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For those of us old enough to remember the Ritz Theater on Bridge Street, in Newcomerstown, the memories of that theater are still very vivid for some of us. The sight of the marquee lit up with the title of the latest movie that was playing, the bright lights, the ticket booth, the smell of the popcorn, the candy counter, the sloping floor, the rows and rows of plush seats, plus the excitement of waiting for that movie that we so badly wanted to see was quite a thrill. I remember the last movie that I saw there in 1973, Walt Disney's Bedknobs & Broomsticks. My Mom took my brother and me to see it one evening. While I cannot recall the what and why of the movie, I can still remember seeing that flying bed with the children in it, gliding across that big silver screen at the Ritz. Of course, we enjoyed the candy, popcorn, and icy cold Coca-colas while we watched the movies. Yes, common things you may think, but they always seemed to taste so much better at the theater.
The Ritz Theatre was built on the old Ohio-Erie Canal bed (the use of the canal was discontinued, and the canal bed filled in around 1916). The Twin City Theater Company later purchased the vacant lot and began construction of the theater in the fall of 1926. The construction of the building was completed by the Jacobs Construction Company. Interestingly, the building materials were purchased from some of the local businesses at that time. The building materials were purchased from Eureka Hardware and Zimmer Lumber Company. The brick for the exterior was purchased at the Canton Brick & Fireproofing Company. The wiring, and electrical fixtures from Beiter Brothers Electric and Crater Hardware. The theater seating and accessories were purchased through Rose Brothers Company.
Just prior to the grand opening the owners, Jordan & Wheland announced a contest for the community to participate in by helping to give the new theater a name. In quick succession, many suggestions poured in for various names. The owners pondered over the responses and finally agreed that the name, Ritz Theatre, suggested by local resident, Howard Stocker, was most fitting to reflect the image of the sophisticated design of the new theater. Stocker won a prize of a $20 gold piece. Another local resident, Mrs. Elizabeth Stein suggested the name of The Jordan & Wheland, in honor of the owners. She won second place with an award of $20 worth of admission tickets to the theater.
On Monday evening, February 14, 1927, the Ritz Theatre welcomed the public to its grand opening. The movie, titled "It", featured a popular young actress, Clara Bow, who was all the rage at that time and fast becoming known as the "It Girl" as a result of the movie.
Beauty, safety, and substantial comfort were the governing principals in the construction of the Ritz according to a news feature that appeared in the February 9, 1927, edition of the Newcomerstown News. The steel and brick structure measures fifty feet width by one hundred seventy feet in length. The theater featured a spacious lobby, a men's smoking room, a lady's retiring room with toilet area connected. The theater also offered its' patrons a mother's room, which had a child's play area. Mothers could take crying infants and fidgety youngsters to the room and yet still be able to watch the movie through a viewing window and listening via a special speaker in the room. The theater auditorium boasted seating for six hundred patrons. At the front of the auditorium were a stage and the large silver screen. The stage was fully equipped with foot and border lights. A Hilgren-Lane three-manual organ was located on the right side of the stage in an orchestra pit. The lobby and auditorium featured beautifully crafted chandeliers, as well as complementary lighting fixtures throughout the building.
The price of admission to the Ritz in 1927 was ten cents for a daily matinee, and thirty cents for the evening feature, Wednesday-Sunday, and forty cents on Monday, Tuesday evenings (the first two nights of the newest featured movie that was showing that week).
The Ritz Theater was owned by the Ortt family for many years, before being sold to the Manus Entertainment, Inc. of Toronto, Ohio in 1950. Business at the Ritz slowing began to dwindle in the early 1970s, and business ceased completely in 1974. The structure was later sold to the present owners, Don and Doris Best who have converted the theater into a private residence. The Bests manage two rental spaces on the first level and several rental apartments on the second level of the building.
The Ritz had been in business nearly fifty years and created memories for many persons over that span of time. These days the doors are closed and the marquee is void of any movie titles, but the Ritz will live on in the memories and hearts of those that are still captivated by her past history.