Historic Ritz Theatre
Just a hop, skip and a jump from St. Simons is an historic venue that ha stood the test of time.
Originally, the Grand Opera House, a three-story Victorian building featuring ornate works, served as a legitimate stage. Later, vaudeville held a presence. In the 1920s, as motion pictures became the rage, the Opera House became a movie palace. To give the building a more modern art deco look, the first-story brickwork added carrara glass and an elaborate marquee and cascading sign. Thus, the Grand Opera House became the Ritz Theatre. In 1956, the world premiere of “A View From Pompey’s Head,” filmed primarily at the Oglethorpe Hotel (the grand hotel that used to sit across from the Ritz) premiered at the Ritz. The film’s star, Richard Egan, introduced the movie.
The Historic Ritz Theatre (and single movie houses in general) fell into decline in the 60’s and 70’s. In 1981, the City of Brunswick purchased the Ritz, and again, the theatre was modernized and substantially altered; however, leaving the Ritz sign intact. The extensive reconstruction was due in part to the collapse of the roof over the auditorium. This phase was completed in 1983.
In 2008, the Ritz became part of the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI), the only comprehensive theatre preservation organization in the U.S.
It became the premiere resource for historic theatre restoration and revitalization in Georgia. It offers mentoring programs, preservation expertise, operational counseling, and educational opportunities. In 2010 Golden Isles Arts and Humanities applied for and received a restoration assistance grant, matched by the City of Brunswick, to restore the building’s 58 original windows.
Under FTI’s guidance, local craftsmen James Taylor and Taylor Davis, partnering with the Association for Preservation Technology and the Jekyll Island Restoration Team, restored the windows using the original glass and much of the original wood. FTI and the city then supported the repainting of the building. In 1899, the Grand Opera House had unpainted brick, and then painted white by the movie company in the 1920s for a more modern feel.
The original Ritz sign was the final exterior element needing restoration.
The sign remained dormant for years, so FTI once again stepped in to provide assistance. In May 2011, local company Fendig Signs undertook extensive restoration work,. This included painting, rewiring, and the crafting of new neon letters by Ray Tanner. The restored sign returned in the fall. In 2011, during Downtown Brunswick’s First Friday event, Golden Isles Arts and Humanities held a grand re-lighting celebration.
The Historic Ritz Theatre, located within the “Old Town Brunswick” National Register District was built in 1899 to house the Grand Opera House, retail establishments, and the general offices of the Brunswick & Birmingham Railroad. Today, downtown Brunswick’s historic theatre and arts center features year-round live performances, films, exhibits, educational programs and more. 1530 Newcastle Street, Brunswick, GA 31520