Time Machine

Time Machine: Ups and downs of Toledo's century-old theater

Buildings went up in Iowa, New York to honor banker/dentist

White pillars lend a touch of elegance to the Wieting Theater in Toledo in the 1961 photo. The theater was given to the people of Toledo in 1912 by Ella Wieting in memory of her husband, Philip, a former Toledo dentist and banker. Ella also had a theater erected in Worcester, N.Y., in memory of her husband that followed the same design. T
White pillars lend a touch of elegance to the Wieting Theater in Toledo in the 1961 photo. The theater was given to the people of Toledo in 1912 by Ella Wieting in memory of her husband, Philip, a former Toledo dentist and banker. Ella also had a theater erected in Worcester, N.Y., in memory of her husband that followed the same design. T
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Philip and Hellen “Ella” Wilder Wieting, a pair of Worcester, N.Y., newlyweds, moved to Toledo, the county seat of Tama County, in 1867.

Philip opened a dental practice and joined his father-in-law in organizing the Toledo City Bank, where he became president. He also had an abstract business and joined L.B. Blinn, a former Tama County treasurer, in starting the Toledo State Bank.

When his father-in-law died in 1893, Philip returned to New York to become president of the Worcester bank, where Ella was vice president. He and Ella divided their time between Worcester and Syracuse but retained their Iowa banking interests, promoting Blinn to president of the renamed Toledo National Bank.

The Wietings often returned to Iowa for visits, including to Cedar Rapids. Philip died in 1906 at his winter home in Dayton, Fla., at age 70.

NEW THEATER

In his memory, Ella invested $20,000 in a new playhouse at 101 S. Church St. in Toledo. The 650-seat theater was completed in September 1912 and presented as a gift to the city. She also funded another theater in Worcester.

“The new structure is thoroughly modern and equipped with scenery and stateroom to handle the latest productions on the road. The presence of the structure makes an excellent addition to the town,” the Toledo Chronicle commented.

Another news account reported, “The new curtains of the Wieting Opera House swished open for the first time at 8 o’clock on the evening of Sept. 12, 1912. A capacity house (650) watched Sheenan English Opera Company present Joseph F. Sheenan, ‘America’s greatest tenor,’ in ‘Il Trovatore,’ supported by a cast of over 100.”

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The theater entrance was a columned porch topped with a Palladian window. The building, managed by W.J. Fuhlendorf, had a brick parapet, a balcony, a stage, dressing rooms and orchestra pit.

The Wieting Theatre is very similar to its sister theater in Worcester, but the Toledo theater has four columns and the Worcester building has two.

PROFITS TO CITY

In 1925, the Toledo theater’s board of trustees leased the theater to V.E. McKee of Hampton for one year to show “first-class moving pictures and legitimate productions.”

The articles of incorporation stated that since the building was erected for use by the city, all profits were to be turned over to the city. A clause in that lease permitted local organizations to rent the building.

That worked out well for Toledo merchants in October when bad weather forced cancellation of a pavement costume dance. Instead, people were able to watch free movies at the Wieting.

In 1931, the theater converted to a movie house, but it still offered space for plays, graduations and other social events in the 1940s.

But in the 1950s, use of the building waned. It closed in 1958.

THEATER REOPENS

When Toledo residents realized in 1961 that the terms of Ella’s will required that the theater revert to the Wieting estate after a certain period of disuse, a group of women formed the Toledo Community Theatre Guild and leased the building from the estate’s trustees.

The guild bought new projection equipment and a screen. Volunteers installed 350 used seats, light fixtures and a ticket booth from a theater that closed in Montezuma.

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Volunteers operated the ticket booth, the popcorn poppers and the projection booth. The theater hosted movies every weekend but also branched into theater with a production of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians,” which opened two nights to full houses.

Under the guild’s management, the theater showed a profit of over $1,000 in 1964.

A FACE-LIFT

At the Wieting’s 75th anniversary performance, the theater was rededicated.

The Wieting Theatre made the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and it got a new roof in 1998, thanks to proceeds from a hotel-motel tax.

But, again, interest waned, and guild membership dropped drastically.

As the theater’s centennial approached in 2012, young people began to show an interest in the building. A fundraiser and grants allowed for updates to restrooms, the addition of fire sprinklers and restoration of murals.

When the work was done — the first phase of two — the building reopened with a goal of adding live performances to the weekend movie schedule.

On May 7, the Wieting again closed to complete backstage renovations. The reopening is scheduled for July 6.

l Comments: (319) 398-8338; d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

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