Operators Of Scranton’s Ritz Theater Uncover Buried Treasure In Old Architecture
SCRANTON — Michael Melcher heard stories about the Ritz Theater’s old proscenium arch.
But the director at the Creative and Performing Arts Academy, the Ritz stage’s current occupant, didn’t really know what was up there.
He just knew the elaborate topper built in 1907 had been hidden for decades.
After about three years running the performance school for kids inside the century-old theater, the team was cleaning up space, high above the stage, for prop storage and started pulling away at the walls covering the feature.
“We discovered just how much of it was intact and really in amazing shape,” he said.
A proscenium arch is like a crown over a stage. The one at the Ritz has detailed scrollwork. It’s hand-painted in cool green and blue, pastel umber and coral.
A layer of dust a quarter-inch thick caked it when CaPAA uncovered it, but it remained largely intact except for a crumbling corner near the bottom left.
The arch, or at least a piece of it, is part of a new historical exhibit curated by Leadership Lackawanna, a professional development organization that uses community projects to teach leadership and collaboration skills. The Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce is Leadership Lackawanna’s parent organization.
“It appears, just through the research, that it was covered up in about 1937,” said Stephanie Longo, a chamber employee and member of Leadership’s current class.
The exhibit includes photos and a few artifacts lining the left and right staircases leading up to the second-floor auditorium. It tracks the Ritz’s evolution starting with its 1907 opening as the Poli Theater.
The Comerford Theater chain bought it in 1925 but closed it four years later for upgrades. It reopened in 1930 as the Ritz Theater, according to Leadership Lackawanna’s research.
In the late 1930s, management decided on a total reconstruction, reopening in 1937 again as the Comerford.
An event to unveil the exhibit is scheduled for today. The public can see it starting at 6 p.m.
The exhibit includes photos from when the Ritz was one of the first cinemas in the country to screen “Gone with the Wind.” According to Scranton Tribune archives from January 1940, the Comerford had the film starting Jan. 26, 1940, one week before most other picture houses.
The exhibit includes memorabilia, old advertisements and photos from the 1937 reconstruction period when the auditorium was lifted to the second floor among other sweeping efforts to modernize the theater. The Leadership Lackawanna team believes that’s when the proscenium and other features were covered.
The exhibit is part of several changes and upgrades at the Ritz.
Work to make the second-floor auditorium disabled-accessible has begun, Melcher said. And plans are underway to bring heating and air conditioning to the auditorium, amenities it hasn’t had for the last 25 years, he estimates.
As far as the proscenium goes, the ornate, century-old architecture will remain covered high above the stage. That doesn’t mean the CaPAA team plans on forgetting about it.
“There’s nothing we’re going to be able to do to reutilize it,” Melcher said. “But what we’re committing to is protecting it as much as possible so it can be seen and enjoyed and appreciated.”
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