New York City Ska legends The Toasters were the bridge from the late ’70s 2 Tone Records-fueled Ska revival in the U.K. to the one that brought Ska into the American mainstream in the ’90s. Easily one of the most influential Ska acts of all time, The Toasters were formed in 1981 by Robert “Bucket” Hingley, a U.K. native (and the group’s lone constant member) who had just moved to The States, taking inspiration from the 2 Tone Ska being created in his homeland (The Beat, The Specials, The Selecter, etc.).
The Toasters, in turn, helped inspire multitudes of Ska bands to form, something that ultimately led to the development of so-called Ska Punk. Having a hard time finding a label, Hingley formed his own, Moon Ska Records, which grew to become the major American Ska indie imprint, releasing music (via albums or the label’s popular compilations) by The Slackers, Dance Hall Crashers, Mustard Plug, Less Than Jake and No Doubt, among many others. The Moon label was a road-map to quality American Ska when the music was more underground; the imprint, which was artist- and consumer-friendly (like Punk label Dischord, Moon always kept prices low), experienced its greatest success during the ’90s Ska boom, but when the music fell out of mainstream favor, the label faded away. Hingley moved to Spain, where he formed another label, Megalith, to continue releasing Toasters albums.
The Toasters were the cool elder statesmen of the Ska scene and they’ve survived the fickleness of musical trends and an ever-changing music industry for over 30 years now by doing things on their own terms and keeping true to their vision.
On this day in 2000, Scottish Indie Pop giants Belle and Sebastian made their first appearance on the British show Top of the Pops. With a gorilla (see video below).
Some of the band members also almost made their first appearance in jail after reportedly breaking onto the set of hugely popular BBC soap opera Eastenders following a few too many drinks at the "BBC bar," according to the NME.
According to reports, a security guard saw them and called police. Luckily for the musicians, the show's host and producer happened by as they were being busted and convinced the guard they were guests of the BBC.
A B&S spokesperson told NME.com, "I think they were quite lucky. It's not the sort of thing they'd usually do and they almost got into real trouble over it. They'd just been celebrating a bit too much as they'd had such a wonderful time on the show."
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a June 1 birthday include legendary Big Band leader Nelson Riddle (1921); Gospel singer Marie Knight (1925); white-bread Pop singer Pat Boone (1934); Bluegrass great Hazel Dickens (1935); Faces/Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood (1947); half of Country duo Brooks & Dunn, Ronnie Dunn (1953); Depeche Mode's Alan Wilder (1959); The Cure bassist Simon Gallup (1960); drummer for The Smiths, Mike Joyce (1963); Pop singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile (1981); and Canadian singer/songwriter Alanis Morissette (1974).
Though Morissette never recaptured the superstardom of her ’90s, Jagged Little Pill days, she has remained consistently active professionally. Overall, she's managed one of the more interesting careers in contemporary music, going from child actress (as a cast member of Nickelodeon's You Can't Do That On Television) and young Pop star (she toured with Vanilla Ice in 1991!) to angst-ridden Grunge-era idol, occasional actress and fascinating dater (she was linked to Full House actor Dave Coulier and hunky future ScarJo beau Ryan Reynolds and is currently married to an obscure rapper named MC Souleye).
Yesterday, Morissette (unwittingly or not) became a spokesperson for the "attachment parenting" movement, which came to wider public attention recently when Time magazine ran its infamous "grown woman with apparent pre-teen attached to her boob via his mouth" cover. On The Billy Bush Show and Good Morning America, she spoke about her dedication to breastfeeding until her 16-month-old son says "When."
"I'll stop (breastfeeding) whenever he wants. I know some children who have weaned naturally at two, some kids wean naturally a couple of years later. I mean, it's up to every child," she said on Good Morning America.
She also said, "I think it affords the child, when he grows up, to have a lot less therapy to go to."
Because breastfeeding your second grader isn't going to cause any emotional issues, right?
Alanis is clearly not worried about the damage a 7-year-old could inflict on her humps, her humps, her lovely lady lumps.
Live Nation, a national live-events company that promotes acts and operates a large list of venues around the country, took over Bogart’s in 1999 in a deal with Nederlander Entertainment, who was operating the venue at the time.
One of the myriad changes they have made over the years has been a revamp of the old website, molding it to the standard format they use for all their venues, which in a way deemphasizes the historical significance of the place. I’d think the wrinkled timeline of the building might be a point of interest, but I suppose concert-goers are more concerned with getting tickets to collectively bob heads in a loud room than the age-old energy of that very room.
Here’s what you may not know about Bogart’s.
hasn’t always been Bogart’s. Built in 1890, it was originally called the
Nordland Plaza Nickelodeon and, fitting with popular entertainment of the
period, it was a vaudeville theater.
Imagine this: lights illuminate figures flying through the air, turning and twisting as they clutch their trapeze over the small stage. They complete a routine and the room is filled with a crowd-hushing roar, followed by the entrance of a ringmaster rearing a lion up to full height right in front of your eyes. He leads it in circles, keeping it calm and cool, before leading it back offstage to allow a magician to come out, accompanied side-stage by two comedic cross-gender impersonators, hooting and howling as the illusionist pulls a hair out of his hat or cuts a man in half. The show ends with a small orchestra playinga classical piece to guide three dancers across the platform.
This was “vaudeville,” fringe American entertainment named after the creation of Sargent’s Great Vaudeville Company in Louisville. It’s fascinating to wonder what wild things we could have seen at the Nordland Plaza in the early 20th century.
As technology developed, folks apparently grew less accustomed to leaving their houses for public, live entertainment, and TV took over the world of entertaining. The theater succumbed to the competition from the television industry and transformed into a German film theater in the mid-1950s under the same name.
later it reverted back to live entertainment, becoming a restaurant theater
with the new name Inner Circle. This nightclub was far from the talk of the
town, slowly spiraling into failure until a man named Al Porkolab and two
partners bought the building.
it Bogart’s, which was short for Bogart’s Café Americain, a reference to the
movie Casablanca, apparently one of
Pokolab’s favorites. In its earliest days it followed the movie as a theme,
decorating with tropical trees and offering food with the ambiance of tuxedoed
servers and a lounge band. The venue only sat a few hundred people at this
point, and the restaurant-club followed Inner Circle down a fissure to failure
in just months.
At this point Porkolab took over, buying out his partners and extensively remodeling the building, turning it into a nightclub that featured local, national and international music acts. It opened as such in 1982.
It remained open in this state, still housing only several hundred people, for a decade. During that time it garnered a little heat, specifically from Cincinnati Mayor Charles Luken in 1985, who wanted the place shut down due to the neighborhood havoc that would ensue after the late-night dance parties the club would host from 2-6 a.m. on Sundays.
The building underwent another round of renovations in 1993 that turned the few hundred seats into 1,500, the current capacity of the venue. With the larger volume, the venue began bringing in acts that were too big for a small bar or club but wouldn’t get booked by a big-time venue.
Many bands you know now that would sell out a huge venue played Bogart’s in their proving days. To name a few, acts such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Phish, Slayer and Pearl Jam (who, as a matter of fact, is coming in October to play US Bank Arena) impressed crowds on that intimate stage.
In ’97, Nederlander took over operations, leading us back to the highly reputed ownership by Live Nation, who according to their short paragraph of history on the site, “continues the tradition of quality live entertainment that has been [the venue's] forte since the building was built.”
Check out the upcoming shows at this old vaudeville hall:
Taking Back Sunday
Sept. 12: Paul Weller
Sept. 16: August Alsina: Testimony Live
Sept. 19: Nick Carter and Jordan Knight
Sept. 20: Blacklight College Party
Sept. 26: Matisyahu
Go here for Bogart's photos throughout the years.
Oakley’s 20th Century Theater has only been the venue it is today for about the last 20 years. When it originally opened in August 1941, the now-vintage glowing sign that lit up the era-glorifying name represented a simple one-screen movie theater. Its history and how it changed from that to what it is today fits into the citywide and national history of cinemas like a plastic rodent fits a Whac-A-Mole machine.
Willis Vance, a local businessman that ended up owning a string of theaters and other establishments around town, was the original owner of the theater. At the time of its inception, no theater that housed more than one screen even existed. In fact, as silly as it may sound now, that concept wouldn’t seriously surface in the industry for a few more decades.
Cinemas would have a single film they would play every night, generally whatever was very popular at the time. When a new piece of black-and-white gold would come out of Hollywood, they would swap it in, making it the new nightly showing.
Vance opened the theater with the 20th Century Fox (see what he did there) production Blood and Sand. This may have been a thoughtful tribute to the movie’s star Tyrone Power, an American box-office sellout actor that was born in Cincinnati. While he didn’t grow up here, he did return to the Queen City in his early teenage years, during which time he learned and honed his skills in drama. He went on to become extremely well known and sought-after in the industry, appearing in famous films such as The Mark of Zorro, The Black Swan and dozens of others.
The theater thrived for some time, having hit the ground running with notable qualities like air conditioning and valet parking. To people of my generation, that is a “What?” factor, but it was actually the first theater in the city to keep your ass cold during a movie. It also boasted being one of the first fire-proof buildings in the city, taking that extra step in keeping the heat out.
But almost a decade after it first lit its tower and opened its doors, the cinema industry began to slowly change.
A Canadian inventor named Nat Taylor erected a second screen right next door to his theater in Ontario. He showed the same movie on both for several years at first, simply upping his audience capacity. However, he eventually got tired of swapping out movies for new releases when the old movies were still making money, so he started selling tickets to two movies.
I call the change slow because although this idea was birthed mid-century, it didn’t begin to significantly affect the industry until the ‘60s and ‘70s.
In 1963 Stan Durwood, AMC owner, cinema pioneer and self-proclaimed inventor of the multi-plex, opened the Parkway Twin Theater. It was the first theater with two screens under the same roof, although not for long. The idea caught on and throughout the ‘60s other dual-screen theaters began to pop up. Durwood expanded his Twin Theater from two screens to four, then six.
Through the next two decades the multi-plex concept exploded, with competition for the most screens and best accommodations running rampant. Nat Taylor, who also laid claim as the original inventor of the multi-screen theater, cofounded an 18-screen Cineplex in 1979. He garnered a Guinness World Record, it being the largest theater in the world at the time.
These large cinemas wreaked havoc on the industry for the small-time, local theaters. The charm of a little art deco theater with free valet and air-conditioning no longer held up to the big dogs.
By 1974 20th Century was owned by Levin Services, a management company that also owned several additional theaters and drive-ins around the area. Union strikes that year brought mayhem to Levin. Angry union members broke into the Ambassador Theater, just a block away from 20th Century on Madison Road, to destroy the seats, slash the screen and split the speaker wires. They wrecked the projectors by ripping out their innards with a crowbar, and poured cement into the reels of The Sting, the movie being shown at the time.
Levin closed the Ambassador and several other theaters, including 20th Century. Most reopened after a few weeks, at least for some time. The Ambassador eventually closed for a while after became an Ace Hardware.
The 20th Century lasted just under another decade, succumbing to the cloud of the multi-plex and closing its doors as a movie theater for good in 1983.
But it wasn’t the only pebble to be crushed by a boulder. F&Y Construction, the company that built the Streamline Moderne style building for Willis Vance, built several other theaters in the region. They built the Madison in Covington, Ky., the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, and the Redmoor in Mount Lookout. Those are the ones that remain open and standing. Among others they built in the area were the Guild Theater, Hollywood Cinema North, Marianne Theater, Norwood Theater, Sunset Theater, Westwood Theater, Valley Theater and the Ridge Theater. All of these are now closed; two of them have even been demolished.
I can’t say for certain that the multi-plex led to the demise of each one, but its reasonable to assume the industry change had great range. And on top of that, those are only the theaters built by that single construction firm.
After 20th Century was closed in ’83, it was left to neglect for almost a decade. It rotted through water damage and vandals left their mark with graffiti and broken windows. To me, imagining this conjures up a similar image to the Imperial Theater, the decrepit building at Mohawk and McMicken that used to screen adult films and host burlesque shows in the ‘60s.
The early 1990s rolled around and found the community caught between demolishing the fallen cinema or pouring money into restoration. Mike Belmont stepped up and went for the latter approach. After extensive work, he reopened the doors of the building as Belmont’s Flooring Company.
His business only remained in the building he saved for a year, moving just down the street to the old Oakley Bank where Belmont’s still resides in modern business glory. Apparently Belmont had a thing for old buildings.
After he left the Cincinnati Church of Christ, then a group just over a decade old, occupied the building for 4 years before themselves moving on to some higher calling.
This brings us up through this old cinema’s rise and fall to 1997. It was then that the building was bought and 20th Century Productions rose like an entertainment-driven spirit out of the floorboards. Devoted to special events and concerts, they have turned the building into a beautiful venue that hosts almost anything from a raucous rock concert to a quaint wedding reception.
In 2010 they took a final step in the renovation of the building that had never been done. The 20th Century Tower that stands over its doorway was given back its glow to illuminate the night again, drawing in all who look to be entertained.
Here’s what’s coming up at the old one-screen (now one-stage):
Oct. 8: Cherub
Oct. 16: Ruthie Foster
Oct. 23: Paul Thorn Band
Oct. 29: Suicide Girls
The first time I saw the Warsaw Falcons, my Cincinnati experience was only slightly longer than the band's existence. I'd moved here in January 1982 on the heels of a failed and miserable marriage. I was working for (and living out of) a record store in North College Hill run by my friends/saviors Rick and Karen (aka Cookie, long before Empire, bitches) Kandelson, who gave me work and a safe haven.
I found full time work and a girlfriend in fairly short order, and for the most part felt I'd made the right decision in relocating to Cincinnati. But I desperately missed my 2-year-old son and my family and friends back in Michigan, so I entertained the notion of asking my new love to consider moving back to the Mitt with me.
And then a cosmic intervention took place. Within the span of a couple of weeks, I saw the raisins, who had been around for a while, and the Warsaw Falcons, who had only just formed. After those two musical epiphanies I said to myself, with unbridled joy and complete certainty, "I don't have to go home, I am home."
Beyond all doubt, I was where I was supposed to be.
The raisins were everything I loved about Pop Rock — smart and smartassed, loud, melodic, lyrically brilliant and gloriously dumb, intricate in the pursuit of simplicity. The Falcons exhibited a lot of the same characteristics, but in a totally different context. I couldn't tell you much about the original band at that point, as I was fairly riveted to the sight of David Rhodes Brown, a 6' 4" beanpole with an additional foot of roostered pompadour, snake-charming the nastiest, slinkiest, rawest, most compelling riffs from his hollow bodied Gibson that I'd ever heard in my 25 years. Brown and the earliest incarnation of the Falcons roared through a couple of sets of jumped-up Rockabilly/Boogie Woogie/Blues at an intensity level that could have microwaved a 15-pound roast to perfection in under a minute, and I stood watching in absolute wonder, as if I was attending the swaggering, staggering, yowling birth of Rock & Roll its own damn self.
There was no fundamental difference in any subsequent Falcons show I witnessed over the next seven years, give or take, and they were legion. At Dollar Bill's, Shipley's, Bogart's, Cory's, all the way out at the Townshipn Tavern and any number of places in between, the Warsaw Falcons never gave any less than their absolute all, tearing shit up with gleeful intent, putting it back together with ramshackle abandon and ultimately reducing it to smoke and ash with the zeal of blissed-out revolutionaries, confident in their cause and the destruction it inspired.
Through any number of lineup shifts, the Falcons delivered the goods night after night, set upon set upon set. There were gaps in the band's history when Brown lit out for Austin, Tex., and Nashville, Tenn., but he returned with more riffs to play, more stories to tell, more challenges to conquer. Brown shuttered the Falcons just after taking them into John Curley's Ultrasuede Studio to record their only full-length album, the righteous and red hot Right It on the Rock Wall. That incarnation of the band included legendary session saxophonist Bobby Keys. Brown dusted off the Falcons in 2001, turned out a couple of EPs and played out a bit but shelved them again when a proposed record contract fell victim to the post-9/11 downturn.
In the new millennium, things have been different. Music is ones and zeros instead of a spiraled groove or a spun tape reel, and David Rhodes Brown has reinvented himself a half dozen ways to Sunday. He had Ricky Nye teach him the rudiments of Boogie Woogie piano, he learned the Hank Williams songbook and joined Ryan Malott's 500 Miles to Memphis as a lap steel shredder and vocalist, helping transform it from cool local entity to national semi-sensation. Then he taught himself clawhammer banjo, grew a Rip Van Winkle-meets-ZZ Top beard and started playing old time music with the same dedication and intensity that marked his time in the Falcons, with less actual electricity and an improbable rise in passion and workload. He spread his attention over numerous full and part time projects, leading inevitably to his debut solo album, 2010's exquisite Browngrass & Wildflowers.
And then, as so often happens, fate intervened in the form of last November's celebration/roast of the David Rhodes Brown on the occasion of his 50th year in the entertainment racket (if you count his being paid to sing requiems at Catholic mass, which he does). The event was organized by one of the scene's greatest boosters and its unceasing heartbeat, the amazing Kelly Thomas, ably assisted by Brown's biggest supporter, fan and sugar mama, the incomparable Bobbi Kayser, who together assembled a veritable murderer's row of artists and friends in order to pay deserved tribute to DRB, if for no other reason than to thank him for his role in helping to build the solid foundation upon which the greater Cincinnati music scene has built its magnificent house over the past four decades.
And in a moment of divine inspiration, the once and future David Rhodes Brown called up the two other most recognizable components of the Warsaw Falcons — bassist John Schmidt, whose stoic demeanor on stage was always at odds with the blistering pulse he provided, and drummer Doug Waggoner, whose maniacal approach to rhythm was to beat it into submission, hammering it into new and exotic shapes with Thor's thunder and Odin's lightning. The Falcons' frenetic six-song set at the end of the evening — with Brown in the teeth of a mutant flu strain that would have coldcocked the sturdiest lumberjack or dockworker — was the stuff of local legend. And as the last chords were still ringing through the Southgate House's Sanctuary, Brown (clean-shaven for the express purpose of revisiting his youthful past) informed us that he, Schmidt and Waggoner had worked too hard and had too much fun to lock the Falcons back in their respective trophy cases and that they would be returning, badder and better than ever.
That promise was teased with the Falcons' opening slot for 500 Miles to Memphis at the Southgate House last New Year's Eve, but it was fulfilled with a righteous vengeance last Friday night when the trio headlined their first club date in nearly a decade and a half, transforming the swank surroundings of the newly refurbished Woodward Theater into an edge-of-town roadhouse, with all the danger and chicken-wire that implies.
The evening began with a spirited set from JetLab, the compelling Synth Rock trio that made a serious local splash with their eponymous 2014 debut album and earned a well-deserved Best New Artist CEA nomination earlier this year. In the studio, the trio — Elle Crash (a huge fan of DRB's since way back), Nick Barrows and Dave Welsh — churn out an arty Flying Lizards/Gary Numan/Breeders/Tom Tom Club-tinged soundtrack, but in the live setting, JetLab channels their performance adrenaline into a manic Soul Coughing/Mike Doughty ethic, with brush strokes from the pallets of early Talking Heads, B-52s and our own Perfect Jewish Couple from back in the day. Barrows and Crash take their turns on the Korg, accompanying each other on electric and acoustic guitars with Crash occasionally strapping on the bass to beef up the bottom. Through it all, Welsh provides the slippery beat to hold it all together, shifting seamlessly from tough-edged shuffle to hard-hitting machinegun attack. JetLab has already amassed a sizable and suitably loyal local following, but its rapidly maturing live presence shows the trio is stocked with brains and muscle and its best days lay just ahead.
Next up on was yet another standard stellar appearance by The Tigerlilies, whose greatness has been trumpeted in our pages and on this site for a good long time. Friday's show was solid evidence to support that stance. The band's fourth and undeniably best album, last year's In the Dark, was handed out with each ticket sold and anyone who didn't already have it was the proud recipient of one of the best albums of 2014, period. In my review of In the Dark, I name-checked Cheap Trick, Husker Du, The Clash and The Beatles and I confidently stand behind those reference points. In the live context, however, The Tigerlilies' energy level rises exponentially and they shift into a sixth gear that is almost impossible to quantify. With an audience to spur them on, The Tigerlilies blenderize all of the above and throw in heaping handfuls of the Dictators and Voidoids to create a sound that is Power Pop at a blistering yet amazingly nuanced Hard Rock level. Bassist Brian Driscoll and drummer Steve Hennessy have the kind of telepathic beat mentality that is the hallmark of every great rhythm section, and Pat Hennessy and Brendan Bogosian are proving to be one of the most adaptable and multidimensional guitar tandems in the city, able to pummel with Punk passion and pacify with Pop persuasion. Pat once took guitar lessons from DRB, distinguishing himself to his instructor by bringing him a Johnny Burnette single with the intent of learning the song. That breadth of interest and experience still informs everything he does with The Tigerlilies.
Inevitably, it was time for the Warsaw Falcons to take the stage. Suited up in dapper black like Sopranos extras ready for their close-ups, Msrs. Brown, Schmidt and Waggoner opened the evening with the one-two punch of their slinky and seductive "Skinny Anklebone," the Falcons' first 7-inch from back in 1984, followed by the propulsively thunderous "Mix Your Mess," and it was a slightly mannered free-for-all from there. As always, the Falcons proved themselves to be masters of pacing, knowing exactly the right time to draft and when to accelerate, slowing things down with the swaying Rockabilly/Doo Wop intensity of "I Fall Apart," heating things up with the insistent thump and throb of "Two Cigarettes in the Dark" and "You Can't Talk to Me." And the evening's special status was cemented with a backing vocal cameo from Mark Utley, taking a break from Bulletville and Magnolia Mountain (the latter of which once claimed DRB as a member) to sing harmonies on "You Can't Talk to Me" and "Melody" and provide appropriate shouts on "Cat Daddy."
When the Falcons finally closed with a rafter-rattling spin on "Never My Lover," the understandably frenzied crowd erupted with some fireworks of their own, stomping on the Woodward's dance floor with seismic fury until the trio retook the stage to finish the night with the hypnotic rumpshake of "Bertha Lou" and the incendiary barnstorm of "Swingin' on the Way Down."
As the lights came up on the dazed but exultant attendees (which included everyone's favorite politico/city booster Jim Tarbell; as Brown noted earlier in the night, "Well, when Jim Tarbell shows up, you know you've got a thing"), it was clear that the audience was comprised of two distinct factions — old fans who were basking in the glow of memories of ancient Falcons triumphs and the unexpected prospect of new frontiers ahead and new fans who had just witnessed a scorching force of nature whose earliest gigs may have preceded their births or at least coincided with their formative elementary school years. These younger fans had never seen the trio in their heyday, and I assured them that what they had just experienced was played out in that same fashion, at least five nights a week, three sets a night, back in the ’80s. Their jaw-dropped reaction was proof positive that the Warsaw Falcons belong back together, belong on the current scene with their (much) younger contemporaries and have more than enough fuel to go wherever they bloody well want to go.
Clearly the Falcons themselves and those of us who followed them with unfailing fervor from the start bear all the marks of the passing decades. There is considerably more salt in our once peppery hair, but you know what they say about snow-covered roofs and the fire stoked furnaces beneath them. The Warsaw Falcons may well be looked at as the grandfathers of the Cincinnati scene, but they built this city on Rock and soul and the music they made is as timeless as the seasons, as immutable as the laws that govern the universe and as relevant as tomorrow's headlines.
Friday night's show at the Woodward was the first in a series of gigs where the headlining Falcons will be supported by bands whose members can claim some connection to DRB and his intrepid band of riffmongers, joined by special guests both past and present. Think the Warsaw Falcons are just the new geezer Rock? Get your mind right, kids, and talk to the virgins who got popped at the Woodward last week. They drank the Kool-Aid and they believe. You will, too … right down to your skinny anklebones.
This morning we received a message from former CIncinnatian/current Silver Spring, Md., resident Chris Richardson about some Cincinnati music-centric posts on his cool music blog, Zero to 180.
Richardson has a rich knowledge of music in general — his blog “celebrates studio songcraft and some of the lesser-known stories behind the songwriters, musicians, producers, engineers, arrangers, label owners and the like” — and he has good taste because he appears to be a big fan of pioneering local label King Records. (Here’s a great post about an interesting connection between King and Jamaican Ska.)
Yesterday, the blog featured a fun post with a run down of songs from the past to the present that feature Cincinnati in the title. Tracks range from earlier cuts by Duke Ellington (“Cincinnati Daddy”) and Johnny Burnette (“Cincinnati Fireball”) through more recent material, like “Cincinnati Harmony” by The Dopamines, “Oh, Cincinnati” by The Seedy Seeds and “All Roads Lead to Cincinnati” by Jake Speed and the Freddies. Check the full list here.
There are several great tunes on the list, but this one is pretty terrifying:
Anything he missed?
Stepping into the decorated light cast from the looming ceilings of the Taft Theatre, it’s immediately apparent the space holds memory far outreaching your own. That is, of course, unless you’re about 100 years old and happened to be around Cincinnati in your early teens.
If that were the case, you’d probably remember the other awe-inspiring theaters that entertained the Queen City in those days: the Albee, Shubert and Capitol, to name a few — all astounding architectural representations of the heyday of local theaters. Sadly, the Taft is the only of those grand structures that still remains today, likely because it stands just far enough away from the heart of downtown, just missing out on the urban redevelopment that has defined the city for the past half-century or so.
Taft Theatre was opened in January 1928, inaugurated by lines of suited men and flower-hatted women who were willing to brace the 40-degree weather of the new year for the warm spectacle of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in a shining new entertainment venue.
The theater is part of the Cincinnati Masonic Center, then called a temple rather than center, and is currently owned by the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. In its early days it would host Broadway shows, ballets and traveling performers and artists, among other entertainment.
The name, contrary to what some might think, is not a nod to the former United States president William Howard Taft, although many likely know of the street we have to honor him. Rather, the theater was a tip of the hat to William’s older brother, Charles Phelps Taft, a major figure in the Cincinnati newspaper business and a high-ranking Mason who lived just down the street from where the theater now stands.
While it was very popular during its early days and became popular again in the new millennium, the theatre went through a largely dormant period in the second half of the 20th century. In fact, the Scottish Rite applied for demolition rights twice in the 1960s — although they were rejected both times — because they thought the theater would be too expensive to renovate and wanted to replace it with a parking garage.
Luckily, it hung on and didn’t fall into serious disrepair long enough for Music and Event Management, a subsidiary of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, to take over in 2010. The company headlined a $3.2 million renovation, less than a third of the value the Masons had been quoted for renovations decades earlier.
The revamp, finished in 2011, increased the size of the seats, lowering the original capacity of 2,500 to about 2,300, as well as the size of the bathrooms — fewer venue seats, but more toilet seats (does this say something about the needs of folks in the new millennium?). They also took great consideration of modern concerns, spending a heavy load on hooking the building up with eco-friendly air conditioning.
Thanks to the restoration and rejuvenation of the old theater, it now holds about 140 shows a year compared to roughly 90 before renovations, and the annual attendance has also almost doubled. The theater is again one of Cincinnati’s hot spots for entertainment, hosting all kinds of musical concerts as well as theatre, being home to the Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. With the upsurge in activity at the beautiful old Masonic Amphitheatre, the tall walls can keep holding and building memories of entertainment that life would be oh-so boring without.
At this time, however, people lived in small townhouses with acres of land to farm, and Woodward came as a surveyor to work with that land. In the process, he began investing in real estate, got himself some land and settled on a good sized plot near Fifth Street Market — now known as Fountain Square.
Hammering down coarse boards gathered from the flat boats that were dismantled upon reaching Cincinnati, Woodward built a house in 1803. Years later, in 1816, he upgraded, building the Woodward Mansion, a beautiful house of brick and hand-carved woodwork. All around the northern side of that house he fixed the problem of Cincinnati having no good fruit by starting a huge apple orchard that would crank out around 500 barrels of cider a year (ever wonder where Orchard Street in Over-the-Rhine got its name?).
Through his investments and business endeavors, Woodward gained significant wealth, which he would then turn around and give back to the community out of his love for others and his era-appropriate fear of God.
One of the major ways he gave back to the community still stands today — in 1831 Woodward High School opened thanks to his efforts and donations. Woodward High School was not only the first in the city, but the first high school to exist west of the Allegheny Mountains.
When Woodward eventually grew old and passed away, his land and home was given to his wife, who also passed it on when she died. Eventually, by the time it was almost 100 years old in 1912, it was in the hands of a man named George C. Kolb.
Kolb razed the house with the intention of building a theater in honor of Woodward. Not simply a businessman without a care for the history of the house, Kolb had a committee choose certain items from the mansion to be preserved. The wooden mantel and the front door were given to Woodward High School and, according to a news article at the time, the committee also saved a cupboard, balustrade and a window Woodward had been known to look out from into the woods.
Once it was properly gutted of relics, the building was knocked to the ground and on top was built the beaux art-style building we see today (though the statues on either side of the door are replicas).
It was opened as a movie theater on June 18, 1913, in the days when film was still a fresh and developing art form. To say silent film at that time was redundant, because recorded — and especially synchronized — sound was a concept beyond reality. For example, in 1917 you could have seen the then-new but now lost film The Railroad Raiders.
The theater only lasted until 1933. While there are no records of why it closed, most speculate that the Great Depression kept people from having a nice night at the movies, causing the theater to go under.
By 1935 the building was again showing something, but this time it was used cars under the name Andy Schain Inc. A newspaper ad from 1937 shows that you could buy a ’36 Chevy Town Sedan for $525, a ’29 Chevy Coach for $60 and a ’31 Chevy Sports Roadster for the mindboggling price of $10. In other words, you could’ve purchased that Coach for the amount you might spend at today’s Woodward Theater in a night of heavy drinking with your spouse (or alone, if you’re that hardcore).
Around this point is where the trail runs dry except for a few sad drips. The used car shop closed sometime in the 1940s. While it’s hard to brush the dust off and find evidence, apparently there was a Kroger in the building in the 1950s. And jumping ahead to the ‘70s, it was a nightclub called Wanda Bear’s.
In 1990 Greg Starnes bought the building, using it as storage for his antique shop further down Main Street until 1995, when he opened it as the second location of Greg’s Antiques.
The end of Starnes’ tenure there is where Dan McCabe stepped in with his partners Chris Schadler and Chris Varias to begin work on this old building that has seen and heard it all.
It’s heard the silence of an early 20th century film; the passionate debate between two 1930s jocks over the price of a hot ride; the chatting of lovers shopping for lemons and mustached men cheering a band; the cooing of an old lady over a doll that reminds her of her younger days; and most recently, the buzzing of drills and booming of hammers.
Now once again the halls of this honorary building might listen to the rumbling and rattling of Rock music, the soft crying of a mother watching her daughter wed, or the perfectly timed joke of a comedian to the background of rollicking laughter. Whatever it is, as time rolls on these walls won’t stop listening.
The Woodward Theater opens to the public tonight. Read more about Main
Street’s newest music and events space here.