Woodward Theater Wins $150,000 Grant

Over-the-Rhine's Woodward finished eighth among 25 sites nationwide vying for a share of $1.5 million in preservation grants

click to enlarge The restored Woodward Theater reopened in 2014. - PHOTO: Phil Armstrong/Cincinnati Preservation Association
PHOTO: Phil Armstrong/Cincinnati Preservation Association
The restored Woodward Theater reopened in 2014.

Woodward Theater co-owner Dan McCabe says Cincinnatians know a bright idea when they hear one. Thanks to community support in a national online voting contest, the Woodward announced Thursday that it has won a $150,000 grant to recreate the venue’s 1913 electric marquee and fully light up one of Over-the-Rhine’s historic treasures.

The Woodward finished eighth among 25 sites nationwide that were vying for a share of $1.5 million in grants from the Partners in Preservation: Main Streets campaign. The money comes from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, American Express, National Geographic and the Main Street America program.

“We are a savvy citizenry,” McCabe says, in an interview. “Our town knows its history and knows the value of that history, how it can be used and preserved and how it helps lift us all.”

The Woodward, at 1404 Main St., operated as a movie house from 1913 to 1933 and is one of few from that era to survive. The Beaux-Arts building later housed an auto dealer, a grocery and an antiques business. McCabe and his partners started renovating the site in 2013 and reopened it as an entertainment venue three years ago this week. In addition to showcasing bands, the Woodward also hosts wedding receptions and other special events.

McCabe loves that the Woodward won the grant because of grassroots backing. “These are friends, family, coworkers taking ownership and running with it,” he says. “Our local music community is a huge attraction. So is our historic architecture. It’s fun watching Cincinnati understand that and put it to work.”

The Cincinnati Preservation Association helped write the grant request. In announcing the award, Paul Muller, the association’s executive director, called the marquee the last missing piece of the 104-year-old façade.

“By rebuilding it, the theater will add vitality to Main Street just as it did at the dawn of the age of electricity,” Muller said in a press release.

McCabe says he and his partners always planned to restore the façade but first needed to focus on the interior. The grant will allow the team to recreate 52 rosettes that housed lightbulbs on the original marquee, rebuild 1913 signage, upgrade wiring, clean the white porcelain brick and replace some wood.

The work is expected to begin in mid-2018. Construction should go quickly once permits are secured, McCabe says, and he hopes for an unveiling around this time next year.

The Partners in Preservation: Main Streets competition awarded grants to 11 historic sites, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. In all, more than 920,000 online votes were cast from Sept. 25 to Oct. 31. The grants range from $50,000 to $150,000.  In addition, 25 nonprofit community partners, including the Cincinnati Preservation Association, will split $500,000.  

In the final week and a half of voting, the Woodward project moved from being on the bubble at No. 10 up to No. 8.

“It’s very Cincinnati that like-minded folks saw a need, came together, and made something happen,” McCabe says. He recalls that just before his team officially opened the Woodward’s doors in November 2014, supporters held a “Pints for Paint” beer party to help buy materials needed for finishing touches inside. 

“That’s the type of bootstrapping we’ve done at the Woodward,” McCabe says. “This is private folks trying to bring this theater back together. This has been a struggle that’s a lot of fun, and to have people come join us with that fight to do that — it’s invigorating.”