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Russell Theatre (photo credit After the Final Curtain)

Russell Theatre

Maysville, Kentucky, United States

First Opened: 4th December 1930 (92 years ago)

Atmospheric Style: Mediterranean Garden

Architects: Frankel and Curtis (building), Ralph Clevenger (theatre interior)

Website: www.russelltheatre.org Link opens in new window

Address: 17 E Third St, Maysville, KY 41056 Link opens in new window

Contributing building to the Maysville Downtown Historic District: #82002734 Link opens in new window (added 1st March 1982)

National Register of Historic Places: #06000216 Link opens in new window (added 31st March 2006)


Overview

The Russell Theatre was built by local businessman Col. J.B. Russell who, in 1929, envisioned a new kind of theatre for the relatively small town. The theatre was designed by Lexington-based architectural firm Frankel and Curtis, construction was planned at $125,000 but ballooned to $200,000, and the Russell Theatre would come to be the first purpose-built theatre in Maysville.

Auditorium in the 1930s
Auditorium in the 1930s

Although only a 700-seat theatre, Russell decreed that “What the Roxy is to New York, the Russell will be to Maysville”. Russell wanted his luxurious theatre to transport its patrons to a world of escape.

The exterior is of a Spanish-Moorish design featuring towers at either end of the façade. Terracotta tiles are a predominant feature, having originally been supplied by Rockwood who have been manufacturing tiles in Ohio since 1880.

The theatre interior was designed by Columbus-based Ralph Clevenger, and in addition to the usual twinkling stars and moving fleecy clouds above its Mediterranean garden setting, the Russell featured a rainbow effect on the auditorium ceiling above the stage when a movie ended.

As was mandated at the time by Kentucky state law, the upper balcony was segregated for use by African Americans with access by separate entrances on either side of the theatre building. The Russell was desegregated in the early 1960s.

Postcard view of the theatre's auditorium, likely 1930s
Postcard view of the theatre's auditorium, likely 1930s

In 1935 the theatre was leased to the Schine Group, who ran the movie theatre successfully as part of the Schine Circuit for many years. Native daughter Rosemary Clooney opened the world premiere of her movie The Stars are Singing Link opens in new window at the Russell in 1953.

In the early 1970s the Panther Group became managers of the theatre, and in the later years of their tenure the interior was over-painted in bright primary colors.

The theatre ultimately closed as a movie theatre in 1983, and was then used variously as a restaurant, a used furniture store, and a newspaper operation.

Some time after the theatre building became vacant heavy wind and rain ripped off a section of the roof. This allowed a damaged interior gutter to drain into the theatre. Exposed to the elements for a long period, the sodden plaster on portions of the west interior wall collapsed into the auditorium.

In 1995, a group of Maysville citizens began a grassroots fundraising effort to save the Russell, and in just 40 days raised $41,000 through community donations. The theatre was purchased for $37,000, a new rubber roof was installed to protect the theatre from further damage, and a non-profit organization called the Russell Theatre Corporation Link opens in new window was formed with the aim of restoring the theatre to its 1930s glory.

The Russell Theatre in late 2019
The Russell Theatre in late 2019

The Russell Theatre Corporation hired architectural firm KZF Design Inc. Link opens in new window from Cincinnati to help with the restoration, and is currently using the restoration plan proposed by KZF in March 2000 to guide efforts as finances allow. The first phase of restoring the marquee was completed in 2002, with restoration of the building façade and lobby having followed. Auditorium seating, previously removed in the early 1980s to help restore another theatre, was reinstated by virtue of a donation in 2019 by the University of Kentucky's Gatton College of Business and Economics Link opens in new window.

As of 2022, the Russell Theatre Corporation Link opens in new window is currently seeking to raise funds for restoration of the auditorium. The Russell Theatre is poised to once again become the “Heart of downtown Maysville”, where it will serve as the area’s most ornate and elegant venue for feature films.

A fun – and surely unique – feature of the Russell Theatre is that it has been faithfully recreated in miniature. Chicago miniaturists Allison Ashby and Steve Jedd spent over two years creating a 1/12th scale model of the theatre, complete with exterior ticket office and entranceway. The miniature is displayed as part of the KSB Miniatures Collection at the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center Link opens in new window.

Further Reading

Online

Historic Photos & Documents
The Russell as featured in the 11th April 1931 edition of <i>Motion Picture Herald</i>, held by the Library of Congress and digitized by the Internet Archive (840KB PDF)
The Russell as featured in the 11th April 1931 edition of Motion Picture Herald, held by the Library of Congress and digitized by the Internet Archive (840KB PDF)
Postcard of the Russell Theatre, date unknown, courtesy Flickr user <i>Roloff de Jeu</i> (JPG)
Postcard of the Russell Theatre, date unknown, courtesy Flickr user Roloff de Jeu (JPG)
Auditorium circa 1930s, courtesy Cinema Treasures user <i>Granola</i> (JPG)
Auditorium circa 1930s, courtesy Cinema Treasures user Granola (JPG)
Files displayed in this section may be subject to copyright; refer to our Copyright Fair Use Statement regarding our use of copyrighted media.

Photos of the Russell Theatre

Photo credits are noted where data was available at the time of inclusion. Photos displayed here may be subject to copyright; refer to our Copyright Fair Use Statement regarding our use of copyrighted media and contact us Contact Us with any concerns.

Interior

The main photos shown here are by After the Final Curtain Link opens in new window. Be sure to visit their page on the State Theatre Link opens in new window for lots more photos and extensive information.

Russell Theatre: Auditorium from Balcony, courtesy <i>After the Final Curtain</i>
Auditorium from Balcony, courtesy After the Final Curtain
Russell Theatre: Auditorium Closeup, courtesy <i>After the Final Curtain</i>
Auditorium Closeup, courtesy After the Final Curtain
Russell Theatre: Auditorium House Right Sidewall, courtesy <i>After the Final Curtain</i>
Auditorium House Right Sidewall, courtesy After the Final Curtain
Russell Theatre: Auditorium from Stage, courtesy <i>Russell Theatre/Amanda Hakinson</i>
Auditorium from Stage, courtesy Russell Theatre/Amanda Hakinson
Russell Theatre: Lobby, courtesy <i>Amanda Hakinson</i>
Lobby, courtesy Amanda Hakinson
Exterior
Russell Theatre: Exterior, courtesy <i>Google</i>
Exterior, courtesy Google
Russell Theatre: Exterior, courtesy <i>Brian Zehowski</i>
Exterior, courtesy Brian Zehowski
Russell Theatre: Exterior, courtesy <i>Russell Theatre</i>
Exterior, courtesy Russell Theatre
Miniature Model

Chicago miniaturists Allison Ashby and Steve Jedd created a 1/12th scale model of the theatre, which is now part of the Kathleen Savage Browning Miniatures Collection Link opens in new window at the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center Link opens in new window. Photos shown here are courtesy KSB Miniatures Collection. You can read about the model here on the collection’s website Link opens in new window.

Russell Theatre: Scale model of the the theatre’s entrance
Scale model of the the theatre’s entrance
Russell Theatre: Interior Closeup
Interior Closeup
Russell Theatre: Scale model of the theatre’s auditorium
Scale model of the theatre’s auditorium


Photographs copyright © 2002-2022 Mike Hume / Historic Theatre Photos unless otherwise noted.

Text copyright © 2017-2022 Mike Hume / Historic Theatre Photos.

For photograph licensing and/or re-use contact me here Contact Us.





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