Throwback Thursday by Matson Insurance: The Columbia Theater

columbiacropMatson Insurance is partnering with Jefferson County History Center to offer readers a look in Jefferson County’s past. Today “The Columbia Theater” is being showcased.

[Pictured above: At the end of WWI, Frank Brown opened the remodeled Jefferson Hotel as the new Columbia Theater. (Brookville Heritage Trust)]

The following article was written by Carole A. Briggs, Curator, Jefferson County History Center:


Google (the search engine noun that’s become a verb) “Columbia Theater” on the Internet and you will find this: “I believe that this theater was converted from a house or hotel into a movie theater. I would speculate that the builder added the inclined floor on top of the original flat floor. That would explain the ‘incline’ that you walk up to get to the seats.”

At the History Center we look for factual information to back up that kind of hearsay, so what are the facts as gleaned from newspapers of the times, and from Steve McPherson, who owns the building?

In the spring of 1918 Frank Brown, Mayburg (Forest County), purchased the New Jefferson Hotel from Philip J. Allgeier. He intended to turn it into a movie theater.

Ray H. Richards’ crew demolished the hotel barn at the rear and began construction. Like many buildings on Main Street, it appears that the Globe/Jefferson House/New Jefferson Hotel did not extend to the alley but rather had a stable at the north end of the property, so we might deduce that the theater’s slanted floor was not laid over the level floor of the hotel.

Following the war’s end and before Christmas, the theater opened with weekend showings of “Tarzan the Ape Man.” Ruby Buffington accompanied the silent film on the Seeburg-Smith organ that sat between the screen and the audience. After paying 20 cents for each adult and 10 cents for each child “plus the war tax,” patrons entered through the lobby of the Jefferson Hotel with its fine arched ceiling and foun-tain complete with castle and fish. White wicker furniture offered patrons a place to sit prior to the show’s beginning.

Considered the “most modern moving picture house in Penn’a” by some, the Columbia had a tile floor entrance, exterior marquis, 500 “nice hardwood seats,” and a high ceiling. The 33-foot height would accommodate a balcony where an additional 350 people could sit.

A curtain of special construction [the first curtain that exists today], “velvety brown carpets on the aisles,” “mellow electric lights,” and velvet trimmings on the white stucco walls made the Columbia a most attractive venue. So that live shows could be accommodated, a “complete set of scenery” was available, too.

So, what are the facts? Was the theater converted from a house or hotel into a movie theater? Yes and no. The front or lobby area is the hotel once known as the New Jefferson Hotel. Did the builder add the inclined floor on top of the original flat floor? No. The builder tore down the barn at the rear of the hotel and added a new auditorium with an inclined floor that followed the slope of the hillside and assured moviegoers a good view of the silver screen! And that they did for many, many years!

[email protected] County Historical Society, Inc.

Throwback Thursday is brought to you by Matson Insurance in Brookville.


Submitted by the Jefferson County History Center.

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