EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay-area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.
By R.L. HEMINGER
“William Marvin proposes to build a modern theater on North Main Street. He has unoccupied space adjoining his block in the area.”
This small news item, appearing in the Morning Republican on Oct. 13, 1892 (incidentally just one day after the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America) told the Findlay community that it was going to have a new theater.
Findlay already had two theaters, the Davis and the Turner. But the oil and gas boom was at its height, the population was growing and there was much evidence that the city could support another opera house.
The Marvin went up during 1893 and was dedicated on the night of Sept. 18 of that year with appropriate ceremonies and a dramatic production — Shakespeare’s “Richard the Third.”
The full story of the Marvin Theater’s history was put together by the late Don E. Smith of Findlay, whose perusal of the files of the Morning Republican produced an interesting and valuable account of the theater which played such a prominent role in the community’s history for so long.
Over the years the Marvin, standing directly opposite Center Street on North Main Street, had almost a dozen owners. Many stage stars of prominence trolled its boards. Many local events of significance took place within the theater. There were frequent changes of policy under new managers and owners. The theater was dark some of the time. It was once condemned by the state. Its name underwent changes. It once was sold at sheriff’s sale.
Fire eventually ended the theater’s career. On a night in the first week of November 1930, the structure was gutted by a fire, ending a 37-year period during which its contribution to the local community was a major one. The ruins were hauled away.
Before he let the contracts for the construction of the new theater, Mr. Marvin went to city council with two requests. One was the privilege of using a short alley directly in back of his Main Street property for a railroad switching track, on which to bring in material for the building work and to be used later for easy handling of scenery cars of troupes appearing at the theater. The second request was for permission to drill a natural gas well across the alley, with authority to cross the alley with a pipeline. Mr. Marvin wanted to heat and light his new theater from his own gas well. He evidently changed his mind about gas for heat and light, because when the theater opened, Mr. Marvin had installed his own electric plant within the theater.
When the theater opened in 1893, W.C. Marvin was the manager of the playhouse, which had a seating capacity of 1,500. The seats on the first floor were of an upholstered nature, as were the seats in the first three rows in the balcony. There were eight finely furnished boxes on the two sides.
The stage was said to be the second largest in northwestern Ohio. The stage was 42 feet by 80 feet in size. Double doors led off the back of the stage for the handling of scenery. There were 10 dressing rooms for the performers.
There was a large orchestra pit, in which an orchestra of nine musicians played for musical productions, under the direction of a Professor Marco.
The lobby of the theater was a large one. A staircase at the west end of the lobby floor took patrons to a second level on which the theater was located.
Large as were the facilities, they were not big enough to accommodate the chariots employed in the presentation of “Ben Hur” and the performance of the famous Lew Wallace work had to be canceled.
Next week: dedication of Marvin Theater.