Movie News & Reviews

The Kentucky at 90: Time line of the theater's history

Through the years | Highlights in The Kentucky Theatre's 90-year history

Dec. 15, 1896: First exhibition of motion pictures in Lexington, at Opera House; a dozen "views" between stage acts, eight months after premiere of Thomas Edison's Vitascope film projector in New York.

Oct. 4, 1922: The Kentucky Theatre celebrated its grand opening. The theater was built by M. Switow and Sons, a circuit operating 19 theaters in Kentucky and Indiana, for an estimated $250,000. The theater was recognized architecturally as one of the finest in the South. Prices for opening night were 25 cents for nannies and adults, 10 cents for children. For evenings, Sundays and holidays, adults were charged 30 cents.

1940s: New marquee, with neon lights and space to promote movie titles, placed on the front.

1958: S.J. Switow and his brothers decided to renovate The Kentucky again. Over the years, it had been leased several times by different companies, including Paramount Publix Co., Phoenix Amusement Co. and, for many years, Schine Circuit Inc.

Hanns R. Teichert was chosen as the interior decorator. A new, 42-foot-wide screen meant the stage had to be extended over the orchestra pit. The color scheme was changed to turquoise and robin's egg blue. Short subjects and features were shown. Organ music played during intermission.

1974: Fred Mills assumed management of The Kentucky.

1976: Henry Saag, an officer of M. Switow and Sons and grandson of Switow, took over management of the theater. Saag said the theater had been featuring "B" movies. The format was changed to classics and high-quality modern movies.

April 1978: New repertory format began. Calendar was introduced in Lexington.

1981: A $75,000 renovation project began. Flowered wall murals were painted over. Carpeting was taken up to restore the theater's marble floor. The large, polished-brass light fixture imported from Sweden was removed. The roof was repaired. Leaky walls were strengthened. Outdated electrical wires and plumbing were replaced. About 300 seats were reupholstered, and a new screen was installed. Decorator Paula Wagoner chose burnt red, airy peach and a beige with gold highlights to give the cavernous theater some warmth.

Oct. 2, 1987: A pre-dawn fire at the Fleur-de-Lys restaurant caused smoke and water damage to the adjoining Kentucky Theatre. A Lexington man, Frank Leslie Yates, caught leaving the building soon before the fire was discovered, was accused of setting it. He was sentenced to three years in prison for burglary and theft. The arson charge was dropped when Yates pleaded guilty.

April 11, 1992: Now city-owned, The Kentucky reopens with a gala reception for seat purchasers, with actress Debbie Reynolds and a showing of Guys and Dolls.

1999: The last repertory calendar was printed as The Kentucky switched back to first-run films.

October 2012: The Kentucky celebrates its 90th birthday, which includes a kick-off for a campaign to raise $1.5 million to buy digital projectors, new seats and renovate the lobby.