The oldest surviving theatre in central Ohio and one of the oldest in the state, the Southern Theatre opened in 1896 as part of a performance space and hotel complex on the corner of High and Main Streets. The Southern was designed for theatrical touring productions and later accommodated silent films, vaudeville, first- and second-run motion pictures, dance, country music reviews, and community events.
The Southern Theatre departed from the classical opera house by incorporating features considered very “modern” for its day. Most notable was the design of the audience chamber ceiling. From the proscenium opening, a series of concentric arches radiate into the house, creating an acoustic system that is still nearly perfect today.
Constructed of “fireproof” tile, brick, iron, steel, and concrete, the theatre — which originally seated 1,723 on three levels — was praised for its plush seats, stylish boxes, excellent sight lines, and absence of posts or other obstructions.
The Southern’s grand opening entertainment was the Broadway touring production of In Gay New York, followed by An American Beauty starring Lillian Russell. During its early years, the greatest names of the theatrical world played the Southern, including Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, John Philip Sousa, Sarah Bernhardt, Al Jolson, and W.C. Fields.