A demolition crew began tearing down the rear portion of the Colony Theatre on Tuesday, taking the first steps in a plan to remove the auditorium part of the building while preserving the front portion and the façade.
The demolition marks an official end to the theater’s history in regard to its use as a movie house, which dates back to 1938. After years of neglect leading to deteriorating conditions, and failed efforts to revitalize the theater under both private and public ownership, Hillsboro City Council eventually agreed to authorize tearing down the rear part of the building, with plans for the remaining open space to be utilized for parking.
The eight giant relief murals that existed inside the auditorium were rescued last summer by members of the Highland County Historical Society, led by Avery Applegate.
The façade and front portion of the Colony will be maintained. Plans call for the façade to be given a facelift, and the lobby portion of the facility will be utilized under a scenario still being developed.
The demolition contract was won by Mark Finchum Excavating LLC of South Charleston, Ohio, in Clark County, for a bid of $68,750. Mayor Drew Hastings said the contractor estimated a week to 10 days to complete the project.
Mark Finchum said Tuesday the side walls of the theater were tough to break through at first. He said working in close quarters and near electric lines was a challenging part of the project. He said his crew is working to remove the debris from the site as quickly as it comes down in order to leave enough room for the machinery and workers to keep progressing on the demolition, but the project could take closer to two weeks to complete.
As included in the bid he submitted, Finchum is subcontracting part of the work to Gillum Construction of Chillicothe. Eighty-four-year-old company owner Bob Gillum was also on site Tuesday, operating some of the equipment. He said he has owned his company for more than 60 years.
The theater, originally part of the Chakeres chain, was built and equipped in 1938 for $75,000. Over the years, the Colony has been privately owned, gifted to the city, and turned over to non-profits to manage. Ownership of the theater reverted to the city again in 2014. The city has been utilizing the theater’s marquee to share messages of upcoming events or city services with motorists and passers-by.
In its heyday, the Colony was considered a palace. The Press Gazette of Sept. 16, 1938 described the grand opening of the theater.
“The auditorium is a structure of indescribable beauty,” the story read. “The ceiling of dark blue has a modernistic tapered panel effect and is indirectly lighted. The side walls are of modernist design and finished in rich tones of deep red tapering into light rose. On either side of the auditorium are four large relief murals each depicting a milestone in America’s progress and all are indirectly lighted.”
Hastings had tried to find individuals interested in rescuing the theater, but no one could come up with the funds to repair the facility – estimated to cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – or a plan to make it profitable if it was restored.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.