4/34 Robert Morton Organ
Ohio Theatre - Columbus, OH
1969 - The End of the Ohio?

In 1969 things were not looking good for the Ohio Theatre. The single screen Loew's movie house had been sold in 1968 and was slated to be closed and demolished.  And while a grassroots effort was being made to save the theater, there was only a small chance that the movement to preserve the theater would be successful.

Columbus Citizen Journal writer Johnny Jones in his February 17, 1969 column, wrote about the many local landmarks destroyed, and the failed petitions which had been circulated in an attempt to save them. Among the buildings mentioned in the article are the Columbus Union Station and the  Armory building on the Ohio State University campus. Mr. Jones sums up his frustration with these words, "Get it out of your system and sign the petition [to save the theater], but in these days it avails very little when the pressure is on. I sign them but that is about all one can do. If the Ohio Theater is saved, it will be a great exception."  

Below are some newspaper clippings from around the time when the theater was supposed to close for good.

Elsewhere on the ohiomortonorgan.com web page is an ad from the first movie to be shown in the Ohio, "The Divine Woman". Here is an ad for what was supposed to have been the last film to be shown in the Ohio, "Play Dirty". This is from the Columbus Dispatch, February 14, 1969. The movie engagement ended on February 24, 1969 and the Ohio's doors were closed.

The two films listed above the ad, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "Camelot" have both appeared in the CAPA Summer Movie Series. However "Play Dirty" has not had a return engagement.
Play Dirty

The final event, other than "Play Dirty" to be held in the theater (that is, if you don't count the planned sale of theater fixtures as an event!) was to be this concert by Roger Garrett on the Morton. Roger was the second Resident Organist of the Ohio, holding the position from 1933-1942.

While the future of the theater looked bleak, the Morton had a better fate as local organists Tom Hamilton and Carlos Parker had purchased the organ from Loew's and were going to remove it prior to the destruction of the theater. Thankfully the theater was not demolished and the Morton's ownership has since been transferred to CAPA who performs almost all of the organ's maintenance.
Final Performance

The final performance in the theater received front page billing by the Columbus Citizen Journal newspaper. It's somewhat hard to see, but it looks like there are people actually sitting in the orchestra pit. The photo caption states there were 3323 tickets sold, an overflow crowd for the event. One of those in attendance was current Resident Organist of the Ohio, Clark Wilson.

Here is an excerpt from the book "The Ohio Theatre Golden Jubilee" which describes in words better than I can come up with a bit about the event:

"... on Sunday, February 16, the final significant event in the theatre's long life as a Loew's movie palace took place: a farewell concert on the theatre's famed Morton organ. Roger Garrett, for years the regular organist for the Ohio and the last organist to appear regularly at a Downtown Columbus movie theatre, returned for what was to be a nostalgic farewell.

The event was indeed nostalgic, ending as Garrett and the Morton sank into the orchestra pit with the swelling sounds of "Auld Lang Syne" filling the vast spaces of the Ohio..."

Farewell Concert Photo
The book Those Wonderful Old Downtown Theaters by Phil Sheridan further illustrates the importance of this concert:

"But if a person knowledgeable in Ohio Theatre lore were asked to name the one factor which was more responsible for saving the Ohio than any other, the answer would have to be the fabulous Mighty Morton Theater Organ. It served as the rallying point, the catalyst, the cause celebre for the early opposition which delayed demolition of the building until the various "Save the Ohio" factions could be combined and marshaled." (page 92)

It is somewhat ironic to think that in the beginning, the Morton came to be because of the Ohio. But in the saving of the theater, the Ohio was preserved because of the Morton. Perhaps there is a whimsical story which could be written using this storyline.

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