Throwback Thursday – 130 years later: How the Capitol leads a Downtown Bowling Green cultural Renaissance

The Capitol Theatre on Fountain Square is one Bowling Green’s iconic landmarks. The Capitol’s presence itself brings entertainment, culture, the arts, and a way of life to Downtown Bowling Green. Every city’s downtown is its heartbeat, but it could be argued that, at over 130-years-old, the Capitol Theatre continues to be the city’s oldest, loudest headliner.

Built in the 1890s as a Vaudevillian theatre, it was the place to be in Downtown Bowling Green at the turn of the 20th century. These shows were usually mix of satire, songs, and stage performances. You might catch a magic show the same time as a puppet show.

A few months ago, we told the story of Bowling Green’s moving picture man, J.P. Masters. By the 1930s, movie films were all the rage and Vaudeville was a thing of the past. The Capitol was reimagined as a movie theatre and Masters led the grand reopening. But after showing films on the square for decades, the Capitol closed down in the mid-1960s for nearly 10 years.

Thanks to a group of citizens who wanted to preserve the historic significance and retell beautiful stories the Capitol told, the theatre underwent a massive million-dollar renovation in the late 1970s, reopening to the public again by the 1980s. It was managed by the Capitol Arts Alliance for about 30 years, bringing shows and experiences of all types to the stage.

The Capitol is now operated by the Warren County Public Library, who has been reinventing the space for music videos and documentaries, bringing live performances back to the mainstage, has plans to host a new film festival, and even plays movies like the theatre did a century ago. The Capitol Bookstore is now open at the front gallery space, inviting the literary arts to join the performance. This mixed use and collaborative arts effort is a rebirth of the Bowling Green arts and entertainment scene, sort of a Renaissance in Downtown Bowling Green.

What will the next century hold?