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Preserving History

Economic conditions threaten
survival of historic theater

Madison’s Ohio Theatre
has been in operation since 1938

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(March 2010) – During the early 1900s in Madison, Ind., residents and visitors looking for fun could walk to the Nickelodeon, a small neighborhood theater at 105 E. Main St, and for 5 cents enjoy a short narrative film. While the cost of a movie has risen dramatically since then, today people can still watch a full, feature film at the same location after strolling or shopping through the historic downtown.
The Ohio Theatre has operated since 1938 on the site of that original Nickelodeon. Today, the historic building is in foreclosure, but its owners, Tony and Laura Ratcliff, are determined to keep the theater open for business.

Historical picture of the Ohio Theater

Photo courtesy of Historic Madison Inc.

This early 20th century photo
shows the building that has
housed the Ohio Theater since 1938.

“We are not planning on closing,” said Laura Ratcliff. “We love what we do, and we are working on a project to protect the theater.”
As with many other businesses in the area and around the country, the current economic climate has not been a particularly prosperous time for the theater, she said.
With the advent of feature film, the Nickelodeon was replaced with the Little Grand theater, which was smaller than the current Ohio Theatre. In 1937, Little Grand caught fire. It was rebuilt and expanded in 1938 and renamed the Ohio Theatre.
In 1959, Joe and Madeline Finneran bought the theater and asked their son-in-law and daughter, John and Maureen Galvin, to manage it. Fresh out of college, the couple agreed and moved to Madison. By 1963, the Galvins had purchased the theater and were operating it on their own. They later added a second theater in the balcony.
“It was a popular social gathering place,” said John Galvin. “Not only did we show first-run movies, but we held events, such as the annual Madison Regatta Beauty Pageant, there.”
Galvin sold the theater in 1994, and it remained unused as a film venue until the Ratcliffs bought it in 1996.

Ohio Theater

Photo by Don Ward

The Ohio Theatre
on Main Street today
is a mainstay in
Madison's downtown
historic district.

“The Ratcliffs have done a good job running the place, but it’s a tough business to operate,” Galvin said. During his tenure as owner, another movie house, the Madison Theater, was showing B-films just down the street. That theater was eventually torn down, and the site is currently a public parking lot.
In addition to operating the theater as a second-run film house, the Ratcliffs opened the doors to community events that have included the Madison Bicentennial Celebration’s “Madison’s Got Talent” contest, and numerous concerts, contests and fundraisers for sport and civic organizations.
During summers, the theater held special “free movie” events and each year it plays host to a free community film during the annual “Light Up Madison,” holiday festivities. Many tourists come into the lobby just to purchase snacks and soft drinks.
“We think we add to the community,” said Ratcliff. “We love what we are doing, but the economy has greatly affected us. Many people just don’t have that extra money to spend on entertainment right now.”
She said she hopes to continue working with the bank to keep operations going, but is also looking for investors throughout the community who would like to get involved.
“We hope people decide to keep us here by continuing to come to shows, buy concessions and show their support.”

• For more information about the Ohio Theatre, or for information on becoming an investor, call (812) 273-4880.

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