UDH Hdr-Mirror Lake 1888

The first motion picture shown in the University District was probably in the summer of 1910. History does not record the exact date.

Just where it was shown is controversial. Area amusement parks, Indianola Park at N. 4th and E. 19th and Olentangy Park at High and North, both exhibited films that summer. Indianola showed films outdoors at dusk on a canvas stretched between two trees. Olentangy showed movies in its vaudeville theater. Another claimant is the backyard of 312 E. 17th Ave. This was the headquarters of the Heber Brothers Circus. Patriarch Reginald is said to have screened the first movies in Columbus (or at least northern Columbus) on a sheet strung between two trees out back.

The very first motion picture establishment in the University District seems to have been the The Photo Play (1911-20) at 1597 N. High. It opened in late February 1911. The Crystal Theater (1911-20) at 2573 N. High Street, just north of Hudson, also opened that year. Other university area theaters opening around the same time include: The Highland (1913-14?) at the corner of W. 5th and Highland, The Bide-a-Wee (1913-22) at 1575 N. High between 10th and 11th; The Summit (1914?-16?) at 2188 Summit St. near Alden; and The Ideal (1914-17) at 1145 Summit just south of E. 5th.

There is almost no information about these short-lived, early theaters. No photos. No advertising. No newspaper articles. Except for The Ideal, even the buildings they occupied are no longer standing. Most early theaters were fairly insubstantial. They tended to be small, mom-and-pop operations, often consisting of just a rented store front with the windows blacked out, a projector, a sheet tacked to the wall for a screen, some benches or folding chairs, a sign, and maybe a piano. They seated--at most--100-150 patrons. It's likely that the early theaters in the University District were of this type.

Alhambra Theater

ALHAMBRA (1913-88)

2159 N. High St.

aka The World (1949-85), The Roxy (1985-88)

The Alhambra at High and Lane was the first real movie theater in the University District. The 500 seat theater opened in 1913 or 14. Under one name or another, films were shown there for the next 75 years. No theater in Columbus and few in the nation have had such a long run.

The Alhambra began showing silents in the 1910s and 20s, thrived during the Golden Age of Hollywood, survived the arrival of television in the 1950s by screening foreign and art films, battled censorship in the 1960s, pioneered midnight movies and popularized cult films in the 1970s, became a porn theater in the late 1970s, and closed out its career showing art, indie, and cult films for college crowds in the 1980s.

Since the theater closed, the building has been a fitness center and succession of night clubs. For the past several years, it's been the Chop Shop restaurant.

PICCADILLY (1918-76)

2523 N. High St.

aka The Olentangy (1940-49), The Little Art Theater (1950-76)

The Piccadilly opened in the silent era and continued showing films through the 1930s and 1940s. During its early years, it shared a building with The American Ceramic Society, Battelle Memorial Institute, and a post office. The theater seated around 350.

The theater struggled in the 1950s until it began showing risqué films. As the Little Art Theater (or "Very Little Art Theater" as some dubbed it), the theater specialized in softcore and exploitation films. In the late 1960s, it began showing stronger fare and by the early 1970s was a porn theater. Authorities regarded the theater as a nuisance and it was often raided by vice officers.

In 1973, the city condemned the aging building as unsafe. A long legal battle followed that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The theater alleged it was condemned to stop it showing X-rated films rather than for any building problems. The theater lost and the building was torn down in 1976.

State Theater

STATE (1921-70)

1722 N. High St.

The State Theater was campus’ movie palace.

Seating 1,800 patrons, it was the largest theater in the University District. It was also the lushest. Outside, the theater presented an ornamented Beaux-Arts façade to High St. Inside, everything was brass, gilt, crystal chandeliers, Belgian marble, mirrors, and velvet. Oddly for a theater sitting directly opposite Ohio State University, the theater’s color scheme was blue and yellow. Unique among campus theaters, it had floor, mezzanine, and box seating.

The State endured until 1970 when it became The Agora, a concert hall for rock acts. Since 1984, it has been The Newport Music Hall.

HUDSON (1927-65, 1970-72)

369 E. Hudson St.

aka Lamar's Hudson (1927-30), The New Hudson (1970-72)

When it opened in 1927, The Hudson sat in the middle of a busy commercial strip between 4th and Summit. A barber shop and beauty salon flanked the entrance. A small office suite occupied the second floor. During WWII, it housed the local draft board and later a dentist's office.

The Hudson thrived as a neighborhood theater for almost 35 years but, by the early 1960s, competition from television and a lack of parking was hurting. The theater closed in 1965.

In 1970, the abandoned theater was reopened as the New Hudson and showed pornographic films. It suffered repeated vice raids and finally closed in 1972.

After The Hudson closed as a theater, it was a church for many years. for decades, the building was empty, derelict, and vandalized. Remodeling began in 2018 and it's currently slated for a new life as a live music venue.

Hudson Theater

University Theater

UNIVERSITY (1947-81)

1980 N. High St.

aka University Flick (1973-81)

The University opened in 1947 to great fanfare. The mayor, the governor, and various university dignitaries were in attendance.

Sitting across the street from old Ohio Field, where Buckeye football began, the University's look was all Ohio State. Scarlet and gray was featured prominently in the color scheme inside and out. A bas-relief sculpture of Ohio State football great Chic Harley adorned the facade, a Block O graced the marquee, and a very 40s mural in the lobby dedicated the theater to Harley's memory.

Since closing, the building has housed a number of different fast food restaurants. The Chic Harley relief has endured numerous indignities from restaurant signage. (He's currently punting a sub.) The old projection and office area is now home to Evolved Tattoos.

GATEWAY (2005- )

1550 N. High St.

The Alhambra had been the first real movie theater in the University District. When it closed (as The Roxy) in 1988, it was the last. Nearly 20 years would pass before another theater opened on High St.

In 1995, the Ohio State University and the City of Columbus partnered to improve conditions in the neighborhoods surrounding campus. This initiative took many forms but the most visible was the creation of the South Campus Gateway project.

At the time High Street between E. Ninth and Chittenden was an unsightly agglomeration of decaying, badly maintained buildings of different periods mostly housing bars and fast food joints. The Gateway project acquired and demolished these buildings and replaced them with attractive, modern, urban retail, residential, entertainment, and office space.

Part of this was the Gateway Theater, which opened November 3, 2005.

The 8-screen theater was originally operated as part of the Drexel chain, then briefly as a Landmark Theater. It is currently The Gateway Film Center, a partnership between Campus Partners and Ohio State's Wexner Center for the Arts. In all its incarnations, the theater has tried to strike a balance between Hollywood hits popular with mass audiences and more obscure art and indie titles. Recently, the theater has begun incorporating some live performances into the mix.

A unique feature of the theater is that the lobby is on the second floor. Patrons enter at ground level, then ride an escalator up to the second-floor to buy tickets, get a snack, and find their theater.

Gateway Theater, 2010


Garden Theater sign

THE GARDEN (1920-75, 2011-), 1187 N. High St., 0.9 miles S of 15th and High- The 700 seat Garden was a movie palace. Along with all the amenities, it featured an indoor garden. From the 1920s-60s, the Garden was the heart of the 5th and High neighborhood. As the area deteriorated in the 1960s and 70s, the theater became a grindhouse showing martial arts pictures. In 1975, the theater gave up on movies and became a burlesque theater. It devolved into a strip joint that sometimes showed x-rated movies. It closed in the early 1990s. The Garden reopened in 2011 as Short North Stage, a live performance space.

THE GRANDVIEW (1926-60, 1988- ), 1247 Grandview Ave., 3.3 miles SW of 15th and High- A charming, intimate neighborhood theater from the 1920s. Since the late 1980s, the theater has shown art, classic, and international films. Now under new management and recently remodeled.

STUDIO 35 (1938- ), 3055 Indianola Ave., 2.2 miles NE of 15th and High- Previously known as the Indianola, The Fox, and Marzetti's, this theater remains a favorite of campus crowds with eclectic programming, special events, pizza, and beer. Current home to Columbus' long-running Rocky Horror performance group.

DREXEL NORTH (1941-95), 4250 N. High St., 3.4 miles N of 15th and High -Also known as the Beechwold and the Camelot North, this theater really became popular with campus crowds in the 1986-95 period. As a part of the Drexel group, it offered wild, fun, indie, art, and cult programming, midnight movies, sci fi, horror, and anime marathons, and a hipster ambiance. Became a Revco. Currently a gym.

W. 5TH AVE. DRIVE-IN (1953-78), 900 W. 5th Ave., 2.2 miles SW of 15th and High- It's hard to believe but a drive-in operated just 5 minutes from campus. Watch for an upcoming article about this unusual urban drive-in. Site is now a McDonald's, a carwash, and some industrial buildings.

UNIVERSITY CITY CINEMA (1969-92), 480 Ackerman Rd., 2.3 miles NW of 15th and High- Nothing special about this one. This was a generic, 2-screen cinebox in the University City Shopping Mall. Demolished to build an Applebee's.

AMC LENNOX TOWN CENTER 24 (1996-2020), 777 Kinnear Rd., 2 miles W of 15th and High- When this megaplex opened back in 1996, it was one of the biggest in the nation. University District audiences thronged to this theater in the days of Scream, Jerry Maguire, and Titanic, completely filling all the mall's 2,447 spaces on weekend nights. Closed and sold during the COVID pandemic.