Old meets new inside former Falls Theater, now site of entertainment center
The Workz will open arcade, restaurant, bar Feb. 1
CUYAHOGA FALLS — Old meets new inside the former home of the Falls Theater.
The building that once housed the historic Falls Theater at 2220 Front St. in the city's downtown is now home to The Workz, an arcade, entertainment center, restaurant and bar set to open Feb. 1.
It took two and a half years to convert the interior of the building into an entertainment destination, according to co-owner Tim Frankish, who is also director of marketing and entertainment.
"It definitely was a long process but we are thrilled with the way everything came out," said Frankish.
He added he and his fellow co-owners — Melissa Barnes, Chris Carpenter and Kim Green — "fell in love" with the historical components of the building and its unique features.
"When we saw the crown molding and the stained glass, we knew this place had character, it had a feel to it, a certain vibe," said Frankish. "We loved it. It was pretty amazing."
As a visitor walks through The Workz, he or she may feel like they're traveling in a time machine and visiting different eras. The virtual reality games offered on the main floor are very 2021, but the Speakeazy on the lower level will offer a 1920s atmosphere. Generation Xers will likely enjoy seeing 1980s-era video games such as Space Invaders and Mario Brothers in the Social Room next to the front entrance. A movie projector from the early 1960s is on display next to the main bar.
There are numerous examples of the owners paying homage to the theater that the building once contained and the "Roaring 20s" era it originated in.
A movie theater-style marquee sign hangs over the entrance to The Workz. Frankish said he worked with the Cuyahoga Falls Historical Society to install the marquee. Though it is not the original marquee, an effort was made to replicate it.
Upon entering, there are rooms to the immediate left and right. The Social Room is an area where people can sit, visit and play some retro video games, as well as some old (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and new (Stranger Things) pinball games. It's one of the areas where customers can go while they wait to be seated in the dining area. Some of the original Falls Theater seats are being restored and will be placed in the front window.
Customers who want a quieter setting can venture to the Manchester Room, which features historic photos of Front Street and the Falls Theater.
"It was important for us to include some of that artwork in this room," said Frankish as he pointed out the photos hanging on the wall.
Before entering the main floor, customers will walk past one of the many artifacts that are found throughout the building: a cast iron movie projector from the early 1960s.
"It's cool that we have it," said Frankish. "It's one of the things that was important to us, so that when people come in, they can see the history of what was actually here."
The original projectors are in a storage shed, as are the old theater stage speakers, which Frankish said are "roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle."
The main floor offers 23 games ranging from traditional skee ball areas to basketball shooting games to modern virtual reality games. In one game Frankish said visitors can put on VR goggles and "ride a roller coaster right here without leaving."
There is a four-person virtual reality gaming center where players can have a snowball fight, cook food or shoot zombies.
"It's a full immersive experience," said Frankish. "[Participants wear] headsets, you can talk back and forth. Wear the vests. It's pretty amazing in the VR room."
There are four duckpin bowling lanes in the game area. In duckpin, the balls and pins are smaller and the lanes are shorter than in traditional bowling. Each bowler has three chances (instead of two) in each frame to try to knock down all 10 pins. A lane can be rented for an hour by up to four people.
A visitor walking through the game area can travel down a flight of steps to the main dining area, which has several televisions on the walls. The raised stage flanking the dining section will be used for musical performances and as an additional area for patrons to enjoy a meal. The railing on the edge of the stage — which still has the original flooring from when the theater first opened — can be detached and removed when bands are scheduled to perform.
Frankish added his team tried to save the original hardwood floor in the main dining room, but said "unfortunately it was just too far gone because of the water and the deterioration."
Since a good portion of the ceiling was "completely gone," Frankish noted a lot of time and effort went in to restoring it.
"It was all hand-molded and replastered," said Frankish.
Frankish said his crew had to refinish and preserve some of the crown molding on the second-floor Mezzanine Lounge in order to secure historic tax credits for the project.
"The finished side [of the crown molding is] actually how it looked exactly when the building opened new," noted Frankish. "The paint colors, the design …that was all hand painted."
Frankish declined to disclose the total investment in the project.
The frame above the stage also has "the original color scheme" from when the theater first opened, according to Frankish.
"We absolutely love the way it came out," said Frankish. "It's beautiful."
On the opposite side of the building is the Mezzanine Lounge that overlooks the game and dining areas. This second-level area offers seating where people can enjoy drinks, small plates of food and a table shuffleboard game.
"The kids love that one," stated Frankish. "That's a fun game."
More of the historic character can be found in the Speakeazy on the lower level. Customers must be 21 and older to venture down the steps and into an area that includes a bar, a blue velvet couch and some other seating. A guitar and a stool are stationed in an area below the steps in case a patron is interested in offering an impromptu concert. Customers can enjoy various types of bourbon and whiskey, as well as small plates of food.
Names of the drinks are also a nod to the world of a century ago: Wright Stuff; the Gatsby: and All That Jazz.
The Speakeazy bartenders, who will don 1920s era clothing, are learning some historical facts about the building so they can answer questions raised by curious patrons.
"This is an experience down here," said Frankish.
An old water pump that was used to keep the movie projectors cool is on display in the Speakeazy.
"We thought we need to keep this," said Frankish. "It has to be in this room viewable again for people to see it."
While The Workz is opening on Feb. 1, the Speakeazy's first day of operation is Feb. 4.
City officials share thoughts
At a chamber of commerce event a few years ago, Mayor Don Walters suggested to Frankish that he consider using the former Falls Theater building for his business venture. When he visited the building for the first time, Frankish said his initial reaction was "there is absolutely no way" that his business could be housed in the building.
He thought there was too much renovation and refurbishment needed, but said his team soon realized that the historical character of the building gave it a unique value.
Now, Walters said he "could not be more excited" about the imminent opening of the business.
"This project has restored such a sense of history and nostalgia for so many of us," said Walters.
Kaylee Piper, executive director of Downtown Cuyahoga Falls Partnership, added she is "so thankful" that the Falls Theater will "live on" through the opening of this entertainment venue.
"This building is a treasure to our community and now it will light up Front Street with its marquee sign inviting residents and visitors to our historical downtown to experience gaming, live music, food, and a fun place to network," stated Piper.
Hours of operation, COVID-19 guidelines
Frankish's fellow co-owners' roles are: Green, director of food and beverage; Carpenter, director of operations; and Barnes, director of attractions and parties.
There are three full-time employees and 62 part-time workers.
The Workz will be open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, depending on the current statewide COVID-19 curfew.
The site will follow all of the Centers for Disease Control's COVID-19 guidelines. Customers must wear masks unless they are actively eating or drinking. There will be barriers in some areas and attractions and games will be cleaned after each use, according to Frankish. He added there will be sanitizer stations throughout the facility.
"We will be monitoring the number of guests in our facility and will limit [entry] when we reach those numbers," said Frankish. "The numbers in our facility are different for each area and we will be constantly reviewing guidelines to ensure staff and guest safety."
History of Falls Theater
The Falls Theater was built in 1925 by the Falls Theater Co. as a silent movie theater, with retail shops and upper story apartments, according to a form the city filled out to nominate the site for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
It was the city's first movie theater and, at one point, was one of three movie theaters in the downtown. The Falls Theater initially had a seating capacity of 1,000 and showed its first movie in August 1928, according to The Workz website. When the theater converted to Cinerama in 1962, the seating capacity declined to 630.
The venue was a first-run movie theater until 1978. At that point, Loew’s donated the theater to the city, which leased the building to theater operators for eight years; the theater has “been mostly vacant since 1986,” according to the city's nomination form.
Frankish said he's had many people tell him they recall seeing "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at the Falls Theater.
The theater is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, according to city spokesperson Kelli Crawford-Smith.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.