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From the 1920s until the 1960s, most small town Main Streets housed a theatre. Usually located in an architectural significant building with prominent neon marquee, these theatres played a significant role in the cultural and economic life of the community. Unfortunately, the advent of television and the migration to suburbia forced most to close during the 1950s and 1960s. Boarded up theaters in decaying downtowns are far too common today throughout the country. That’s why I’m always delighted to learn about refurbished theaters where hard work and community pride have revitalized a crumbling piece of Americana. Here are three outstanding examples.

Newberry Opera House, Newberry, SC

The Newberry Opera House was built in 1881 for $30,000. This French Gothic building became known as the Entertainment Center of the Midlands. From its opening until it closed in 1952 it hosted touring companies of New York City plays, famed singers, lecturers, magicians, novelty acts and even boxing matches. It was also the site of local dances, meetings and commencements. Local preservation efforts spared the wrecking ball. Interior renovations completed in the 1990s cost $5,500,000. Today visitors enjoy a similar variety of programs in a 426 seat theatre with state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems. This theatre won First Place for Outstanding Theatre at the 2008 convention of the The League of Historic Theatres.

For More Information:
Newberry Opera House
1201 McKibben St.
Newberry, SC 29108

Rylander Theatre, Americus, GA

Opened in 1921, the Rylander was dubbed “The Finest Playhouse South of Atlanta.” Its interior showcased ornate plaster work, intricate stencil patterns and painted murals. After being closed in 1959, community leaders spearheaded extensive renovations totaling $4.8 million. The Rylander reopened on October 1, 1999 in celebration of President Jimmy Carter’s 75 th birthday. (Americus is about 10 miles from his home in Plains.) Today, the Rylander has 600 seats on three levels – orchestra, balcony and gallery. It offers an interesting variety of entertainment. The interior looks much as it did in 1921 with the exception of more comfortable seats, state-of-the-art technical equipment and modern amenities. Once again it is being known as “The Finest Playhouse South of Atlanta.”

For More Information:
Rylander Theatre
310 West Lamar Street
Americus, GA 31709
Two organizations – The League of Historic American Theatres and the Theatre Historical Society of America – are dedicated to the preservation of theatres all across America. Their websites contain some fascinating stories about past, present and future renovation projects plus ways you can help. For more details, go online to and

Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts, Muskegon, MI

The Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts was originally built as the Michigan Theater in 1929. The interior of this Spanish Renaissance building glistened with gold accents including cherubs and griffins. It closed briefly in the 1950s for modernization which included a coat of beige paint over the lavish interior decor. It closed for good in the late 1960s. Fortunately, local citizens formed a Community Foundation in the 1980s to purchase the block of empty buildings that included the Michigan. In 1992 a $16 million master plan was developed and voters approved financing through a bond issue. Work began in 1998. The new facility was named the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts after generous donor A. Harold Frauenthal. Today, the state-of-the-art center houses two theaters, a gallery, meeting rooms and rehearsal halls. A full schedule of concerts, movies and other events take place throughout the year.

For More Information:
Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts
425 W. Western Ave.
Muskegon, MI 49440

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