No resurrection imminent for theater-turned-church

July 17, 2014 10:19:14 AM



The skeleton of the Varsity Twin theater lies at the corner of Fourth and Main streets in downtown Columbus. The red brick is chipped and faded; the black shingles hang jagged, like rotten teeth on the verge of falling out. The white boxes holding the black letters reading "Varsity Twin" remain; the "R" and the "W" are slightly askew.  


The dusted glass doors and windows bear the names of late night passers-by, curse words and symbols. There is a crack in the glass next to the left ticket window. A look inside reveals a cleanup started but not yet completed: brooms, trash barrels, a big orange wheelbarrow, caution signs and a ripped up floor. The musty odor of years of accumulated dust escapes through the slot in the ticket window glass. 


Some day it will be the beautiful home of Hope Community Church; when that day will come remains an open question.  


Hope pastor Bo Jeffares said that there is no time frame for renovation right now. He said it is going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate the theater, and when the church has raised money they will go forward. 


"We're in this for the long haul, and we are committed to downtown," Jeffares said.  


Community members can donate to the project by printing and completing a form on the church's website, According to the website, the church hopes to complete the project with a budget of $500,000 to $550,000.  


The church bought the building at the beginning of 2012 for $180,000 and is designing a new space with Architectonics architect Thomas Stewart.  


The Varsity Twin was originally an opera house. According to Dispatch archives, its longtime manager, T.J. Locke Jr., bought the opera house in 1919.  


Over time, the venue transitioned from opera house to movie theater, which is when it first became known as Varsity Twin. The original building burned down in the 1970s. It was rebuilt as the structure we know today.  


While the fundraising continues, Hope Community Church will continue to hold services at the Rosenzweig Arts Center. Both the RAC and the church are happy with the present situation.  


"They moved in for six months, and it's been two-and--a-half years now," said Tina Sweeten, the RAC director.  


The congregation of around 125 people meets there every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m. 


"We like the arts center, and it's a good place to meet," Jeffares said. 


Jeffares emphasized that it is important to be downtown, because it helps engage with the community. He said there are more ways for the church to partner with other churches and organizations, like they did in an event with the YMCA last year.  


"We're there to make a positive impact on the community," Jeffares said.  


Vickie Lassiter works at the Beltone Hearing office across the street from the theater. She said that she was unsure about the status of the building, because it has remained untouched for two and a half years now.  


Lassiter said the old building does not bother her, and that she uses it as a landmark to tell clients how to get to their office. She does, however, think that some outside cleaning could be done on the building.  


"I'm disappointed that nothing's been done," Lassiter said.