The building that currently houses the Drexel Theatre was originally built as a grocery store around 1900. In 1937, work began to convert the storefront into a theater and local architect Robert R. Royce worked to design the new theater in the art deco style. The theater opened on Christmas Day of that year and the first film shown was One Mile From Heaven with Claire Treavor. When it opened, there was one theater that could hold up to 730 people.
In 1959, Bexley resident Jerome C. Knight bought the theater. When Fiddler on the Roof came out in the early 1970s, it played the Drexel Theatre for 44 weeks. In 1981, Jeff and Kathy Frank bought the theater. They closed it for a month to restore some of the art deco charm, and then reopened the theater on October 27, 1981. The 1935 film Top Hat was shown. The Franks brought film star Ginger Rogers to Bexley to introduce the film and be the guest of honor at a black-tie gala. In 1991, the Franks converted the Drexel's 730 seat theater into three smaller theaters with a capacity of 320, 130, and 110. This allowed them to offer a greater number of films and more diverse selections for their customers. The move paid off and by April of 1992 the Drexel had doubled its attendance.
Since the Franks took over the theater in 1981, the Drexel has concentrated on showing independent art house films which, until recently, did not usually play at the multiplexes around Columbus. This move has not been without controversy, though. When The Last Temptation of Christ was released in 1988, 250 people showed up to protest the movie on opening night. During the economic downturn of 2009, a non-profit organization called the Friends of the Drexel was formed, and in 2011 this group bought the Drexel and converted the theater from a for-profit business into a non-profit organization. At this time, they also entered into an agreement with CAPA to manage the theater on their behalf. The Drexel continues to be a Main Street Landmark.
Photos Courtesy of Bexley Historical Society
“Drexel Still Going Strong” by Wendy M. King, Bexley News, pages 1 and 8, December 29, 1993
“Drexel to Reopen” by Joanne Williams, East Columbus Messenger, pages 1 and 15, October 19, 1981
“Nonprofit Created to Assist Theater” by Nick Chordas, Columbus Dispatch, December 16, 2009
“System worked for film- Peaceful Protests Haven’t Hindered ‘Last Temptation’” by Columbus Dispatch, Columbus Dispatch, September 11, 1988
“The Drexel Making Movies Fun Again” by Dennis Flely, Capitol Magazine, May 13, 1984
“Drexel Theatre doubles attendance” by Larry Houck, Bexley News, pages 1 and 17, April 1, 1992
“And then there were 3” by Frank Gabrenya, Columbus Dispatch, page G1, March 3, 1991
“The Drexel- Bexley’s Showplace” by Ed Hamblin, Historical Herald, pages 1 and 2, November 2000
Bexley Historical Society Collection