History of the Ashtabula Arts Center

Katharine Hill Home
In 1953, Katharine Hill opened her former home, located at the corner of Rt. 20 and Lake Avenue, as the Fine Arts Center, a place where Ashtabula residents could enjoy, promote, and study visual and performing arts. In 1960, the Guarnieri Family gave the Palace Theater to be used as a community center, and the building was renovated to become a home for the performing arts. The playhouse and the Fine Arts Center merged in 1968 to more effectively serve the arts, and the resulting organization became the Ashtabula Arts Center.
Walnut Beach Pavilion Theatre

In 1968, the Walnut Beach Pavilion Theatre was constructed, providing an outdoor performance space for community theater via the Walnut Straw Hat Company. The pavilion seated 250, and its first production, held in June of 1968, was Kiss Me, Kate. (The venue, which began to fall victim to vandalism at Walnut Beach, would eventually be relocated to the grounds of the Ashtabula Arts Center in 1980 thanks to a grant from the Civic Development Corporation. )

Architect Fred Toguchi

By 1970, the Arts Center’s programming had surpassed the capacity of the Hill home to accommodate it, and with support from the Civic Development Corporation, the W. 13th Street land was acquired to serve as the site of the Arts Center’s new home. Local contributions were made to the Arts Center by businesses, families, individuals, and the Ashtabula Foundation to make the new facility a reality. Architect Fred Toguchi of Cleveland was retained in 1971 to design the building.

opening of new building
The new facility opened in 1973, consisting of the front offices, two art studios, the gallery space, and a small dance studio. When originally constructed, no true performance space was part of the plans. The music wing was added, opening in 1977. In 1985, the Civic Development Corporation granted the Arts Center $200,000 of the needed $390,000 to build a performing arts wing. Ground was broken for the new theater in June of 1986. The remainder of the building project was funded through a very generous anonymous gift, and individual donations from the community. Seats from the old Shea Theatre in Downtown Ashtabula were refurbished and installed with the help of Goodwill Industries and the Astatic Corporation, and the entire wing was painted by volunteers.
G.B. Theatre
G.B. Theatre opened in a gala celebration on January 31, 1987. The project’s budget had no money to actually equip the theater; there were no curtains and only a meagre lighting system. The first production staged in the new theater was Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor, which ran for two weekends in February 1987.
Breaking Ground on New Dance Wing
In the early 1990’s, programming continued to grow and additional staff members were hired. In 1996, the new dance wing was opened. Built with a $200,000 Civic Development Corporation grant, the dance studios were outfitted with sprung floors surfaced with state-of-the-art marley, the same dance flooring used in Lincoln Center in New York City.
Theater Renovations & Renaming

In summer 2022, the indoor theater was renovated with new seating, curtains, paint, and carpet for the first time since its opening thirty-five years prior. The project was funded through grants from the Civic Development Corporation and the Ashtabula Arts Center Foundation. The G.B. name was retired, and the theater was renamed 13th Street Theatre.