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Auditorium Theater

On Monday, June 11, 1894, the corner stone was laid for what would become a Newark landmark. Originally called the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Building, the theater was built to serve many purposes. Originally, it housed two store rooms, a large opera house, a second-floor library and reading space, and a third-floor memorial hall for use by the Grand Army of the Republic and the Union Veteran Legion. The Board of Trustees assembled to oversee the construction of the building purchased the property for a sum of $19,000. [1] Previously, the home of Samuel D. King stood on the site at 22 N. Second St. That house, built in 1831, was removed from the property and now stands on Sixth Street as part of the National Heisey Glass Museum . [2]

The theater opened for business on March 1, 1895, with a Newark Opera Club production of “Pirates of Penzance” being its first performance. Many famous performers of the early 20th Century graced the stage, including Count Basie, Harry Houdini, Gene Autry, Eva Francis, Zoe Fulton, Elsie Hirschberg Deermont, Elsie Janis, Eva Tanguay, Texas Guinan, and Frank James, the brother of famous outlaw Jesse James.

Eventually the name was changed to The Auditorium, and the theater continued to thrive until a fire damaged the front of the building. At approximately 3:44 a.m. on April 29, 1968, crews responded to a blaze at the then 73-year-old structure. The fire destroyed the front portion of the theater. The damage was estimated to be around $250,000, with fears that the building could be a total loss.[3] Included in the losses was an extensive collection of Civil War memorabilia that was housed in the theater. The fire was ruled as arson.[4] While the original façade could have been repaired and salvaged, architects of the time opted to replace the front of the building with a modern design.[5]

In 1978 the building was rented by the Midland Theatre Corporation, but was forced to close due to low attendance. The Licking County Players leased the building during the 1980s and offered community programming with the help of volunteers attempting to save the building, and in 1991, Licking County Veterans Memorial Auditorium Inc. proposed a tax levy to renovate the building. [6] The levy did not pass.

In 1992 local entrepreneur Dave Longaberger purchased The Auditorium for $70,000, with plans to renovate it into an entertainment facility.[7] Longaberger planned to restore the façade to its original elaborate grandeur. He intended to use the facility for Longaberger functions as well as community events such as movies, plays, and concerts.[8] After investing in the restoration of the nearby Midland Theatre, Longaberger deemed the Auditorium too costly to complete, and the property was transferred to the Newark Midland Theatre Association. [9]

In 2001, an estimate to renovate the building was totaled at $25,000,000. The theater had become structurally unsound and the stage needed replaced. Due to the exorbitant cost of restoration, it was decided that the structure should be demolished. The Newark Midland Theater Association discussed the possibility of dividing the property into two lots, with one serving as parking and the other housing a three-story office building. [10]

The property was deeded to the Licking County Foundation who funded the $300,000 demolition of the building in July of 2002. The Foundation planned to build a community park with a sprinkler-style water exhibit and greenspace. It was given the name Foundation Park. [11] The location is currently home to the Licking County Foundation’s offices and park.


Granville Opera House

The Granville Opera House was built by William Worden in 1849 and was originally used as a Baptist Church. Eventually, the congregation outgrew the building, and in 1882 it was sold to the township for $5,000.[12] Later that year, the building was moved across Main Street by a team of oxen and was placed on top of another one-story building. Over the years, the lower floor was used for retail businesses and town and government offices, while the upper floor was used as a theater and public meeting space. [13]

In June 1981, the Granville Opera House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. [14] Even with this designation, the building fell into disrepair and the high cost of renovating the building led to a debate over whether the building should be destroyed or restored. The argument was put to rest when a fire caused irreparable damage on April 7, 1982.[15] The blaze was started by a heating lamp which was warming the baby chicks that were traditionally given away on Easter. [16]


Midland Theatre

The original Midland Theater first opened on the Square in Newark on December 20, 1928 after about one year of construction. This was the same year that outside electric lighting was installed downtown. The opening included a welcome by Newark's Mayor Robbins Hunter, a band concert, a vaudeville act, and a pre-release showing of "The Shopworn Angel," which Paramount allowed the Midland to play before its January 15 national release. One of the young actors in the film was Gary Cooper.

Almost every business around the Square published welcoming ads in the Newark Advocate and American Tribune newspaper. Telegrams of congratulations were received from such people as Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Lon Chaey, Buster Keaton, Ronald Colman, John Barrymore, Gloria Swanson and Douglas Fairbanks.

The theater regularly featured movies, Vaudeville acts and live music and was a popular spot in Newark until the blizzard of 1978, which caused the boilers to freeze and crack. In time, the ceiling leaked, and the lower seating flooded. No one had the resources to repair the facility until the farsightedness of Dave Longaberger saved the day. He bought the theater in 1992 for just $15,000 because it was in such disrepair and immediately began to restore it to its original beauty. He died in 1999, but his company continued to follow his wishes, spending about $8.5 million on the project. It was then donated to the Newark Midland Theatre Association.

The second grand opening occurred on September 14, 2002 under the name The Midland Theatre (note the spelling change). The starting lineup that fall was Bill Cosby on opening night, Hal Holbrook portraying Mark Twain on November 2, and The Nutcracker on November 30 and December 1.

Weathervane Playhouse

In 1969, the Weathervane’s first performance took place inside a barn in Heath, Ohio. Over the years the theater moved to a tent and an open-air pavilion before it found a permanent location on Price Road in Newark, Ohio.[17]

The Weathervane has had its fair share of misfortunes including a fire on Thanksgiving of 1987 when arsonists burned the building to the ground. With support from the community, a new playhouse was built, and in 1989 the Mary A. Alford Weathervane Theater was opened to the public.[18] Tragedy struck again in 1994 when the Dollar General, where Weathervane had been storing costumes, was destroyed in a fire along with three other downtown businesses. The collection included over 5,000 pieces, many of them irreplaceable.[19] The theater put out a call for costume donations, and again the community responded generously, allowing the Weathervane to recover enough to open for their 26th season.[20][21]

In 1997, a large donation from Weathervane supporter, Larry Anderson, allowed for the construction of the Larry W. and Dawn Holt Anderson Children’s Theater. The space was completed in 1999 and houses programs specifically for children along with providing additional space for the adult performers.[22]



  1. “Corner Stone of Newark’s Memorial Temple Duly Laid,” Newark Weekly Advocate, June 14, 1894.
  2. Licking County Historical Society, “Theaters Big in Newark,” The Advocate, January 13, 1985.
  3. Dan Davis, “$250,000 Fire Hits Auditorium,” The Newark Advocate, April 29, 1968.
  4. Heather Homan, “Rich in Heritage,” The Advocate, October 1, 1995.
  5. Sarah Robinson, “Auditorium Theater Group Gears Up for Restoration,” Granville Booster, July 2, 1990.
  6. Kent Mallett, “Remembering the Auditorium Theater,” The Advocate, July 30, 2002.
  7. Jeff Bell, “Longaberger Saves Auditorium With $70,000,” The Advocate, June 7, 1992.
  8. Jeff Bell, “Longaberger Has Big Plans for Auditorium,” The Advocate, November 27, 1992.
  9. Mallett, “Remembering the Auditorium Theater.”
  10. Kent Mallett, Auditorium Theater to Be Torn Down,” The Advocate, July 8, 2001.
  11. “Auditorium Coming Down,” Our Town, July 11-17, 2002, 1.
  12. “Flames Destroy Historic Building”, Newark Advocate, April 8, 1982.
  13. “Historic Opera House Devastated”, The Licking Countian, April 15, 1982.
  14. “Granville Launches Fundraising for Opera House”, Newark Advocate. April 21. 1982.
  15. “Controversy Also Burned in Granville Fire”, The Columbus Dispatch, April 11, 1982.
  16. “Historic Opera House Devastated”, The Licking Countian, April 15, 1982.
  17. “Weathervane Playhouse History.” Weathervane Playhouse Website: , February 15, 2017.
  18. “Mary A. Alford Theatre is New Weathervane Playhouse”, Granville Booster, April 3, 1989.
  19. “Weathervane loses costume collection”, The Advocate, March 21, 1994.
  20. “Weathervane Playhouse History.” Weathervane Playhouse Website: , February 15, 2017.
  21. “Weathervane Scrambles for Premiere”, The Advocate, June 11, 1994.
  22. “Curtain rises on plans for Weathervane’s children’s theater”, The Advocate, July 21, 1997.