The Final Day

- blog entry from Thursday, January 20, 2011 | by Tyler Remmel, Cameron Estep and Danielle Slone

The Ashland Square Cinema closed over winter break, leaving Ashland with no movie theater in town.

Still, many local residents will remember the theater that provided them with affordable entertainment.

Ashland Schine's Theatre

The history of the Ashland Square Cinema

When the Ashland Square Cinema opened in 1942, it drew local attention because it was like a big city theater with small-town charm.

Originally known as The Ashland, the theater opened March 27, 1942, with pre-release showings of "Rings on Her Fingers" and a Bugs Bunny cartoon. There was also a one-day-old newsreel that likely featured footage from World War II.

According to Ashland County historian Betty Plank, newsreels shown at that time were regularly a week or more old, because the war was so far away; therefore, it would have been a big happening for such a current reel to be shown.

The theater's inauguration was such an important event that the front page of the March 25 Ashland Times-Gazette was devoted entirely to it.

Plank was not at the opening, but has read accounts from people who were.

"The mayor was there to cut a ribbon and they had a couple of beautiful girls that met you and they had a uniformed usher that took you to your seats. They just made a big deal of it," Plank said.

The ATG touted the theater as the best in the state: "Modern in every respect, The Ashland far surpasses anything in this section of Ohio in comfort, beauty, and safety."

The early Ashland theater had features like a stage, a balcony and even twin projectors. It had a seating capacity of 1,500 total; 1,250 on the main floor and another 250 in the balcony.

The theater's construction also featured a heating and air conditioning system, which was supposed to add to the comfort of the building.

Sleek twin projectors were also a highlight of The Ashland. The ATG advertised: "Brilliant carbon lamps, achieving the most perfect illusion which modern science can develop, combined with the latest word in sound amplification, make the projection room at Schine's new Ashland without any peer in the world."

The construction of The Ashland did generate some controversy, though. Because it was being built during the war, many people were in objection because they thought it was un-American and interfered with the war effort.

According to Plank, that was never the case because the materials and architectural business had been taken care of before the U.S. became involved in the war.

The owners knew about these objections and used them to generate more publicity, inviting the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Affairs to open the dedication ceremonies.

J. Myer Schine, the president of the Schine organization, was quoted in the ATG as saying, "With the troubles of the world confronting...us, the Schine organization, even more so than ever, pledges itself to do the ultimate to satisfy the need for entertainment so important in keeping our morale unshaken, and to the defense of this glorious land on which no ruthless or scrupulous invader shall ever tread."

Plank was a teenager at the time, and remembers it well.

"[The opening] was just at a time at the peak of the theater movement...the big towns had lovely theaters with big chandeliers and a lot of indoor decor," she said.

Even though it had that big-town-theater beauty, the owners wanted the townspeople to see their theater as a local enterprise.

"The new Ashland Theater is gratefully dedicated to the people of this neighborly community...whose loyal cooperation has greatly assisted in making possible the realization of a long-cherished ideal," Schine said.

"There wasn't much to do but go to the movies."

Plank moved to Ashland in 1939, and was a freshman at Ashland College when the theater opened. Because she lived in town, Plank was considered a "town girl" on campus.

"The dorm girls had to be in by 12 a.m., so as a town girl I was very popular because my house was a place where they could go to spend the night," Plank said.

This meant that Plank would routinely - at least once per week - attend showings at The Ashland because she could go with her friends and they could stay at her house after. The midnight movies were a fun thing for her and her friends to do.

"The boys were all leaving for the war, so it was mostly girls," Plank said.

Plank and friends enjoyed going to the movies because it was a good form of entertainment. Television was not very widespread at the time, and gas rations made it difficult to travel very far for amusement purposes only.

She remembers going to movies like "Wuthering Heights," "Mrs. Minniver," "How Green Was My Valley" and "Laura," but Plank's best memory at the theater was going to see "Gone With the Wind."

"It was a very long movie, I think I remember it being four hours long and it was shown with an intermission," she said. "So [my friends and I] decided to pack a lunch to eat at the break." Admission when the theater opened was only 40 cents for adults and 10 cents for children.

Until recently, the theater charged $5.50 for adult admission and $4.00 for children.

The Ashland Square Cinemas have fallen upon hard times as of late.

With the economic downturn and changes in the entertainment industry including the invention of DVDs, it is difficult for a small, independent theater to attract consistently large attendances.

"We're the first thing you would cut out of your budget if you lost a job...or had to take a cut in your pay," said current owner Jeffrey Nusbaum. "There are a lot of higher priorities than going to movies as far as entertainment is concerned."

The building itself also poses difficulties for Nusbaum because of its age. Along with roofing and plumbing problems, Nusbaum said, "Just general wear and tear is...bad."

Problems with the theater haven't been the major concern for Nusbaum, though. "Economics is what it all boils down to," he said. "That's the major factor for us."

Nusbaum's father purchased the theater from the Schines in 1966. His family has been in the theater business since the 1940s.

The Nusbaums modified the architecture of the theater in 1976 when they added two more screens, for a total of three.

Seating capacity dropped with the construction from 1,500 to only 600 - 200 for each screen.

Despite some improvements, Nusbaum has noticed a drop-off in attendance the past two or three years. "I think...people are used to the newer, ritzier theaters that have stadium seating and 3-D," he said.

At the beginning of the new year, Ashland Square Cinemas shut its doors to the public for the final time.