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Columbus’ Drexel Theatre receives facelift with renovated structure, screens

Amanda Carberry / Lantern reporter

After a three-year struggle, the Drexel Theatre, located in Bexley, Ohio, welcomed the New Year with renovations that have brought it into the digital era.  

A barrel roof, covering the entire theater, was the first thing to be replaced, along with the 10-ton HVAC unit that is used to service the Drexel’s largest theater.

“The roof had not been replaced in 50 to 40 years and has been a patch work,” Richard Stoff, chairman of the Friends of the Drexel Inc., said of the theater, which originally opened in the 1930s. “Stains in the carpet, stale popcorn, the bathroom and creaky seats area are modest inconveniences compared to a roof. Those things won’t shut you down, but if a storm comes and blows a hole in a roof, that will shut you down.”

Friends of the Drexel, Inc., a nonprofit organization formed three years ago by Bexley community members and arts patrons helped provide the costs for the renovations. The new roof cost $140,000, Stoff said.

Galas held on the Drexel’s behalf have attracted grants such as ones from the Bexley Community Foundation, the Community Development Block Grant and corporate foundation grants from the Limited Brands and American Electric Power.

The Friends of the Drexel board is made up of 13 members, all of whom are civic and community leaders and patrons of the arts. Among them is Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee.

Other renovations to the Drexel include upgrading a 20-year-old non-digital sound system in the big screen theater to a Dolby Digital 7.1 sound system and upgrading the two smaller screens to Dolby Digital 5.1 sound systems. All three theaters were also given new digital projectors and new screens, giving the viewer a steadier, more crisp image, said Jeff Frank, the theater’s artistic director.

Frank bought the theater in 1981, and Stoff said being privately owned made it difficult to compete with the larger multiplex cinemas across town. On the verge of closure, Friends of the Drexel bought the theater’s assets and turned the theater into a nonprofit organization, according to its website. Columbus Association of Performing Arts (CAPA) was also brought in to manage the theater on behalf of Friends of the Drexel, according to a press release.

“All the years of decline took its toll on the (physical condition of the theater). And if you owe money to distributors they have one way to fight back and that is to cut off content, which is oxygen for movie theaters,” Stoff said. “When you lose movies you lose box office, when you lose box office you begin experiencing operating losses, and when you experience operating losses you get very close to almost a death spiral.”

During the period of transition for the theater, its physical structure had deteriorated.  

Over the past three years, Friends of the Drexel has held three galas at the theater. Each fundraiser showed a film and honored an important guest and brought in revenue for the theater. The most recent gala, held Oct. 28, raised more than $70,000 for the theater, according to the Drexel’s website.

Frank said the recent developments made to the Drexel enhance the theater.

“The digital equipment is a big upgrade – the sound, screens, amps and projectors. There now are brighter, more steady images, clear, not muffled, sounds and new screens,” Frank said. “There is no doubt that this has improved the quality of the theater.”

Sue Swenor, a Columbus resident and frequent visitor to the Drexel, agreed.

“The new improvements are great and make the viewing experience much better,” Swenor said. “As they continue to fix up the theater I hope they keep the authentic look that it already has.”

The Drexel Theatre has historic architecture and is one of the last remaining art-deco-designed art houses, Stoff said, and it is one of the few remaining art houses in the state that shows serious, forging, documentary and independent films. An art house is a theater that shows mainly independent, artistic films.

“We like to think of the Drexel as not only an art house but a neighborhood meeting place, where art is discussed and debated. Those discussions are very rich and add to what the Drexel is all about,” Stoff said.

Currently showing at the Drexel are “Hyde Park on Hudson,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Les Miserables.”

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