The Palace Theatre in downtown Columbus has been home to prime entertainment for decades.
The theatre, located in the LeVeque Tower on Broad Street, opened 86 years ago as a Vaudeville house, 10TV’s Jerry Revish reported.
“I saw Lucille Ball play here, Jack Benny was here. Bill Bojangles Robinson played here,” said Todd Bemis of the Columbus Association For the Performing Arts, which manages the theater. “All the greats at that time found their way to Columbus through the front doors of the Palace.”
The theater had a huge boom when Mae West came to town in 1938.
“There’s a photo of folks literally wrapped around the outside of the building waiting to buy tickets to get into see Mae West,” Bemis said.
The Palace Theatre became home to big bands in the 1940s.
“They used to have what they called a rolling stage on the theater,” Bemis said. “They would still show a movie maybe before the jazz concert, but then the movie screen would go out, and the jazz band or the big band would start to play, and they would literally roll them down to the front of the state, to the great applause of the audience.”
Business slowed in the 1960s, though, Revish reported.
“Many of the furnishings of the theater disappeared during that period, all the crystal was stripped out of the theater during the period because they didn’t want to maintain it, keep it clean,” Bemis said. “The wonderful brass doors that we have in our inner lobby, they just painted them rather than polish them, so there were seven coats of paint on those doors applied during that time.”
The problems continued until Frederic LeVeque came along and purchased the theater in 1973.
“The theater actually would have been demolished at that time, and his hotel was to expand from the theater up to Broad and High,” Bemis said.
LeVeque died in a plane crash and was not able to complete his plans.
Years later, his widow decided to reopen the theater after spending $3 million of her own money to renovate the building. She added new seats, plumbing, wiring and a new roof.
“There was nothing really usable in the theater,” Bemis said.
The Osmond family debuted the newly renovated theater.
“I’ll always remember that, they took over two full floors of the Neil House at that time,” Bemis said. “They had such a large entourage.”
Bemis said that the Palace Theatre has brought value to Columbus.
“It’s what I like to call the workhorse of our theaters in downtown, because it does such a wide range,” Bemis said.
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