The Reg Lenna Center for The Arts was first opened on February 5, 1923 as the Palace Theatre, a "High Class Vaudeville" house. Films - usually a short comedy plus a feature, were shown before and after the twice daily vaudeville performances. Three years later Nikitas Dipson bought the facility and continued with film and vaudeville shows until he leased it as one of Warner Brothers theaters for 20 years. By 1934 films were the only entertainment available on a regular basis, with live performances seeing much less stage time.
In 1950 Dipson Theatres once again took over management. The Palace was remodeled by installing new heating and cooling systems, carpeting, wall coverings and new seats. At the reopening Dipson reaffirmed his intention to feature not only first run films of the best quality, but also stage shows, orchestras and vaudeville. In 1956, Forever Darling, starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, had its world premiere at The Palace. With the passing years fewer and fewer people attended the theater, equipment was wearing out, and the building needed repairs.
In June of 1981, Harry Chapin gave the first live show in the theatre in 25 years. During the concert, both performer and audience got rained on. Some people in the balcony were using umbrellas! Harry Chapin pledged to come back and do a fundraiser if the people would organize to save the building. Tragically, Chapin died a month later, but he had started the process. A group of citizens, with the help of the Jamestown Urban Renewal Agency and the Gebbie Foundation, banded together to repair and clean up the old theatre. By October 1982 the Palace was once again ready to host live performances to "test" whether there was enough interest to warrant further renovation. In February 1986 a 3.35 million dollar campaign was started to completely renovate the old Palace. The Reginald and Elizabeth Lenna Foundation made an early donation of one million dollars and one year later, when the goal for funds was met and surpassed, the Palace was officially renamed the Reg Lenna Civic Center.
Renovation, which began in 1989, included taking out all the seats for reupholster, reconstruction of the orchestra pit, new stage lighting and equipment, new curtains, new house lights, handicapped seating, new floor coverings, original artwork repaired and cleaned, new stage entrance, new heating and cooling systems, and a new stage floor. The grand reopening was held October 12, 1990.
The beautifully restored 1,269 seat Reg Lenna Civic Center received an award from the League of Historic American Theatres for the quality and workmanship of its restoration. It boasts a 35' movie screen, state of the art projection and sound equipment, and a Steinway 9' Model D concert grand piano. The Reg Lenna Civic Center was host to the Lucy-Desi Days celebration Memorial Day Weekend and Lucy's birthday celebration in August.
For several years, The Reg operated side by side with Arts Council for Chautauqua County, spearheaded by Executive Director, Phillip Morris (also overseeing The Reg). Both organizations saw significant growth with property acquisitions and management, Arts In Education programs with Jamestown Public Schools, the Wright Gallery and Palace Gallery, the start of Infinity Performing Arts and The Lucille Ball Museum (and Festival Of Comedy) and mainstage productions from several area art groups.
In February 2000, the community lost a great friend and benefactor with the death of Reg Lenna. Betty passed in 2011.
The Arts Council for Chautauqua County and The Reg Lenna Civic Center continued working together through the 2000’s, seeing Infinity Visual and Performing Arts and The Lucy Desi Center striking out on their own. David Schein, joined as Executive Director, emphasizing community involvement and opening arts education to new collaborators. In 2004, WRFA-LP 107.9 FM began airing as a community radio station managed by 10,000 Maniacs' founder Dennis Drew. The 3rd On 3rd Gallery was opened in 2011 with the first All Decks on Hand skateboard art show. New public and community art initiatives such as 3rd Street Canvas and Insomniac Competitive Film Festival were born from collaborations with local artists. Uniplex Cinemas programmed a cinema series throughout this time as well.
By 2012, though, the economic landscape had changed significantly. With funding streams drying up and capacity reaching its limit, the boards of both organizations decided to merge the organizations into one. By the fall of 2013, The Reg Lenna Center For The Arts was created. New Executive Director, Kathleen Eads came aboard in 2014 with the first season announced in May.
In September of 2014, 10,000 Maniacs perform a concert in the theater to celebrate the 10th anniversary of WRFA. In October, Harry Chapin's brothers - Tom and Steve - as well as his bandmates, nephews and nieces fulfilled his promise to return to the restored theater and perform the inaugural performance at The Reg Lenna Center for The Arts. Harry Chapin: A Family Celebration was a successful start to the new era. A new digital cinema projector and sound system was installed courtesy of a state regional economic development grant. Within a year of this update, Reg staff began programming their own film series.
Staff and board of The Reg along with regional foundation representatives, city of Jamestown officials and community members joined with an architectural firm in 2015 to conceptualize a complete overhaul of the Center's lobby, box office and surrounding buildings to fully realize the potential of the block as a focus for community arts involvement. The Reg was awarded Downtown Revitalization Initiative funding matched by support from Gebbie, Sheldon, Lenna and Chautauqua Regional Community Foundations to realize the plans.
In 2017, work began on the master plan to move 3rd on 3rd Gallery to street level, create new offices, remodel and update WRFA studios and offices and to create a community media arts studio. A new digital marquee was installed in October, 2018 taking the place of the existing milk glass. The classic profile of the marquee including neon and running lights remains. On January 25, 2018 The Reg opens The Corner Cafe in the former Humidor space on the corner of Spring and 3rd Streets in a collaboration with Todd Singleton (Forte Restaurant, Liberty Street Cafe). In August of 2018 the new lobby, box office, concession stand and a street level 3rd on 3rd Gallery are anticipated to open to the public along with new sidewalks embedded with a snow melt system.