Renovation of an old movie theater in Mount Healthy keeps momentum with Matinees at The Main

'Friend-raising' performances also raise awareness

MOUNT HEALTHY, Ohio -- Every Saturday for the past several weeks, there's been a touch of new life at The Main.

Matinees at The Main, a free art and performance series held inside a recently opened popup shop there, are now in full swing. The events are part of the first official phase in a long-term effort save the former Mount Healthy movie house that long stood in disrepair.

The goal is not so much fundraising, per se, but "friend-raising," said Karen Arnett, president of the Mount Healthy Renaissance Project, a community development corporation that's helping in the rehab of the old theater.

The matinees are informal. There's a mix of musicians who perform each week and there's art for sale, and the vibe is intimate. It's held in one of two retail shops that front the building, about the size of a small salon or living room.

"This is awareness-raising," Arnett said. "You never know who might walk in and say, 'I want to help,' or who might have resources or skills to share in restoring the theater."

The group -- and community -- hope to eventually reopen the long-abandoned theater, which is over 100 years old, as a performing arts center.

"The underlying goal is to bring some new energy back to the building," she said.

The Main, located at 7428 Hamilton Ave., next door to Goodies Barbeque, has been in the news numerous times in recent months. The former neighborhood cinema, which dates back to 1915, closed in 1971 and, besides a brief second act as an auction house, suffered from years of neglect.

Dave Sanders performs at a recent Matinees at the Main.

The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority acquired it in 2015 through the Hamilton County Land Reutilization Corporation (or Landbank) and spent nearly $41,000 on repairs. It turned the property over to the city of Mount Healthy in early 2016. A working group was formed and remains active.

In May, a mural, created by Over-the-Rhine's Elementz, was painted on its front, a project that's spurred ideas of a similar kind. A local artist has proposed a smaller mural on the north bay window of the theater, Arnett said, and another, who attends the local Methodist church, is painting a panel for one of the rear windows, which is boarded up.

"People love the mural," Arnett said. "We’ve gotten lots of good feedback. And the building will continue to become more lively and colorful."

Matinees at the Main started in June and have picked up steam in recent weeks.

Musicians like David Sanders, a folk songwriter; The McSplains, an Irish group; and Charles Perdue, a flutist, have performed. In early August, a local homeschool co-op will use the space to showcase its students' work.

"The bottom line of all of this is to have fun," Arnett said. The name, Matinees at the Main, is "definitely an inspired choice," she added, "and sort of promises what we hope to return it to -- a performance venue. Not just movies, but mixed entertainment, of which film may be a part."

Matinees will continue every Saturday until early October, with the exception of Sept. 9, which is the annual Celebrate Mount Healthy festival, an event that includes music, food and fireworks. A larger matinee will be held on Aug. 5, the weekend of the World’s Longest Yard Sale, in which Mount Healthy will also participate. Hours are typically 1-3 p.m. The exact schedule is updated on the Main Theater, Mt. Healthy, Ohio, Facebook page.

As far as the theater renovation, formal fundraising has not begun. So far, there's no timetable or estimate for completion, but officials assume it will be a multiyear effort that could cost upward of $1 million or more.

The city recently hired an urban planner to ensure that the Main renovation is part of an overall revitalization of the business district.

"It won't be a quick project," said Jim Lowenburg, a Mount Healthy resident and small business owner. "But hopefully it will take two years, not 10."

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