The Ritz Theater auditorium has retained its original configuration with only a few modifications over the last century. Originally the theater had a seating capacity of six hundred arranged in the same three sections in use today. Just like all opera houses of the day, there was an orchestra pit at the foot of the stage that survives but is covered over by the apron extension built in the 1970's. While a substantial bit of construction, the apron can be removed to reveal the pit basically untouched. There has been talk of making the apron removable so that the orchestra pit can be used in special circumstances. The principal difference in the room's design since its construction is the inner lobby structure at the back of the room. This new lobby area was built around 1935 as a noise and light buffer between the outer lobby and the auditorium. The inner lobby also allowed more organized access to each of the four aisles through its new decorative medieval archways. Two of which also led to the theater's two primitive restrooms described in detail in the restroom page of this renovation section. In 1937, the auditorium was modified with massive amounts of acoustic treatment to better facilitate the electronic sound equipment required to exhibit the new "talkies". (Motion pictures with sound) Silent motion pictures were presented at the Ritz periodically throughout the twenties using portable 35mm projectors but were not shown on a regular basis until 1929 when 35mm projection equipment was permanently installed. Rockville was no different than most other small towns in that movie sound technology was slow to make its way into the theaters and silent films were common during the 1930's. The new acoustic treatment created an almost acoustically "flat" room, a fairly rare and much sought after attribute in auditoriums that employ electronic audio enhancement for any purpose. Large baffles were constructed over the upper house walls to soften the sound reflections of the angular room. The baffles were made of eight foot long strips of soft fiber board mounted on a frame made of 1x4'' lumber. These baffles curved out over the auditorium and no doubt looked "modern" at the time. They served well over the years until their soft light brown surface became worn and laden with dust. By the time they were removed in 2003, they were actually beginning to fall off of the framework. During the 1937 remodeling, new fangled "indirect lighting" was mounted on the upper lateral supports of the baffle structure and offered soft and even house lighting for the center section but left the east and west sections somewhat in the dark. Each baffle supported twenty eight incandescent lamp sockets wired in two separate circuits. There were two 14 inch circular fixtures with opaque globes on the center ceiling but they quit working in the 1970's. Their light bulbs simply burned out and being thirty five feet off of the floor, no one was likely to go up and change them.
The Ritz was originally built as the New Rockville Opera House in 1912 and the original design offered excellent acoustics for the presentation of the living entertainment that traveled the land in those days. The plaster walls and ceiling served to enhance live sound unaided by any sort of electronic amplification. The decor within the auditorium of the original opera house was typical of the period and included magnificent murals that were centered on each of the "upper house" walls. One on the east wall of the upper house and the other on the west. The murals were identical in their design with the exception of the graphic within an oval frame at the center of each. At each side of these centerpieces were Greek youths of unspecified gender blowing double belled horns and facing opposite directions. The mural's bottom bands extended the length of the walls. We hope to learn more about this classic Edwardian art and offer several photos of what remained below. The west mural was in such bad shape due to loose and falling plaster, it could not have been saved. The east mural was not in such bad shape that it could not have been preserved but poor communication and indifferent management during the 2003 renovation allowed it to be destroyed when it could have been covered over and saved for future restoration. Both murals were extensively measured and photographed so that they can be recreated in the near future.
The original 1912 seats were made of wood with no cushioning. Many had wire hat racks on the underside of the fold down seat. Modern observers almost always remark about the narrow width of these early seats. This aspect of their design played a small part in the difference in the seating capacity. Six hundred in 1912 and five hundred after the remodeling in 1937. The inner lobby construction was the principal factor in the reduced seating capacity. Some of the original wooden seats remained in the east front two rows until the new seats were installed in 1997. The Chamber Of Commerce owned the theater in 1997 and had raised money enough to replace the second generation of seating after a 1978 attempt to restore them failed to hold up. Some used seats from an auditorium in Ohio were purchased to fill the immediate need because the cost of proper new seating was prohibitive. In the future, Parke Players hopes to replace the plastic backed seats with some new or reconditioned seating that is more appropriate for our restored theater. Since the 1930's the seating capacity dropped from five hundred to four fifty and then with the 1997 seat replacement, to three hundred and eighty five. During the 2003 renovation, a new stage technical booth was built in the back of the room to replace the six foot by eight foot "fold down" nest built in 1997 when the seating was replaced. The new booth is fourteen by eight feet and is designed to house all of the stage technical control systems for the theater. The architects designed the booth to allow for a second story location from which to operate the stage lighting. Complete Ethernet and monitor wiring have been installed to facilitate the current Strand lighting system.
Ritz Theater Restoration
The Ritz Theater auditorium in December 1999 as the carpet was being replaced and the new LED aisle guidance system installed.
Photograph taken on the same day from the stage.
Original 1912 seats removed in 1997 when the second generation
of seating from 1937 were replaced.
1937 seats after removal in 1997
Carpenters begin framing inside the acoustically treated walls in
order to install insulation hitherto absent from the building. The
unpainted space over the radiator is where one of the six plaster Art
Deco wall sconces was installed in 1937.
Completed east wall framing. The Women's room is located in the corner
with a dated "HERS" back lit sign facing the camera. There was a
matching "HIS" sign in the same location on the other side of the room.
The crew considers the 30 degree turn in the west wall. Originally the
twenty eight feet from the turn to the stage were to be left as they
were but the decision was made to continue the finished wall.
The crew begins to dismantle the east acoustic baffle and the original
plaster that it had obscured for more than sixty years.
Insulation completed on the west wall. The new construction has created
a six inch thick cove around each of the room's six radiators. Grillwork
was fabricated of stressed steel fabric to cover them.
Back wall made of Masonite with the window through to the inner lobby.
The 1997 technical booth is seen here.
Empty tech booth from atop the follow spot loft.
1997 tech booth with audio and lighting control.
One of the 1912 murals as it was uncovered during the 2003 renovation. This one was on the east wall. Both murals had been painted over from the north up to the point that you see here on the left.
The west mural was severely damaged by falling plaster as seen here in the center scene of a sailboat on a serene lake.
The west acoustic framing with the remains of the indirect lighting clinging to the top.
The east mural's center graphic featuring a moonlit lakeside windmill.
The only plaster Art Deco wall sconce from the Ritz to survive the six decades of use. There were four such as this one.
There were two of these metal "organ pipe" sconces. One down front on each side of the room. Both survive with minimal damage and will eventually be repaired and reinstalled somewhere in the theater.
The completed auditorium. The door capitals are not as ordered and will be correctedto match those from 1912.
The famous theater clock was originally mounted in the center of the duct openingto the right. The openings have been slightly enlarged and converted into enclosures for the Klipsch cinema speaker arrays because the new retractable screen is not porous. One of the Bose 802 cabinets for the stage / house audio system is mounted over thecinema sound enclosure.
The original seating chart for the Rockville Opera House in 1915
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