The “Great” Southern Theatre
A Piece of Columbus History
The oldest surviving theater in central Ohio and one of the oldest in the state, the Southern Theatre opened in 1896 as part of a performance space and hotel complex on the corner of High and Main Streets. The Southern was designed for theatrical touring productions and later accommodated silent films, vaudeville, first-and second-run motion pictures, dance, country music reviews, and community events.
The Great Southern Fireproof Hotel and Opera House
After fire destroyed five downtown theatres between 1889 and 1893, an assembly of businessmen decided to enhance the city’s south side with a new and improved fashionable hotel. Designed by the prominent local architectural firm of Dauben, Krumm, and Riebel, construction began in 1894 on the Great Southern Fireproof Hotel and Opera House.
The Southern Theatre opened on September 21, 1896, and the hotel opened the following summer. Constructed of “fireproof” tile, brick, iron, steel, and concrete, the theatre — which originally seated 1,723 on three levels — was praised for its plush seats, stylish boxes, excellent sight lines, and absence of posts or other obstructions. Its ample stage dimensions proved more than up to the challenge of the 1903 touring production of Ben-Hur, which featured a cast of 350 and a chariot race in which two teams of horses galloped on treadmills for a mile!
Over its stage life, the Southern hosted performing celebrities, including singer Lillian Russell, actors Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, Maude Adams, Sarah Bernhardt, dancers Anna Pavalova and Isadora Duncan, John Philip Sousa, Al Jolson, George M. Cohen, Mae West, and W.C. Fields. Closed in 1979, the theatre was gifted to CAPA in 1986.
A New Era
In 1998, following an intensive, fourteen-month CAPA-led restoration, the 933-seat jewelbox Southern Theatre reopened as a beautiful, accessible, and lively link to our community’s past and its bright future.
In addition to CAPA concerts and performances, the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, Chamber Music Columbus, and ProMusica Chamber Orchestra all call the Southern Theatre stage Home.