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Gish Theater name to remain during location change

University officials ensure Gish Theater will remain somewhere on campus.

While the Gish Film Theater in Hanna Hall will celebrate its 40th birthday this summer, ongoing renovations raise the question of whether the Gish will commemorate it’s 41st in its current home or a new location.

Dr. Ralph Wolfe has been the sole curator of the theater since the venue’s dedication on June 11, 1976.

“We are the only theater named for Dorothy and Lillian Gish, and Lillian is known as the first lady of American cinema,” Wolfe said. 

Lillian was born in Springfield, OH and began her stage career in Wood County at the age of 5. Her sister, Dorothy, was born in Dayton. 

Wolfe said when they first approached Lillian with the idea of the theater, she refused unless they included Dorothy in the name as well. The day after the dedication, Lillian was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts from the University. 

“Lillian and Dorothy Gish made their first movie in 1912, this building opened in 1910, so they belong in a legacy building,” Wolfe said.

The Gish Theater is actually the oldest permanent resident of Hanna Hall.

Along with the theater itself, Wolfe acquired several photographs and film stills from the Museum of Modern Art’s film retrospective of Lillian Gish. The photos are paired alongside relics from various projects that the Gish sisters were a part of, and are located in a small gallery adjacent to the theater viewing area.

“I’m sure Lillian Gish thought, as I did, that as long as the building stood the theatre would be here, and the building is going to stand. But, the president wants to move the theatre somewhere else,” Wolfe said.

It’s no secret there are enhancements being made to the legacy buildings (University, Moseley and Hanna Hall), in order for the University to produce the best academic environment possible.  Hanna Hall is the current home to the Gish, but has not become subject to any recent construction shutdowns.

“We’re making massive investments in those historic buildings of the University, to ensure that we’ve preserved them and so that they’re also cutting edge space for teaching, learning and the mission of the University,” Provost and Senior Vice President Rodney Rodgers said.

Hanna Hall does not have a designated purpose unlike many other college-specific buildings. Several University students from a variety of majors find themselves in the building at some point in their college career. 

“The auditorium has been the theatre since the mid-70s and then other uses of that building include the department of geography, women’s studies, classrooms for ESL and a Muslim prayer room—it really has a lot going on and is used for swing space because it is available,” Rodgers said. 

Hanna Hall is the future home of the College of Business, which means the current space set aside for the Gish Theater will be converted to classroom space. 

“I don’t see anything inappropriate with the Gish Theatre being in the same building as the College of Business because the film industry is one of the biggest businesses in the country—if not the world,” Wolfe said.

The theater will not be known in the capacity it is currently, but the concept and value will be preserved in another on-campus location.

“We are committed to preserving the Gish Theatre at Bowling Green State University. It won’t be in that specific location, just like that specific location wasn’t originally designed to be a theater when it was first built near the founding of the University,” Rodgers said.

The title of the theater will remain The Gish bearing any site change, and the artifacts and photos will be displayed in the Browne Popular Culture Library bearing that they do not fit into the new theater viewing area. No decisions have been made regarding the relocation of the theater, but there has been research on the best location with student and community use taken in consideration. 

“We’ve looked at a number of places. The two that really seem to rise the highest to date are the Kobacker Theatre in Moore Musical Arts or the Bowen-Thompson Student Union with the existing theatre that might be the most cost-effective of those two and would be quicker to implement,” Vice President for Capital Planning and Campus Organizations, Steve Krakoff said. 

Both of those potential hosts will make the venue more accessible to those who have physical disabilities and will offer closer parking for community members. 

“We’re very close to making final decisions on where it would be relocated, and depending on that it would determine the timeline needed to make sure that we have the space during the academic year to make sure it’s ready to go,” Krakoff said. 

As no final decisions have been made, the Gish is expected to remain in use throughout the next full academic year. Students are welcome to voice their support and/or dissatisfaction on the matter when classes resume in the fall. 

Regardless of any pending decisions, Rodgers reiterated: “There will be a Gish Theater in the fall at BGSU.”

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