The Reg Lenna Center for The Arts was first opened on February 5, 1923 as the Palace Theatre, a "High Class Vaudeville" house. Films - usually a short comedy plus a feature, were shown before and after the twice daily vaudeville performances. Three years later Nikitas Dipson bought the facility and continued with film and vaudeville shows until he leased it as one of Warner Brothers theaters for 20 years. By 1934 films were the only entertainment available on a regular basis, with live performances seeing much less stage time.
In 1950 Dipson Theatres once again took over management. The Palace was remodeled by installing new heating and cooling systems, carpeting, wall coverings and new seats. At the reopening Dipson reaffirmed his intention to feature not only first run films of the best quality, but also stage shows, orchestras and vaudeville. In 1956, Forever Darling, starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, had its world premiere at The Palace. With the passing years fewer and fewer people attended the theater, equipment was wearing out, and the building needed repairs.
In June of 1981, Harry Chapin gave the first live show in the theatre in 25 years. During the concert, both performer and audience got rained on. Some people in the balcony were using umbrellas! Harry Chapin pledged to come back and do a fundraiser if the people would organize to save the building. Tragically, Chapin died a month later, but he had started the process. A group of citizens, with the help of the Jamestown Urban Renewal Agency and the Gebbie Foundation, banded together to repair and clean up the old theatre. By October 1982 the Palace was once again ready to host live performances to "test" whether there was enough interest to warrant further renovation. In February 1986 a 3.35 million dollar campaign was started to completely renovate the old Palace. The Reginald and Elizabeth Lenna Foundation made an early donation of one million dollars and one year later, when the goal for funds was met and surpassed, the Palace was officially renamed the Reg Lenna Civic Center.
Renovation, which began in 1989, included taking out all the seats for reupholster, reconstruction of the orchestra pit, new stage lighting and equipment, new curtains, new house lights, handicapped seating, new floor coverings, original artwork repaired and cleaned, new stage entrance, new heating and cooling systems, and a new stage floor. The grand reopening was held October 12, 1990.
The beautifully restored 1,269 seat Reg Lenna Civic Center received an award from the League of Historic American Theatres for the quality and workmanship of its restoration. It boasts a 35' movie screen, state of the art projection and sound equipment, and a Steinway 9' Model D concert grand piano. The Reg Lenna Civic Center was host to the Lucy-Desi Days celebration Memorial Day Weekend and Lucy's birthday celebration in August.
For several years, The Reg operated side by side with Arts Council for Chautauqua County, spearheaded by Executive Director, Phillip Morris (also overseeing The Reg). Both organizations saw significant growth with property acquisitions and management, Arts In Education programs with Jamestown Public Schools, the Wright Gallery and Palace Gallery, the start of Infinity Performing Arts and The Lucille Ball Museum (and Festival Of Comedy) and mainstage productions from several area art groups.
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