Historic Ritz Theatre
Originally, the Grand Opera House, a three-story Victorian building featuring ornate brick and stone work, was built for the legitimate stage. Later, it served as a theatre for vaudeville. In the 1920's, as motion pictures became the rage, the Opera House was converted into a movie palace. To give the building a more modern art deco look, the first story brickwork was covered with carrara glass and an elaborate marquee and cascading signs were added. Thus, the Grand Opera House became the Ritz Theatre. In 1956, the world premiere of "A View From Pompey's Head," filmed primarily at the Oglethorpe Hotel (the grand hotel that used to sit across from the Ritz), was introduced by the film's star, Richard Egan, at the Ritz Theatre.
The Ritz Theatre (and single movie houses in general) fell into decline in the 60's and 70's. In 1981, the City of Brunswick purchased the Ritz, and again, the theatre was modernized and substantially altered; however, the Ritz sign was left intact. The extensive reconstruction was due in part to the collapse of the roof over the auditorium. This phase was completed in 1983.
In 2008, the Ritz became part of the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI), the only comprehensive theatre preservation organization in the U.S. and the premiere resource for historic theatre restoration and revitalization in Georgia, offering mentoring programs, preservation expertise, operational counseling, and educational opportunitites. In 2010 Golden Isles Arts and Humanities applied for and received a restoration assistance grant, matched by the City of Brunswick, to restore the building's 58 original windows, which were loose and in danger of falling.
Under FTI's guidance, local craftsmen James Taylor and Taylor Davis, partnering with the Association for Preservation Technology and the Jekyll Island Restoration Team, restored the windows using the original glass and much of the original wood. FTI and the city then supported the repainting of the building. In 1899, the Grand Opera House was built of unpainted brick, then painted white by the movie company in the 1920's for a more modern feel. Because it would have been damaging to remove decades of paint from the surface, the theatre was painted a brick red when the city restored it in the 1980's. Local contractors Peninsula Painting were hired to refurbish the exterior using the same basic color scheme. When the work was completed in the summer of 2010, new curtains were made for the windows by Brunswick resident Jennifer George.
The original Ritz sign was the final exterior element needing restoration. The sign had not been fully operational for years, so FTI once again stepped in to provide assistance. In May 2011, local company Fendig Signs undertook extensive restoration work, including painting, rewiring, and the crafting of new neon letters by Ray Tanner. The beautifully restored sign was returned in the Fall and on November 4, 2011, during Downtown Brunswick's First Friday event, Golden Isles Arts and Humanities held a grand re-lighting celebration.
The Ritz Theatre, located within the "Old Town Brunswick" National Register District was built in 1899 to house the Grand Opera House, retail establishments, and the general offices of the Brunswick & Birmingham Railroad. Today, downtown Brunswick's historic theatre and arts center features year-round live performances, films, exhibits, educational programs and more. Programming and management by Golden Isles Arts and Humanities Association, coordinating arts council for the City of Brunswick and Glynn County.
For more information about the Golden Isles Arts & Humanities Association and upcoming shows, please visit the website.
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