The Russell Theatre opened on December 4, 1930 in Maysville, Kentucky. Plans to build the theater were announced in 1929 by Col. J. Barbour Russell, a local businessman. Russell hired the architectural firm of Frankel and Curtis to design the theater. It was built on the site of a grocery warehouse owned by the Russell family at a cost of around $200,000. Russell envisioned the 700 seat theater as a grand movie palace, saying, “what the Roxy is to New York, the Russell will be to Maysville.”
The atmospheric-style theater opened with the movie “Whoopee,” starring Eddie Cantor. It operated primarily as a movie house, but did have some vaudeville shows in the early years. The world premiere of “The Stars are Singing” was held at the Russell in 1953. Rosemary Clooney, the star of the film, was born and raised in Maysville.
After the theater closed in the early 1980s, the building was used as a restaurant, clothing store and used furniture store before being abandoned. During that time, a storm ripped part of the roof off, causing water damage in the auditorium.
A group of Maysville citizens formed the Russell Theatre Foundation in 1995 in response to the deterioration in the theater. They purchased the theater in 1996 for $37,000 and began renovations. They then installed a new roof to prevent further water damage in the auditorium and restored the facade, marquee and lobby area. The Foundation is currently working to raise the remaining 1.5 million dollars needed to restore the auditorium. Donations can be made at their website: www.russelltheatre.org