Community Challenge

Ohio Theatre is competing
for facade improvement money

Online votes decide winner
of $25,000 prize; help needed

By Laura Hodges
Contributing Writer

(September 2010) – Could a $25,000 cash prize make a big difference in the appearance of Madison’s Main Street? The Madison Main Street Program thinks so, and the organization is asking the community to help win the money to prove it.
This summer, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has asked communities to identify an American place that is so important it must be saved. The winning project will receive $25,000.

Ohio Theatre

Photo by Don Ward

The Ohio Theatre
in downtown Madison,
Ind., has been nominated
to an online voting
contest to determine
if it is historic enough
to warrant receiving
a $25,000 grant to
help preserve it.

The Madison Main Street Program has responded by nominating the 72-year-old Ohio Theatre. Now it is up to the public to decide online which project will win the National Trust’s “This Place Matters Community Challenge.”
Local residents can vote for the Ohio Theatre among all the other projects nominated from across the United States on the National Trust’s website, www.preservationnation.org. Or contact the Madison Main Street Program (812) 265-3270 to obtain the Internet link for voting. The project with the most support will win $25,000. The deadline for voting is Sept. 15.
Out of all the worthwhile buildings in Madison, why nominate the Ohio Theatre?
“It’s a true iconic piece of our community,” said Main Street Executive Director Rhonda Deeg. “Small community theatres are dying all over.” The Main Street Program’s Design Committee, which includes Deeg, Pam and Larry Newhouse, Wanda Gross and Sandy Schaele, decided the Ohio Theatre is clearly worth saving.
Ohio Theatre owners Tony and Laura Ratcliff couldn’t agree more with the importance of the theatre to the city. “Even if you take the emotion out of it, the No. 1 thing is the economic impact of the theatre,” said Tony Ratcliff. “The small town theatres that are left – many cities are working to preserve them.”
“We’re a historic theatre in a historic district. There’s been a theatre here in this spot for more than 100 years,” he noted.
In the early 1900s, the Nickelodeon showed short narrative films at 105 E. Main St. When feature films came into vogue, the Nickelodeon was replaced by the Little Grand Theatre. In 1937, the Little Grand burned. When it was rebuilt and expanded in 1938, it re-opened as the Ohio Theatre. The Ratcliffs bought the theatre in 1996 after a couple of years when the movie house was not in use. They’ve kept it open ever since, but it’s not been easy. In March, they announced the building was in foreclosure and they were looking for investors. With the help of some investors, the mortgage has been refinanced, but additional investors are still needed.
Preservationists often look to a community’s historic theatre to lead the way in downtown revitalization. While Madison’s downtown is more lively than many small towns, Tony Ratcliff would like the Ohio Theatre to continue providing ambience to Madison’s downtown.
“It feels more alive when there’s a theatre downtown,” he said, noting that the theatre admits 30,000 each year. “If it wasn’t here, what would happen?”
The Ratcliffs have a business plan to continue the Ohio Theatre as a movie venue while diversifying into live entertainment. They plan to continue hosting community theatre productions and concerts, especially during the spring and fall months when movie attendance is traditionally lower. In August they spoke with consultant Bruce Marquis of Bloomington, Ill., who was hired by the city to evaluate possible venues for community theatre and arts events. Marquis has not yet reported his findings.
In the meantime, the Ratcliffs acknowledge that they need to spruce up the outside of their building to be worthy of community pride.
“There’s a saying in the movies, ‘The show starts on the sidewalk,’” said Tony Ratcliff. “It has to make that good first impression.”
If the Ohio Theatre wins the $25,000 prize in the community challenge, the money will be spent on exterior rehabilitation.
Deeg said the most pressing aspect of the theatre’s exterior renovation is the marquee. Each side has more than 300 bulbs, most with their original 1938 wiring. Ratcliff wants to begin restoration with the labor intensive job of rewiring the marquee. Only then will the “chasers,” the twinkling lights that seem to travel around the outside of the marquee, be seen again on Main Street.
The proposed restoration will also address other issues, such as removing vinyl siding to reveal the brickwork below.
“We’d want to restore it to its glory,” said Deeg. “If we are to receive this award, that’s what we’d focus on – the removal of the vinyl siding, exterior painting and restoration of window work.”

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