Random Columbus Photos #2

Photo Date: Unknown, Pre-1910
Location: The southeastern corner watchtower of the Ohio Penitentiary site.

The old Ohio Penitentiary first opened up in 1834. The most iconic building of the complex was that which lined West Spring Street and built during the Civil War. It can be seen in the background of the photo as the light building. The Ohio Pen had an interesting, and occasionally disastrous, life. On April 21, 1930, a massive fire broke out that would kill 322 inmates and become the worst prison fire in United State history. At its peak in 1955, the prison held over 5,200 inmates. After that year, the prison population steadily declined, and in 1984, the prison transferred its final inmates to other facilities, effectively ceasing operations. About 12 years later, a portion of the outer wall collapsed onto some cars, and the city began to aggressively plan a new life for the site. In 1998, despite some protests to save some of the historic buildings, the entire complex was demolished to make way for new development as part of the Arena District. Today, the only reminder of the prison site is that the eastern edge of McPherson Commons park runs along the same line as the original outer wall.

Before and After- July 2014 Edition

The Hippodrome Theater
Operated from October 26th, 1914 to December 31st, 1933.
Address: 77 N. High Street, Downtown
Seats: 300+
First movie shown: “The Nightingale” with Ethel Barrymore
Last movie shown: Unknown
Opening Admission: 10 cents

Photo of the entrance to the Hippodrome Theater, 1915.

The silent-era Hippodrome Theater was developed by G.E. Overton, who took over the Bonnett Jewelry store that occupied the building previously. News articles at the time of its opening described the d├ęcor in this way:

The little theater, which seats over 300, is neatly decorated in yellow. The lobby is attractive in white marble and the foyer is in yellow and gold. There is no stage; the picture being projected against a large screen as in most picture theaters.

The Hipp, as it was referred by, had a 6-piece orchestra under the direction of W.H. Claspill. It was the first movie theater in Columbus to have an orchestra.

There seems to be a bit of confusion on just when this theater opened. The official first movie shown there was in 1914, but by some accounts, the theater actually opened in April, 1910. Also, there is some mystery on the lone photograph above. Some list it as having been originally taken in 1915, but others have it listed from 1934, after the theater had closed.

The current view of the site.

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The Park Theater
Operated until November 24, 1893. The date it opened is unknown.
Address: 217 N. High Street, Downtown
Seats: Unknown

The Park Theater began operations sometime in the 1880s or very early 1890s, and may have operated long after 1893 if not for a disaster from the building just to its south, the Chittenden Hotel. In 1889, Henry Chittenden purchased the office building of the B&O Railroad, added 2 floors and spent $400,000 (an enormous sum at the time) converting and renovating the building into a luxury hotel. In 1890, a fire broke out and gutted the entire building, but spared neighboring businesses like the Park Theater.

The second Chittenden Hotel. The Park Theater building can be seen on the very right. The photo is from 1892.

Chittenden decided to rebuild, and the 2nd Chittenden Hotel was completed in 1892. This second hotel had its own theater, the Henrietta, which was still partially under construction on November 24th, 1893. That evening at around 8pm, a fire started during a performance there. The fire originated in the auditorium, in an area that was still under construction and spread into the seating area itself. Once the flames breached the theater, strong winds quickly spread the fire and began to burn the hotel as well as surrounding buildings, including the one that housed the Park Theater. By the time the fire burned itself out just the next morning, both theaters, the hotel, a drug store, saloon, shoe house and clothing shop were all completely destroyed.

The second Chittenden and Park Theater, November 1893.

The Park Theater, November 25th, 1893.

Improbably, despite 2 hotels in the same locating burning down, Chittenden rebuilt for yet a 3rd time, with the largest and grandest version of all- not to mention with far better fire-resistant construction. The third time, it seems, was the charm, and the hotel survived from its completion in 1895 to its final demolition in 1973.

The unlucky Park Theater itself never rebuilt, though the lot had a new commercial building in its spot by 1895. That building also faced the wrecking ball in 1973.

The current location of where the Chittenden and Park Theater once stood.

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