Tuesday, July 09, 2002

RADEL: Covedale Theater

A west side story worth savoring

        Before the new owners moved in, Jack Ackerman wanted to take a look around his old home away from home.

        He stood in the auditorium of what used to be his family's business, the Covedale Theater.

        Workers scurried about. Some removed debris. Others nailed the stage's floorboards.

        A smile came over Jack's 91-year-old face.

        “I'm so glad, they're not tearing this down,” he said and nodded to his family.

        Daughters Barbara Kallmeyer, Jane Hoffman and Martha Swallow had come along to visit where they worked as teens.

        Grandson Greg Lange, who saw his first movie at the Covedale, was also on hand. He's leading the design team overseeing renovations for the theater's rebirth.

        Spared from death through demolition, the 55-year-old former movie house is going to be reborn as the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. The new home of the Cincinnati Young People's Theatre opens July 26 with West Side Story.

        Remodeling projects over the years split the 924-seat theater in two and into a Cinema Grill. Those reincarnations gutted the Covedale's interior.

        Gone are the theater seats, terrazzo floors and the original burgundy and blue decor.

        Two features remain from the Covedale's heyday as the west side's spiffiest theater: The neon-edged, scalloped tray ceiling and, next to the projection booth, the building's one and only luxury box.

        “That box was for us, the Ackermans,” Jack said.

        Even though he left the business 41 years ago, Jack still relishes explaining why the box was installed when the theater was being built in 1946.

        “We had a big family,” he said. “I didn't want them sitting downstairs.”

        Those seats were for paying customers. They would buy tickets from one of his daughters.

        Barbara started working the ticket booth in the mid-'50s. “Tickets cost 35 cents for adults,” she recalled, “25 cents for kids.”

        Martha remembered “sitting in the booth and doing homework between selling tickets. Friends would drive past and honk their horns on the way to Frisch's.”

        The Ackerman girls said they didn't mind the drive-by honkings. They were getting paid: $2 a night, $3 on weekends.

        They weren't complaining about their wages. They were just happily stating a fact.

        Their dad radiates the same positive spirit. He did not bemoan anything that's missing from the theater's past.

        He's glad to see it's going to have a future.

        “This place is so dear to me,” he said.

        “I always wanted people who came here to feel like they were being welcomed into my home.”

        The theater had a welcoming design. A facade of tan and blue terra-cotta tiles pointed to the original all-glass doors.

        A bronze and glass beacon atop the theater's tower could be seen for miles. The beacon's fluorescent glow signaled that the theater was open for business.

        Inside the theater, Jack expected people to act as if they were in his home.

        Patrolling the aisles, he would hush rowdies just by pointing his flashlight and whispering: “I don't think that's appropriate.”

        After selling the theater, Jack frequented the Covedale, even during its recent stint as a Cinema Grill.

        “That was nice,” he said, “if you wanted to drink a cold beer and watch a movie.”

        Even nicer is turning the Covedale into a home for live theater.

        “That,” he said, “has class.”

        Just like Jack Ackerman.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.


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- RADEL: Covedale Theater