Athena Cinema Celebrates 100th Birthday

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Twelve years before movies were produced with sound, the Majestic Theatre on Court Street opened its doors to give Athenians access to some of the very first motion pictures. One hundred years later, the theater is still a popular entertainment venue at the heart of Court Street.

The Majestic changed its name to the Athena Cinema in 1935 and the theater was purchased by Ohio University in 2001. Since its opening in 1915, the theater has never closed for an extended period of time except for renovations, according to Alexandra Kamody, operations director at the Athena.

The Athena Cinema celebrated its centennial on Wednesday with an open house complete with champagne, birthday cake and guests even sang “Happy Birthday” to the Athena. Following the open house, guests were invited to attend the weekly summer concert series Concert under the Elms on the OU campus for a special movie themed performance to commemorate the theater’s 100th anniversary.

Following the concert, there was a screening of the first movie ever shown at the theater in 1915 — Mary Pickford’s Cinderella. The silent film was accompanied by live music from Dave DeWitt of Columbus.

Athena Cinema 100 banner

Kamody said that the first screening sold out hours before the show, so a second theater was opened to show the film in its true silent form.

Hundreds of people packed into the theater to celebrate on Wednesday. Resident Taryn Weisheit even dressed the part of a flapper girl to reflect the time period.

Kamody said that fans of the theater have been encouraged to share their favorite memories of the venue through the theater’s website and in its lobby. She said she’s heard lots of stories about Chuck Berry performing at the theater in the 1970s, but has yet to see a photo from the event.

On Wednesday, some of those in attendance shared the reasons why they love the Athena with The Messenger.

Gordon Briggs, who moved to Athens in 2005 to attend OU, said that he frequents the theater once a week.

“I like that it shows a lot of different types of movies. The diversity of the town is reflected in the diversity of the movies,” he said.

Briggs also stated that he likes seeing screenings of classic movies.

“It’s so much better watching a film you love with a crowd of people,” he said.

Danielle Fultz, an OU alum and Athens resident, said she regularly visits the Athena.

“I love how we get smaller films,” she said. “Being a former Bobcat and an Athens resident, it has been a great close place to walk to.”

Athena Cinema, 1950 (photo: Athena Cinema archives)
Athena Cinema, 1950 (photo: Athena Cinema archives)

For Kelley Kathleen Ferguson and Wolfang Suetzl, the couple met during a movie at the theater. The two met a year ago while watching the same movie, which had a small audience. Ferguson asked Suetzl out and they have been dating ever since.

Suetzl is a professor at OU and regularly teaches his 160-person class at the cinema.

“It is totally good for teaching,” he said. “The acoustics are very good and the large screen works really well for presentations.”

OU student Connor Hall said he frequently attends the Athena because he has a friend who works there. He said he loves the science and informational documentaries.

“There are a lot of free screenings for students,” he said. “My favorite was a universal premier of (the Seth Rogan comedy) Neighbors that was shown three months before it came to theaters.”

OU professor and paleontologist Larry Witmer and his wife Patty said they frequent the Athena because it’s an art house theater that offers something different than traditional blockbuster theaters.

Larry Witmer said as a scientist he really enjoys the Science on the Screen series in which a movie is paired by an educational lecture on specific topics.

Patty said one of her favorite films she saw at the Athena was the global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth. She said she also enjoys the cartoon shorts and the annual Athens Film Festival.

“There can’t be too many continuous running movie houses that have been around for a century because movies themselves aren’t much older than that,” Larry Witmer said.

Kamody said she was blown away by the community turnout and support on Wednesday.

“It’s really a testament to the Athens community who have supported the theater for 100 years,” she said.

The Athena Cinema will continue with its 100th anniversary movie series each month, which features iconic films from over the decades. This month, the 1959 comedy “Some Like it Hot” starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon will be shown on June 27 at 3 p.m.

Kamody said the children’s summer matinee series will also begin soon.

Commemorative posters and T-shirts celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Athena are on sale at the theater.

For information about the Athena Cinema, visit

*Editor’s note: Athens Messenger intern Haley Dake contributed to this article.