The historic Ritz Theater, one of Parke County's great treasures was built in 1912, then known as the Rockville Opera House. The first show that appeared at the Ritz was “The Only Son” on October 15, 1912. That night, 540 seats were sold at $5.00 apiece. The program for that night stated that the theater was “Dedicated to the Entertainment Loving People of Parke County”, which still holds truth today.
Over the past century this iconic gem has hosted live music acts, silent movies, "talkie" movies, religious events, melodramas, musicals, school productions and dozens of other community enhancing experiences.
Many can remember when the theater was run by Bud and Lucy Washburn. It has then belonged to the Chamber of Commerce, and currently the Parke Players. As with anything 100 years old, maintenance and structural aging created some urgent and essential building issues. Through the years a series of renovations have taken place.
In 1929 motion picture equipment was installed in the Ritz and the first motion picture with this equipment was “Pollyanna” which was a huge hit! Also in 1929 a new symphony phone was installed which produced music and sound effects for the theater. During 1936 the auditorium received a major facelift, which improved sound effects and the overall appearance of the stage. In 1975 the theater was renovated to an 1890’s look and then again in 2002 renovation was made from the stage to the street into the look we see today.
However, as well-managed as the Ritz is, it's revenues from movies, musicals, melodramas, spring shows, live performances, and donations barley covered the operating expenses, let alone allow Parke Players to make the needed building and projection updates.
In 2012, the Parke Players partnered with the Parke County Community Foundation in a fundraising effort to celebrate the Ritz's 100th birthday and help secure the much needed improvements. The Parke County Community Foundation and Parke Players were able to reach their goal of increasing the Ritz Theater endowment by fundraising $140,000 for the renovations of repairing along the back wall and behind the stage along with an updated projection system to continue to have first-run movies.