months of renovation, which included a new roof, ceilings, sound equipment,
bathrooms, carpet and concession stand, the two-screen theater once
again was open to the public.
Despite all the work and money the Ratcliffs have put into the theater,
Its a never-ending struggle to keep it going, said
Laura Ratcliff. Repair, maintenance and the competition modern,
multi-screen cinemas with digital surround sound and plush stadium
seating have made owning and operating historic theaters
difficult. And unlike the Ohio, many have become mere relics of a
What can be done to preserve these historic structures is the question
that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic
Preservation and Archaeology, hopes to answer with its Historic Theater
Launched last year at the Cornelius OBrien Conference on Historic
Preservation in Terre Haute, Ind., the goal of the initiative is to
offer resources to theater owners, including non-profit and for-profit
corporations, that will help them keep the theaters going.
Were not going to be the cure-all, but we may be able
to offer some assistance, said DNR-DHPA special projects coordinator
One of the first steps of the initiative has been to create a list
of historic theaters in the state. Local historians and historical
societies, tourism experts and preservationists were among those surveyed.
From the survey, a preliminary list was formed. The list includes
566 existing and demolished theaters, renovated theaters, opera houses
and drive-in theaters.
The second step in the initiative will include contacting theater
owners and operators to see what is needed to keep the theaters going,
said Regan-Dinius. To aid this process, the DNR-DHPA on Dec. 11 will
play host to a roundtable discussion with theater owners and operators
from around the state to determine the collective issues and needs
of the group. Were going to listen to whats going
on, and from there were going to start putting together the
program, Regan-Dinius said.
Because program specifics will be determined by the roundtable discussions,
the DHPA hopes to involve as many theater owners and organizations
as possible. A couple of organizations, the Theater Owners Association
of Indiana and the League of Historic American Theaters, are already
on board, according to Regan-Dinius. She hopes the action will spur
others to become involved.
The DHPA also hopes that the initiative will create a network of theater
owners who can share ideas and resources. Many groups, such as the
Park Theatre Civic Centre Inc. of Jennings County, have already organized
successful campaigns to bring old theaters back to life and may be
able to share their strategies with others.
The non-profit organization purchased and restored the historic Park
Theatre in North Vernon. Built in 1916 and closed in 1962, the historic
theater re-opened in September after nearly seven years of fundraising
and volunteer work by area residents. It is now open to performing
arts groups such as the Jennings County Players, a local community
The DHPA is still accepting additions to its list of theaters.
To find out if the theaters in your area are on the list, or for more
information about the December roundtable contact Regan-Dinius at
(317) 232-1646. More information is available online at: www.in.gov/dnr.