Saturday, February 14, 2009

Greenville's Ritz Theater Has a New Marquee!

The Ritz Theater in Greenville is a community landmark. I believe it opened in the 1930s and had some renovations a couple of decades ago. This week the city of Greenville lit up the lights of the new marquee above the Ritz. (By the way, the Ritz is where we hold our show that I have starred in for the past two years, okay, I didn't star in it, but I was in it).

Here are a few of my pictures and the article from The Montgomery Advertiser:

February 11, 2009
Ritz marquee shines again
Column by Alvin Benn
GREENVILLE -- "The play's the thing," accord­ ing to Shakespeare, but it was a lot more than that Mon­day night, and it wasn't on the Ritz Theatre stage in downtown Greenville.
What attracted most of the at­tention before "Bye Bye Birdie" began was a $200,000 marquee that glittered outside just above the sidewalk.
The neon work of art that surrounded the theater with bright red, blue and yellow col­ors brought back memories of days long ago when movies, plays and fashion shows enter­tained residents as far back as 1935.
As has happened so many times in central business dis­tricts across the country, the Ritz fell on hard times when television and home computers came along. People found them­selves with other opportunities for entertainment and took full advantage of them.
It would have been easy to tear down the Ritz and turn it into a parking lot, but local lead­ers refused to see a landmark de­molished. Instead, they went to work to save it.
The biggest boost came in 1982 when the Greenville City Council bought it and assumed responsibility for not only sav­ing the theater, but restoring the interior and exterior as well.
The first steps were slow and not always successful. But the setbacks didn't deter the council and patrons of the arts from con­tinuing to try and save the Ritz.
Urban renewal projects, for the most part, failed miserably around the country in the 1950s and 1960s. As a result, down­town buildings often were razed.
Some cities focused on awn­ings over sidewalks. Others spent a lot of money hammering aluminum siding to decaying buildings to hide the ugliness. Other ideas were tried, but few succeeded.
With a population of just over 7,000, Greenville can hard­ly compete for entertainment dollars with Montgomery be­cause it's only about 45 minutes away up the interstate.
Saving the Ritz was one way to keep an important part of the past from crumbling, not to
mention keeping folks at home. As a result, money was raised from a variety of public and pri­vate sources to pay for restora­tion of the Ritz.
The art deco interior of the theater was gutted in 1990 and then returned to its original look. New carpet was installed to match the 1930s design.
The marquee proved to be a major challenge and an expen­sive one. Many wondered if the theater would ever glisten as it once did.
"The Ritz hadn't been totally lighted since around 1960," said Roberta Gamble, Greenville's shining light when it comes to the arts. "We tried a restoration in 1990, but it was pretty much a piecemeal project, and it didn't last."
"Miss Bobbie," as she's known in Greenville, recalled that the last movie she saw in the Ritz was "The Way We Were" in 1973. That was about the time the theater appeared to be inexorably moving toward its demise.
Thanks to the City Council's purchase and support from the Greenville Area Arts Council, it didn't happen, and the Ritz Marquee Restoration Project be­gan moving forward again.
The Landmark Sign Co. of Montgomery did a masterful job on the marquee, restoring it to the way it looked when it opened in the middle of the Depression.
It all came to a wonderful conclusion Monday night as res­idents lined up to go inside to watch "Birdie." Many of them preferred to stand outside and watch the colorful lights for awhile.
Mayor Dexter McLendon, Po­lice Chief Lonzo Ingram, Butler County District Judge MacDon­ald Russell Jr. and Greenville City Councilman Tommy Ryan were among hundreds of the­atergoers who admired the light show.
Annie Killough, a student in Gamble's seventh-grade class years ago, greeted her at the en­trance and said: "I'm glad you lived long enough to see it."
Gamble, who turned 80 last year, flashed a smile almost as bright as the neon sign above her head. She told Killough she also was happy to be on hand to see completion of a project so many decades in the making.
Nancy Idland, who directs Greenville's Main Street Pro­gram and helped lead the resto­ration project, was beaming as she greeted patrons on the in­side.
"This says a lot about our community and the importance of people working together to make something good happen," she said.
Indeed, it does.


Rodney said...

Hi, Shera. I enjoyed reading your blog. I am logging in under Rodney's account. Now I have to finish reading your blog. The Ritz Theater looks really great. Love,Mother Send me your home address on email to my hotmail acct. please. Soon

Rodney said...

Me, again. Did the first one go through? Love, Mother