The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 12, 2013

New group formed to save Ashtabula's Shea’s Theater

Star Beacon

ASHTABULA — Shea’s Theater on Main Avenue has a storied history. Built in 1949, M.A. Shea paid $1 million to construct the 1,530-seat theater. Shea’s marquee went on to become the focal point of downtown Ashtabula through the early 1960’s.

Which is why several volunteers have banded together to support the saving and restoring of the historical building to its original design. They call themselves the Saving Ashtabula’s History Organization and they have set up shop next to Loftus Books on Main Avenue.

“Ashtabula is more than my birthplace, it is a big part of my childhood,” said Tom Burris, chairperson. “Many memories are within the walls of these old buildings.”

The goal of the group is to bring the community together with all its varied skills and talents and turn Ashtabula’s history and future around.

The organization is working to get a tax exempt status so they can take tax-deductible donations, Burris said.

Kris Hamrick is the founder of the group.

“It’s our job to preserve the great history that our forefathers worked so hard to create, but we need to bring it into this century so future generations can enjoy it,” he said.

In early December, the Ashtabula Downtown Development Association invited theater restoration expert, Michael Hurwitz of Columbus, to speak about rescuing, restoring and returning Shea’s Theater to its former grandeur.

A standing-room-only crowd gathered at the Senior Center to hear Hurwitz speak. He complimented Shea’s architecture and was optimistic about the future.

Excitement was in the air until Troy Bailey, a member of Ashtabula Council on Aging Board of Directors, said he was asked to speak on behalf of the board.

“We plan to demolish the theater,” he said.

Bailey called the theater “an albatross.”

As of Friday, the Council on Aging’s plans have not changed, but Burris and Hamrick have been working to garner support through various forms of communication, including Facebook.

“We have more than 1,600 members,” Burris said. “Our members have interest in preservation and revitalization of Ashtabula’s history with a desire to restore historical landmarks where possible for future generations to enjoy.”

Rick Lane, who joined the group via Facebook, said, “Shea’s is more than an aging acoustical structure of historical significance. It exists as a tribute to social life in America in the 20th Century.”

He believes it should be preserved for future generations.

Terry Peterson of North Kingsville said Ashtabula County already lost Nappi’s Christmas lights and Caruso’s Restaurant.

“The town is shutting down memories,” he said. “We need the old-fashioned little county back.”