Logan County’s Landmark Theatre
In the early days of moving pictures, American entertainment companies vied for market share by offering their films in opulent theaters. Going to the movies was an event. Men wore their Sunday suits for the occasion; women donned their hats and stockings, and films were shown in movie “palaces”, lush fantasy lands filled with velvet-covered seats and crystal chandeliers. For the price of a forty-cent ticket, moviegoers not only would be transported into the celluloid world but also could enjoy the type of extravagant surroundings usually reserved for the very wealthy.
American theatre architecture peaked in the 1920s. Hundreds of elaborate movie palaces were built across the United States in towns both large and small. Often these theatres were constructed in an atmospheric style. They resembled Italian piazzas, Grecian ruins, and Moorish courtyards. As patrons found their seats, Corinthian columns, classical facades, and tastefully draped statues of coy Roman goddesses flanked them. Mosaic tiled fountains sang in the lobbies and coming feature posters were hung in gilded frames. The Italian and Spanish styles were very popular, and many of the remaining theaters were built with those contrivances. However, a single historic atmospheric theatre stands out among the dozens listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on the rolls of the Theatre Historical Society of America — Bellefontaine’s historic Holland Theatre.
Schine Enterprises, a family company that built and operated about 150 theatres in six states, built the Holland Theatre in downtown Bellefontaine, Ohio, in 1931. The Schine’s Holland Theatre in Bellefontaine is the only Dutch-style atmospheric theater in the United States, and perhaps the only one existing in the world. The Holland Theatre not only represents a nostalgic part of Logan County’s past, but it also offers new opportunities for the county’s future.
From the outside, the Holland Theatre has not changed dramatically since it was built. The exterior of the Theatre is attractive rose-colored brick. The three-story structure has a stepped, Flemish-style gable that gives only a hint of as to what awaited movie-goers inside when the Theatre was in its heyday. Although the lobby and main foyer of the Holland have been cosmetically altered through the decades, originally both spaces introduced the Dutch theme with its hewn timber-framed beams, heavy plastered walls, and reproductions of famous Dutch paintings hung between field-paneled walls.
While 1,400 patrons sat in air-conditioned or heated comfort, they did so as their eyes told them they were outdoors. The interior auditorium was designed as a convincing representation of a 17th-century Dutch cityscape. Blooming tulips waved gently in window boxes as two working windmills quietly stirred the air. The brick and timber-framed facades were careful reproductions, nearly actual sized, of known buildings – one of which was the family home of the Holland’s architect, Peter Hulsken. Windows in these facades were dimly lit from within, giving the impression that building’s interiors were illuminated by candlelight. The ceiling was painted a deep blue, and tiny lights simulated flickering stars. A cloud machine completed the effect. The largest movie screen in Ohio, 40-feet long, filled the stage.
On December 28, 1999, The Historic Holland Theatre was purchased for the Logan County Landmark Preservation, Inc. by Richard and Peggy Knowlton.