UNIVERSITY THEATRE (1980 N High St.)- Movie theater/Ohio State football shrine

Chic Harley relief

Ohio State football legend Chic Harley, memorialized in terracota bas-relief on the facade of the University Theater.

"Who's that guy on the building?" is the question students have been asking for a few generations now. That guy is Chic Harley and this building was once his shrine (as well as a movie theater).

Back in 1947, Columbus theater impresario Leo Yassenoff envisioned the theater as a monument to football phenomenon Chic Harley, the almost superhuman athlete who put Ohio State football on the map by leading the Buckeyes to back-to-back national championships in 1916 and 1917 and very nearly in 1919. He incidentally lead the Buckeyes to their first victory over rival Michigan. It was also Harley who created the excitement and crowds that lead to the construction of Ohio Stadium in 1922. Yasenoff himself was an Ohio State football player from 1913-15 and met Harley when he was a senior and Harley a freshman. Their enthusiasm for the university and football formed the basis of a friendship of many years.

Sitting across High St from old Ohio Field, where Buckeye football began and Harley made his legend, the University's look was all Ohio State. Scarlet and gray was featured prominently in the color scheme inside and out. Carpets and upholstery, the curtain, and the lobby were all scarlet and gray. Block O graced the curtain and the marquee. Paintings of University Hall and The Armory flanked the screen. In the lobby, a mural dedicated the theater to Harley's memory and the inspiration of future Buckeye athletes.

The theater opened on March 24, 1947 with a huge opening ceremony in Chic's honor. Ohio Governor Thomas Herbert and Columbus Mayor Jim Rhodes gave speeches. On hand were Ohio State's National Champion 1916 Buckeye football team--now in their 50--and Chic's mom,brothers,and sister. Thousands of middle-aged fans who had seen Chic play in their youth turned out for the event to remember and honor their hero. National magazine LIFE was on hand and did a photospread on the event and the theater dedicated to a football player.

University Theatre interior

For the next couple decades, as other area theaters battled TV and the collapse of theater-going by converting to art houses or porn houses or just closing, the University kept going offering mainstream Hollywood pictures to student audiences.

In 1971, the University was acquired by General Cinema Corporation and given the hipper name "University Flick." University Flick offered mainstream features with youth appeal but also lots of art, counterculture, midnight movies, and independent features. Irreverent comedies like The Groove Tube and Kentucky-Fried Movie seemed to be playing there constantly. Smutty parody Flesh Gordon was also a favorite at University Flick. University Flick competed directly with the programming up the street at The World until that theater became primarily a porno house after 1977.

Campus audiences got their first taste of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at University Flick. It opened there February 26, 1976.

Just a year later, on June 24, 1977, Star Wars opened at University Flick (a couple months after its premiere) and ran continuously FOR THE NEXT 41 WEEKS--the longest run of any feature ever at a neighborhood theater.

In late July 1976, the theater closed for remodeling. September 22--just in time for returning Autumn Quarter students--it reopened as campus' first multi-sceen cinema: the University Flick 1 and 2. House favorite Flesh Gordon and the Russian sci fi film Solaris christened the new screens.

Despite the twin screens, time was running out for the cinema. By 1980, University Flick and The World were the only screens left in the University District. On March 15, 1981, General Cinema closed the the faltering theater. The theater operated for about a year-and-a-half more as The Movies, showing art, cult, camp, classic, and second-run favorites at deep-discounted prices with beer served on premises. It wasn't enough. The Movies folded at the end of February 1984. Flashdance and the Bond movie Never Say Never were the last fims exhibited.

In October 1983, the building was purchased by fast-growing, Ohio-based fast food chain Rax. The building was remodeled and rehabbed into a cavernous Rax roast beef restaurant with preposterously high ceilings. The restaurant kept most of the theater trappings intact but added a solarium. The restaurant kept with its past, showing sporting events and old movies. Rax itself folded in the early 1990s.

Since then, the building has housed a number of different fast food restaurants. The marquee was removed several rehabs ago. The most recent renovation shaved several feet off the back of the building to create parking spaces. Chic Harley relief has endured numerous indignities from restaurant signage. (A restaurant awning cut him off at the waist for years. Afterwards. he was for a time punting a submarine sandwich.) The old projection and office area housed Used Kids Records for several years and is currently Evolved Tattoos.

Former University Theater at 75

The former University Theatre still standing at 75.