Monday, November 21, 2011

A Photo History of On With The Show! The Springer Opera House and History of Theatre in Columbus

Edwin Booth is known as one of the greatest tragedians of the 19th century American stage. The Booths were a famous family of actors. Edwin Booth's father, Junius Brutus Booth, had achieved national popularity in the acting community. Edwin’s two brothers, Junius Brutus, Jr. and John Wilkes (President Abraham Lincoln's assassin) were equally well known.

The first time Booth performed in Columbus was December 12, 1859. For six successive nights at Temperance Hall, Booth played leading roles of which the most notable was Hamlet. Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Raphael Moses, a Columbus attorney, urged Edwin Booth to separate himself from his notorious brother's (John Wilkes) reputation, and come to Columbus to play his most famous role – that of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Booth's 1876 performance at the Springer Opera House is recognized by theatre critics to be one of the best performances of the era.

In 1924, Roy E. Martin built the Liberty Theatre on Eighth Avenue. This 600-seat theatre – the largest movie house in Columbus at that time – was built exclusively for use by Columbus' black community. The Liberty Theatre closed its doors in 1974, but was remodeled and reopened as a community center in 1998. The building is currently listed on the National Historic Register.

In 1869, Columbus residents talked about the need to build a grander, more respectable hall for entertainment than the theatres that already existed. The new hall would be named after Francis Joseph Springer, a business owner who owned the site of what would become the Springer Opera House at 10th Street and 1st Avenue.

At the turn of the 20th century, the demand for larger, more complicated set designs to accommodate touring companies of the vaudeville era required a renovation of the Springer. The building almost doubled in length and the additional space housed a hotel with European amenities, a saloon, billiard hall and offices.

By 1915, fewer live stage shows were being shown and instead, the Springer began showing moving pictures during the week. During the Depression, touring theatre companies and vaudeville almost disappeared. The last live show at the Springer was in 1931. The opera house continued to operate as a movie theatre until 1958 when it closed its doors. It stood abandoned until 1963, when a community organized campaign to rehabilitate the theatre sprung about.

Starting in the summer of 1964, the rehabilitation project began – the building was reroofed, structural and safety standards were met, debris was removed and it was cleaned and painted. The theatre ceiling was re-plastered, new seats were provided, the stage area was prepared and basic lighting was installed. By 1965, the theatre was ready to showcase live performances once again.

The final restoration and renovation of the theatre took place in 1998. An $11 million dollar grant allowed for the completion of the second and third floors of the building, a 1900s era stage to be installed and the development of a classroom and work areas, among other features. Today, the Springer Opera House provides year-round performances on two stages: The Dorothy W. McClure Springer Theatre Academy offers an extensive training program for young actors and the No Shame Theatre program allows the opportunity for individual actors to perform original short pieces.

The first main post theatre at Fort Benning, near Columbus, was formerly a cow barn. It was converted into a ‘moving picture’ theatre in 1909 and demolished in the 1930s. The second theatre was part of the Service Club, which opened in 1921 and was demolished in the 1960s. The third post theatre was built in 1922 for less than $25,000 and was used until the 1940s. It had more than 1,400 seats and a ten-piece orchestra that provided music for the silent films. During World War II, a tent theatre was set up to accommodate the large influx of soldiers. The fourth theatre was built in 1938 and remained in use until 1992. These theatres were used by both officers and enlisted personnel. Black troops at Fort Benning accessed a separate theatre. The first theatre was opened out of the Service Club from 1921 until the 1940s. The 24th Infantry Theatre opened in 1933 and is still in use today as an auditorium for the Officer Candidate School.

Drive-in theatres are considered an icon of the 1950s, along with drive-in restaurants and sock hops. They were at the height of popularity from the mid-1950s through the late 1960s.

In 1947, Curt Drady and Curt Baggett opened the first drive-in theatre in Columbus. It was located in a cow pasture on Old Benning Road. By the mid-50s, Columbus had a number of drive-ins with names like the Rexview, Edgewood, Phenix, Victory, Jet and Jive. Drive-ins were impacted with the adoption of daylight savings time in the 70s. Because it got darker later, owners could only show one movie a night. By 1972, they were in serious trouble and one by one, Columbus drive-ins shut down.

For even more interesting facts about this fascinating history of our community, visit On With The Show! The Springer Opera House and History of Theatre in Columbus exhibition, which is currently on display in the Columbus Museum's History Gallery through February 12, 2012.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On With The Show! Opens at the Columbus Museum

This week opens the Columbus Museum’s latest exhibition, On With The Show! The Springer Opera House and History of Columbus Theatre (1830-present), celebrating the Columbus area’s cultural arts heritage and the important role Columbus’ cultural arts institutions have played in the community throughout history.

Did you know...

  • During the American Theatre period in the 1800s, women were given free range to develop wardrobe whereas men had a standard wardrobe for all roles.
  • Minstrel shows of the late 19th century featured white performers in blackface.
  • The original Springer Opera House included a grocery store, saloon and restaurant on the first floor.
  • Such well-known Americans as William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Edwin Thomas Booth, Oscar Wilde and Booker T. Washington appeared at the Springer Opera House during the 1800s, in addition to Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter in the 1900s.
  • The term ‘nickelodeon’ does not refer to a popular television channel, but rather refers to a theatre that offered short films for a nickel in the early 1900s.
  • Columbus’ Black community had a thriving arts district that could rival large southern cities.

There's lots more to learn and enjoy during your visit!

On With The Show! The Springer Opera House and History of Columbus Theatre (1830-present)
runs now through February 12, 2012 at the Columbus Museum. Please visit, or call (706) 748-2562 for more information.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Columbus Museum welcomes new Director of Development

Welcome from Columbus Museum Director, Tom Butler:

Museums are known by two major programs: their collections, which are their reason for existing, and their educational programming to make their collections accessible to their public. It takes talented people to make both things happen successfully; curators who find and secure the objects and curators to develop the varied and interesting programming that provides a context for the acquired object and shows its relevance to the Museum’s membership or community. The real champion in this process is the staff person or persons who seek out the financial support to insure that it really can take place. That role falls to the Museum’s development department.

I am pleased to announce that the Columbus Museum has hired Donna Atkins as the Director of Development. In that role, Donna will oversee the Museum’s total fundraising and revenue/support activities, which includes grant writing, membership, community sponsorships, capital and long-range patronage and annual event fundraising. She is assisted in this position by some very talented staffers who deal more specifically with certain aspects of the larger responsibilities just cited. One of Donna’s first tasks will be to fill the currently vacant position of Marketing and Media Manager. The job description is posted on the Museum’s website and if you know of such a qualified person, please encourage them to send their credentials to Donna Atkins at We welcome Donna to the Columbus Museum staff and look forward to working with her to further enhance the Museum’s wonderful partnerships with our supporters.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Columbus Museum Shop Trunk Show

For the first time, the Columbus Museum Gift Shop will host the Columbus Museum Shop Trunk Show, featuring Senn Designs – a line of handcrafted jewelry by three generations of Georgia artists whose works are inspired by exotic travel, classical forms, and current trends.

Founded by Susan Senn-Davis, her mother, Sue Senn, and her daughter, Amy Hammerlund, the close-knit bond between mother, daughter and grandmother allows them to combine three generations of individual styles in the creative process.

Susan is the creative force behind the business and her love of travel and exotic cultures is apparent in all her work. Sue tends to be more classical in her jewelry design, while Amy’s designs gravitate towards current trends. The result is a quality design that looks equally fabulous with a white T-shirt and jeans or cocktail dress.

Please join us at the Columbus Museum Gift Shop on Thursday, September 8 from 3:30 until 7:30 p.m. and take a look at some of these beautiful designs! Refreshments will be served.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

David Gilmour Blythe's Land of Liberty

David Gilmour Blythe's Land of Liberty addresses issues that relate to citizenship, naturalization, immigration, and stereotypes as they pertain to 19th century America. These issues are part of an ongoing dialogue and public debate. Let us know what you think about the exhibition and how these ideas relate America today.

David Gilmour Blythe’s Land of Liberty presents stereotypical images of Native Americans and Irishmen. People often describe others using labels that can be based on the way a person talks, the clothing he or she wears, or the groups to which he or she belongs. Although categorization is a natural human inclination, it can lead people to form opinions based on preconceived thoughts rather than accurate and complete information. Have you ever made an assumption about someone that turned out to be incorrect? Have you been the object of negative stereotyping?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Period Wall Colors for Galleries

We recently reinstalled the Museum’s permanent collection of American art. A succession of galleries highlight particular time periods in American art history, and these are interspersed with galleries that focus on a particular style, theme or artist, such as Impressionism or folk art. Most of the artwork that was created before the early 20th century was meant to be displayed in homes, and therefore would have been hung on painted or wallpapered walls. In my opinion, paintings from the 19th century look much better against deep, rich colors rather than the cold white of typical 21st-century gallery walls.

There is not much information out there about period wall colors — there are several books on exterior wall colors, but not on interiors. After much searching, I found the book Choosing Colors by Kevin McCloud (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2007). McCloud presents historical wall colors from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, and includes a list of commercial paint colors to match them. Using this list, we put together a set of Benjamin Moore colors for the galleries. The main gallery for each time period and the focus gallery for that period are painted in the same hue but a different value. For instance, the Colonial Art and the New Nation gallery is painted in Wales Gray, and the focus gallery next to it, Federal Furniture and Decorative Arts, is painted in Hemlock.

Here are some photographs of the galleries; the caption gives the name of the Benjamin Moore paint.

Colonial Art and the New Nation: Wales Gray

Federal Furniture and Decorative Arts: Hemlock

Self-Discovery and the Wilderness: Sienna Clay

Portraits of Native Americans: Spiced Pumpkin

Cosmopolitanism and Influences from Abroad: Victorian Garden

American Impressionism: Grasslands

Robert Henri and His Students: Winding Vines

Surrealism and Abstraction: Barley

Repose and Movement: Antique Bronze