30 South Washington Street
Tiffin, OH 44883
At the beginning of the 20th century something amazing was just in its infancy stage. Something that would change the way people would spend their leisure time for decades to come. Motion pictures. The movies. Silent at first, then with sound. Accompanied by orchestras or organs. Some with live performances during intermissions and in between. The movies celebrated the good times and let people forget about the hard times. Everybody loved the movies.
By the 1930's, 19 million people were going to the movies every week. Actor Charlie Chaplin was earning $1 million dollars a year, which was unheard of in those days. The movies were becoming big business. As the movie business grew, so did the places we went to see them. The grand movie palaces. These large, grand theaters built in "magnificent excess" were designed to gain a competitive edge. It was a time when where we went to the movies was as important as the movies themselves.
Designed to imitate the great European opera houses and concert halls of the 19th century, the designers and owners of these theaters were always trying to out-do one another. The theaters became an experience themselves. A fantasy come true. The interiors of these theaters allowed us to escape to ancient Egypt, visit a Chinese palace or a Persian garden.
The year was 1928. Downtown Tiffin had three theaters in operation catering to an eager public. Original builders Dan Kerwin and Adam Ritzler dreamed of a movie palace more grand and beautiful than anything the area had ever seen. Completed in only nine months The Ritz Theatre was instantly dubbed "Tiffin's quarter-million-dollar-movie-palace." When it opened December 20, 1928, over 1,500 patrons packed the theatre to listen to the Ritz Quality Orchestra and greet this modern marvel.
Throughout the theatre, The Ritz boasts an Italian Renaissance design. Terra cotta and buff brick cover the street front facade. A terra cotta mask of the Greek muse of tragedy, Melpomene, watches over the theatre. Inside the outer lobby, a floor of mosaic tile greets visitors. Fixtures of solid brass and black onyx marble walls portend the richness awaiting inside.
The inner lobby quietly mimics the outside of an Italian villa, complete with stucco walls and subtle accents of teal and red. Two marble staircases lead the audience to the balcony where hand painted stencils of red, teal and yellow create the feeling of a trellis in an outdoor garden.
To complete the garden fantasy of the interior, four 10 X 30 foot high murals painted directly onto wet plaster dominate the main floor. The overgrown garden pictures, painted by local artist Lloyd Roberts and Horace Drew, feature statues that might have been found in a Greek garden. A curved proscenium envelopes the audience, bringing them closer to the performers on stage and lending an air of intimacy to this 1,260 seat theatre. Intricate plaster work, concrete forms, stone designs and scrolls are all hand-painted in the careful detail of Italian Renaissance. The mammoth 1,200 pound chandelier, made of 20,000 Czechoslovakian crystal pieces, hangs impressively from a dome of sky blue. Half of the original theatre light board was dedicated to the atmospheric lighting, alone. These original fixtures still light up the theatre today.
Of the four theaters in Tiffin of the 1920's and 1930's The Ritz is the only reminder of an era gone by. Renovated in 1998 to its almost original condition The Ritz Theatre allows us to look back to a time when the theaters themselves often stole the show.