If walls could talk, oh the stories these walls would tell. Stories of stars of stage and screen. Prominent performers of the day – then and now. Stars the likes of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, The Band Perry, and Weird Al Yankovic have all taken the Palace stage. There are even stories of gambling raids and robbery. The Palace is rich in history.
It was an exciting place for the community to gather and celebrate life. And it still is.
Construction began January 1928. The entertainment venue, designed by John Eberson, was complete in just eight short months. The owners opened its remarkable wooden doors to an anxious crowd of over 3200 on August 30, 1928. They became the first to experience the lavish interior and a stage filled with exciting entertainment.
Guests enjoyed well-know Chicago organist Banks Kennedy play the Palace Page organ. He began with an original tune, “Everybody’s Welcome to the Palace,” which set the mood for the evening. Conductor Elmer Newstrom and the Palace Orchestra continued with the overture, “A Night in the Clock Store.” Opening night treated those first audience members to Keith-Albee vaudeville acts, including a performance by mental wizard Harry Kahne. The night wouldn’t be complete without a silent film. And Palace guests weren’t disappointed. They enjoyed Metro-Goldwin-Mayer’s Excess Baggage. It was a night to remember. And the beginning of decades of memories made at this amazing Palace.
Not only was the program captivating, but the building was show-stopping, too. The Spanish design did not disappoint those first patrons. Nor does the atmospheric concept leave modern day visitors wanting. The lobby prepares guests for transport to another place and another time. Entrance into the auditorium reveals the makings of a Spanish courtyard complete with muted stucco walls, crawling vines, and a midnight blue sky with birds in flight, twinkling stars, and clouds afloat overhead. Statues adorn the Palace walls and crests outline the grand proscenium stage.
After several decades of changing ownership, the Palace was in need of a great deal of work, if it was to remain the masterpiece Eberson intended and Marion residents had come to enjoy. In the mid seventies, the owner was looking to sell what had become a movie theatre in need of repair. The Marion Concert Series shared the space and was more than a little interested in seeing the Palace retain its intended uses.
Spear-headed by John C. Keggan, the Palace Guard was born. This group of seven Marion businessmen pulled out their wallets and rolled up their sleeves. They rallied the Marion community and invoked the support of area industries. In 1976, the Palace was “re-born” in all its splendor. At that time, the Palace Cultural Arts Association became the Theatre’s operating organization.
In 2008, the PCAA opened a beautiful, multi-purpose addition, which is adjacent to the west wall of the historic theatre. With hints of Spanish décor, the May Pavilion serves the community’s meeting space needs for weddings, receptions, reunions and corporate meetings, all while providing the perfect venue for smaller theatrical productions and more intimate performances by local and regional bands.
In 2013, the PCAA Board of Directors undertook a second restoration; but this time to the grand front façade. Thanks to State Capital Budget funding and very generous support from in and around the community, April 3, 2016 saw a restored façade complete with authentic terra cotta and historic brick. In addition, a new, energy-efficient, digital marquee and restored upright PALACE sign completed the project and re-established a majestic welcome to Palace guests.
This gem remains the cornerstone to Downtown activity. Welcoming over 60,000 guests per year, the Marion Palace is a vibrant performing arts venue hosting national touring artists, regional performers, local thespians, and second run films.
Resources include A Theatre History of Marion Ohio: John Eberson’s Palace & Beyond authored by Scott L. Hoffman.