CINCINNATI (TDB) -- The 95-year-old Emery Theater that is said to have some of the best concert hall acoustics in North America could be in store for a revival. It once was a jewel in the Queen City's crown. It seats up to 2,200, but has been abandoned and mouldering like an Egyptian tomb since the late 1990s. Former Cincinnati Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell -- a one-time rock concert promoter -- was spotted inside the shambled Emery, inspecting the site near downtown, and said he is working on a plan to bring it back to life. Clearly, something is up.
Tarbell invited The Bellwether through the lobby and into the auditorium, which was drab and dusty and gloomy under the dim houselights. Still, Tarbell gushed enthusiasm -- fresh paint and restoration could give the marble-columned Emery the gilt-edged glow it had when Gershwin appeared in the Jazz Age, or Nijinsky danced with a Russian ballet troupe.
Tarbell left City Hall last fall. He said he's been thinking about the Emery for years. "Imagine Dylan here, or Led Zeppelin. It would be perfect. How about A Prairie Home Companion?" The Emery would seem to be a nice fit for a touring Garrison Keeler radio show. Tarbell is imagining events like that. He didn't offer any details about financial plans, or who would put up the money to restore the theater at Walnut and Central Parkway. Tarbell did say he thought the Cincinnati Ballet, the Chamber Orchestra and Cincinnati Opera would all use the site.
In Cinema Treasures, the Emery Theater is described as a prize awaiting rediscovery.
"Prior to its film years, the Emery was home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1912 until they moved to the Music Hall in 1936. On the Emery's stage over the years appeared Russian ballet dancer Nijinsky, actresses Bette Davis and Katherine Cornell and composer George Gershwin, who played his famous 'Rhapsody in Blue' with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra shortly after he had premiered it at Carnegie Hall in New York. The theater, which is now closed, is owned by the University of Cincinnati."