Twentieth Century Theater, Cincinnati Ohio

Date added: January 13, 2023 Categories: Ohio Theater

Constructed in 1941, the Twentieth Century Theatre was used for movie theatre purposes from its construction date until 1984 and for commercial purposes until 1986.

Located within the Cincinnati community of Oakley, this building is found within the neighborhood business district. Oakley developed initially in response to speculative developers taking advantage of early twentieth-century improvements in transportation technology and the desire of many residents to migrate from the central city into the expanding suburbs. In time, this neighborhood emerged as a working-class residential area with small single-family homes and small apartment buildings located on dense, compact streetscapes. The local business district, Oakley Square, evolved to serve the needs of the local residents. Through time, the residential community grew and attracted several major industrial facilities that employed many local residents. Notable among these were the tool works of Cincinnati Milling Machine, now Cincinnati Milicron and LeBlond Tool Works located a few blocks away in the community of Norwood. The theatre was built to serve the community and the growing eastern suburbs of the city. It was constructed at a time when the older established "Movie Palaces" of downtown were on the wane.

It was constructed for Willis Vance, an owner of several other suburban movie theatres in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. The firm of F and Y Construction Company, located in Columbus, Ohio was the prime contractor. This company was involved with the construction of a number of theatres in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. The architect was Fred W. Stritzel from Columbus, Ohio. When it opened in August, it was considered to be a state-of-the-art movie theatre. It incorporated a distinctive architectural style and interior innovations as well. Included within the comforts of innovative design were the use of men's and women's lounges, a smoking mezzanine, air conditioning, loveseats, spring-backed cushioned armchairs, and hearing devices for the hearing impaired.

The exterior exhibits decorative details associated with the Art Moderne style. Major stylistic elements are located exclusively on the main facade. These include the modern streamlined effect created by the large undulating wall treatment at the upper level and the curved corners. The large marquee and sign tower are also details that give architectural distinction to the overall design.

The interior continues the streamlining effect through the use of curved wall corners and serpentine ceiling details in the public spaces. The foyer is accentuated by the large Grand Staircase.

Since its construction, the building has experienced a few changes. The commercial space has been extensively altered from the original, and no significant details have survived. The theatre has experienced major changes to its toilet and lounge spaces that now exhibit functional, simple details. The public spaces, where the most dramatic details existed, have remained mostly intact. The present problem is neglect that has created several areas where wall and ceiling plaster deterioration is present.

The theatre was constructed during a period when other neighborhood theatres were constructed in Cincinnati as well. During the period from 1936 to 1947, eighteen theatres were constructed. Today only twelve remain. Of these, eight have been converted to other uses, two are vacant (including the Twentieth Century), and two are used as theatres (Covedale and Westwood).

Building Description

Located within the Cincinnati neighborhood of Oakley, the Twentieth Century Theatre is found adjacent to busy Madison Road and opposite a passive park known as Oakley Square. It is found in association with commercial buildings that exhibit a mix of architectural styles and dates of construction. The three-story theatre exhibits details associated with the Art Moderne style and is distinguished by its use of orange brick and terra cotta wall materials, undulating wall treatment, and large marquee and sign tower that rises 80' above the sidewalk. The interior contains decorative characteristics of the style through the use of rounded corners at the walls and decorative curved ceiling motifs in the first-floor foyer and lobby. The main theatre exhibits fluted wall details and curved decorative motif at the ceiling. A small separate commercial space is incorporated into the floor plan on the east side. The building is found within a mix of commercial uses on Madison Road and abuts a residential area at the rear. Due to recent neglect and vandalism, this building has experienced some decay. At present, it is vacant.

The overall asymmetrical first floor exhibits, at the commercial space, a small recessed entry, wood and single glass door with lighted transom, and is flanked on either side by large single glass window bays that accentuate the commercial facade. On the first floor of the theatre, the exterior facade is composed of a ticket booth, recessed entry with large multiple single glass doors, and several rectangular display windows for theatre advertisements. The wall material is a mix of brick and colored terra cotta panels highlighting the curved wall corners. The upper level of the main facade is dominated by a large metal and glass marquee supporting the distinctive sign tower with the words "20th Century" rising above. The sign is on both sides of the tower and highlighted in neon. A large undulating blue curved terra cotta wall extends to the west of the tower and adds architectural details to the main facade's upper level. The remainder of the main facade is composed of plain orange brick. The side and rear facades lack any significant fenestration, except for two small plain exit doors. Composed of orange brick, the minor walls lack any architectural adornment and are in good condition. The roof is flat and constructed of composition built up materials. It shows significant deterioration in several places.

The building rests atop a concrete foundation with a plain, simple basement extending underneath the commercial space. The interior of the small commercial space has been drastically altered at unknown dates. No significant details exist. Additionally, neglect has accelerated the deterioration of the ceiling and floor. The first-floor theatre interior is dominated by a large foyer, lobby, and Grand Staircase. A curved wall and curved serpentine ceiling treatment continue the streamlined detail associated with the Art Moderne style. Several small toilet areas, an office, and utility room are found adjacent to the lobby and foyer. These spaces have been updated throughout the years with no significant interior details present. Within the viewing area itself, a large cavernous unobstructed space is highlighted by a small stage and viewing screen. The main floor originally had viewing seats, however these have been partially removed. The polychromic plaster side walls exhibit large vertical fluting and the ceiling continues the serpentine undulation found in the lobby and foyer. Some deterioration to ceiling plaster exists. The Grand Staircase leads up to the second floor, which is simpler in detail than the first floor. The only major details are limited to the curved corner wall treatment and a circular, free-standing, column that rises from the Grand Staircase to engage the ceiling with a splayed circular capital. A minor stairwell exists at the opposite end of the second-floor lobby. Several toilet and lounge areas are simple in design with no significant details. Two plain stairwells, at either end of the lobby, lead up to the balcony seating. This area provides additional seating and its sidewall and ceiling design continue the details of the main theatre space.

The exterior and interior of the theatre are mainly intact. They retain the original details and materials of construction. The areas that have experienced the most change are the toilets, lounges, and concession space. Several interior locations have experienced ceiling and wall plaster damage due to neglect. These are located at the Grand Staircase, several toilets, and to parts of the ceiling within the main theatre.