LIMA — The place oozes history, from the original projectors in a forgotten room beyond the balcony seating to the grand panels that tell “The Story of Life” done in oil paint to the still-famous chandelier.
When the house lights are up, it’s easy to see why Mike and Kelly Saddler bought the Ohio Theatre: For sentimental reasons.
Both of them remember attending teen nights at the theater turned nightclub, and Kelly tended bar there when she was in her 20s. The affection for the place was just too much when Larry Comer, who had owned the place since 1978, approached them about buying.
Kelly, a physical therapist, and Mike, general manager for Reineke Ford, decided to take the plunge.
“We’re buying a piece of history,” Mike Saddler said. “The history, for the city, and for us, is really why we bought it.”
The Ohio Theatre was built as a movie house and vaudeville theater in just five months in 1927. Comer turned it into a nightclub and reinvented the place with the times, from disco to country line dance to techno pop. In its early days, the place showed popular movies of the day, as evidenced by stickers left on the wall in the projector room. In the 1980s, it hosted favorites such as Richard Marx and Cheap Trick.
While pieces of the building architecture and design have been forgotten or covered up over the decades, the Saddlers are discovering much of it remains. They’re hoping to showcase the physical attributes as they work on renovations. They also plan on making the facility the place to go for events.
“You know, I’m 46,” Kelly Saddler said, laughing. “My idea of entertainment is a little different than when I was 26. We want to give Lima a place to go for entertainment. We like being part of the downtown, and keeping people here instead of heading out of town.”
The Saddlers put on a comedy night recently and they’re planning an adult '80s night as well as teen nights for youths from 13 to 18. The Saddlers have teenage children and want a safe, nonalcoholic place for teens to hang out. The theater has also hosted a wedding already this summer, and is available for rentals to class reunions and other private events.
Kelly Saddler has been asking on Facebook what kinds of live entertainment people want to see at the facility; they’re working on bringing live bands to the place and are working on securing entertainment that’s known at least regionally, and possibly groups just on the cusp of national attention.
“We really want to hear from Lima about what they want to see hear,” Kelly Saddler said. “We think we can bring some more life to the city, give people real entertainment options.”