Lucille Ball Little Theatre
In 1936, The Players Club and a new theater group merged to create The Jamestown Little Theatre. The non-profit organization put on plays at different locations throughout town. In 1969, the group moved into its current home after months of renovations. Donations for the project came from many current and former Jamestown residents, including Lucille Ball. Ball was born in Jamestown and got her start acting in a Players Club production. She then went on to find success in Hollywood on the big and small screen, most notably on the sitcom “I Love Lucy.” The Little Theatre was renamed in her honor in 1991.
Backstory and Context
Madelyn Jones Osgood created “The Players Club” in Jamestown in 1920 with the help of other local thespians. The group produced two or three plays annually throughout Jamestown. They rehearsed in a carriage house owned by Osgood’s father Cyrus Jones. In 1929, the troupe welcomed the young Lucille Ball in their production of Within the Law. Ball would later find fame in film and on TV’s I Love Lucy. Despite her success, she remembered her start with The Players Club and donated $5,000 for a new building in 1968.
In 1936, husband and wife George and Harriet Warren moved to Jamestown from Cleveland, Ohio. They and The Players Club formed a new troupe called “The Little Theatre of Jamestown.” Mr. and Mrs. Warren became the organization’s directors, and nineteen others joined the board to run the non-profit. Initial funds were raised by pre-selling season tickets. By 1945, the Little Theatre had grown to be the largest membership theatre in the United States. When World War II ended, many women quit theater groups such as the Little Theatre, and membership dropped.
It was also after the war that the Little Theatre of Jamestown decided to find a more permanent home. When the first round of fundraising failed to meet its goal, the board decided to move forward anyway and hope more donations would come. The organization purchased a former Howard Johnson and a carriage house. Renovations began, and the group moved to the Scottish Rite Temple for rehearsal and production. The organization then hired a group of experts to determine how likely it was that the Little Theatre could raise the rest of the necessary funds; the answer was negative. So, the Little Theatre continued operating from the Scottish Rite Temple.
The Warrens resigned from the Little Theatre of Jamestown in 1955, and they were succeeded by a series of other directors. The organization’s luck turned when it was offered $80,000 for its property in 1968. The board accepted the offer and began searching for a new home. They decided upon the Shea’s Theatre, owned by The Dipson Theatre Corporation. The theater had been closed for five years as it had struggled to compete with the booming popularity of television. The inside of the theater was reconfigured to allow for a larger lobby. Work was led by architect Warren Howard and the Ludwig Construction Company. The final cost of the project was $239,000.
The new Little Jamestown Theatre opened on April 19, 1969. Twenty years later, the President of the Board of Directors, Robert Ostrom, asked Lucille Ball if they could rename the theater in her honor. She agreed but passed away before a ceremony could make it official. The formal ceremony finally occurred on May 24th, 1991. Ball’s daughter Lucie Arnaz and her family attended the event.
Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown. Tour Chautauqua. Accessed May 04, 2019. https://www.tourchautauqua.com/destinations/lucille-ball-little-theatre-of-jamestown.
Flickr user Joseph. Lucille Ball Little Theater, Jamestown, NY. Flickr. July 30, 2015. Accessed May 04, 2019. https://www.flickr.com/photos/josepha/24409023991. Photo source.