This article on the former Theatre Arts building and the Cinema House is the second in a series of articles on the history of Denison’s Arts Quad.

Ace Morgan Theatre

Denison’s former Theatre Arts Building was affectionately known as “Ace Morgan.” In truth, it was the stage inside that was named after Leroy “Ace” Morgan, a student at Denison from 1942 until he was called to serve in World War II.

Edward Wright, a professor of theatre at Denison, was excited about the potential of Leroy “Ace” Morgan, a transfer from Iowa State who both directed and acted at a high level.

As a sophomore in 1943, Morgan directed the play Letters to Lucerne, starring mostly women due to the shortage of men in college during WWII. A February review in The Denisonian wrote that “it was excellent propaganda against hasty wartime hysteria and blind prejudice.” Morgan directed a handful of other well-received plays, starred alongside his friend Hal Holbrook in Ah, Wilderness!

Wright had predicted a bright future for the promising director. However, Morgan was called up to serve in the Army. Two years later, on February 7, 1945, he was killed in action, only a few months before the war ended.

Morgan’s parents and friends organized the Leroy “Ace” Morgan Memorial Fund, raising $20,000 for a new Theatre Arts building which opened in 1956. The stage inside memorialized Morgan, but over time, “Ace Morgan” became an easy nickname for the entire building.

With a box office, a departmental library, costume and stage shops, and a green room, and a knotty pine lobby among other features, it was a dedicated theatre building — a space that Morgan surely would have been thrilled to use. The Ace Morgan building held theatre productions on campus for 63 years. It was demolished in June of 2019 to make way for the more expansive Eisner Center.

From the 1940s through the 1960s, Wright had an impressive collection of talent on his hands. Among Wright’s early pupils was Hal Holbrook, Oscar nominated and Tony and Emmy-winning actor and performer. In later years, Wright helped launch a handful of other successful actors including John Davidson of Hollywood Squares fame, and John Schuck who played a robot on “Get Smart.”

The Cinema House

The Department of Cinema had been a part of the Department of Theatre until the early 1970s, when it was established as an independent discipline under Professor Elliott Stout. The former Alpha Chi Omega house was both conveniently empty and nearby on Mulberry Street, across from the Ace Morgan Theatre. It presented an ideal opportunity to house the new major.

In 2009, the Cinema House moved to another former — and larger — sorority house. The current Cinema House holds an extensive inventory of camera and film production equipment, in addition to a 50-seat screening room. The former Mulberry Street location has been razed.

The next edition of this history will focus on how the Department of Theatre at Denison developed after Morgan’s time, focusing on the old Thresher Hall, where many more promising creatives honed their skills.

November 23, 2021