In its heyday from the late 1930s into the 1960s a line of people halfway down the block or more would line up to see first-run movies at the Diana Theater. By the 1980s the development of mall theaters and the advent of movie channels on cable TV though meant the era of the small town movie theaters had past.
For a time, the Diana was re-purposed as a restaurant (Four Fathoms) and then for a brief period as a night club (Slow Club) with live bands, but for over a decade now the marquee and lights at the former focal point of entertainment on Main Street have been dark.
However, an effort that started four years ago is now nearing completion to get the marquee and the lights turned back on and the curtain raised for a new multi-purpose community entertainment center usage for the historic Diana theater building.
“There is a lot of history and a lot of memories in this building and we’re working hard to get it back where the community can use and enjoy it,” said Joe Cardone whose family has been renovating the building that his father, Vincent Cardone, purchased some four decades ago.
“It’s a family thing. It’s a community thing,” Joe Cardone said. “I’m committed to this for the community because this building is a big part of the community.”
First opened as the Allen Theater, the building was purchased in the 1930’s by Warner Bros. which completely rebuilt and expanded into the building size it is today and later purchased by the Dipson Company.
In fact the opening of the New Diana Theater in 1938 was such a huge community event that there was a parade on Main Street on opening day and the entire Aug. 8 edition of The Journal-Register was devoted to the theater.
“It was state of the art. It was really a big deal when Warner Bros. remodeled it. It was THE theater between Buffalo and Rochester,” Joe Cardone said. “It was really something and was used not only for first run movies but for other shows and events. And that’s what we want to try to recreate to make it a community center for all types of entertainment from talent shows, to comedy nights, film fests, dinner theaters, business meetings and seminars, parties and wedding receptions.”
The work got under way in earnest with the installation of a new roof four years ago. Since then new wiring and plumbing work has been done and a new state of the art sound and multi-media system has been installed. The former lobby area has been converted into a lounge area and the seats on both the main floor and in the balcony have been removed and replaced with tables and chairs allowing for a wide variety of uses.
“We’re planning to have the upscale lounge in the former lobby area open daily and have the main part of the theater open for various events,” Joe Cardone said.
“We feel the building’s real asset is that room, (the main theater area). It is so very durable and the acoustics are just outstanding,” Joe Cardone said. “We want to work with the village and make it a community center. We want to give the community a multi-use venue that everyone can use and enjoy.”
Though no name has yet been chosen for the building Cardone noted that plans are moving forward for a spring opening.
The revitalization of the historic building also holds a special meaning for one Medina resident, Janet Wakefield, whose father, Ed Yarington, managed the Diana Theater for over 20 years during the 1950’s and 1960’s and who herself worked at the theater and served as its manager for a time following the death of her father.
“The Diana Theater has been a very important part of Main Street so I hope this works out,” Wakefield said. “It sounds great. I wish them the best, It would be great for the community.”