Ohio Icon: The Ritz Theatre

The Ritz Theatre, Tiffin

Location: Downtown Tiffin, south of the Sandusky River.

Provenance: Opened on December 20, 1928, by owners Dan Kerwin and Adam Ritzler, The Ritz Theatre was known as “Tiffin’s quarter-million-dollar movie palace.” Its architect was Peter M. Hulsken of Lima, who created numerous atmospheric and thematic movie houses for the Schine theater chain. Hulsken’s ornate Italian Renaissance design included a lobby evoking an Italian villa; enormous frescoes depicting garden scenes; and a dazzling, 1,200-pound crystal chandelier mounted in a sky-like dome.

The nonprofit Tiffin Theatre Inc. purchased The Ritz in the 1980s, and in 1998, an ambitious restoration project returned the historic structure to its almost-original appearance. Besides the Corinthian columns and terra cotta mask of the Greek muse Melpomene that grace The Ritz’s exterior, the renovation preserved elegant interior features, such as marble staircases and the chandelier.

Significance: Celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2018, The Ritz is not only a treasured local landmark and popular performing arts center, but also an impressive reminder of the dawn of Hollywood’s Golden Age, when motion picture venues lured customers by making average folks feel like royalty.

“Going to a movie palace was as much of an attraction as seeing the picture,” says The Ritz’s executive director, Michael Strong. “The theaters were grand and provided a fantasy experience.”

Currently: The Ritz hosts a variety of programs and performances. During 2018, The Ritz Players, its resident theater company, is staging the musical The Addams Family; guest artists include the Cowsills singers, pianist Teresa Walters, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra; and the monthly Friday Night Live series spotlights local and regional talent. The Ritz also offers a Summer Theatre Camp, and its Discovery Series introduces live theater to students in grades K–12.

It’s a little-known fact that: Two keys to The Ritz’s ongoing success are its donor base and large number of volunteers. “We have about 300 active volunteers, and they do everything from helping backstage to working as ushers to selling concessions,” says Strong.