by Colleen Cook
Ninety years is more than most people get to enjoy on earth. Mansfield has changed in so many ways over the past 90 years, our world has changed in so many ways, the fact that anything remains the same is nothing short of a miracle.
Yet, here we are in 2018 and Mansfield still flocks to the same beautiful venue for arts and entertainment. The Renaissance Theatre opened as the Ohio Theatre in 1928, and was for many years a popular destination for cinema and traveling acts. By the 1960s and into the 1970s, though, movie palaces declined severely in popularity, and nearly every theatre like the Ohio was victim to the age of television and multiplexes. One-screen movie palaces just couldn’t compete.
Renaissance quite literally means “rebirth,” and the theatre’s name change in 1980 could not have been more apt for the story that followed. In the late 1970s, the theatre had closed following public outrage as it had become a XXX film house.
Around the same time, the Miss Ohio Pageant committee had been searching for a venue large enough to house the pageant and with the capacity to do a television broadcast of the state pageant. The committee came into the space and cleaned it up (I’ve heard from individuals on that committee that it was in a very sorry state at that point). A local group of community-minded individuals had been working to save the Madison Theatre down the street, and redirected their efforts to the Ohio Theatre. Philanthropists Fran and Warren Rupp purchased the venue and donated it to the group, renaming it to the Renaissance Theatre.
In the mid-1980s, a $2.25 million capital campaign successfully restored the space and repurposed it as a performing arts center. The restoration was completed by Richland Renovating, the same group who completed the plaster, paint, and silk updates over the past two years at the theatre. A new theatre organ was installed, this time a magnificent Mighty Wurlitzer (the theatre’s original Kimball Organ had been sold off by prior owners), and fixtures from the Leland Hotel and the Sturges Mansion were later integrated into the theatre as well.