Lansing Theaters Web


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A History of Lansing Michigan Downtown Theaters.

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  • Mutt and Jeff appeared at the Gladmer Theater on April 5, 1912. The story of Mutt and Jeff is one of love and politics in a South American republic intermingled with a touch of emotional appeal and slews of laughter. Lansing’s first theater was called Capitol Hall and was located on the second floor at 109-111 S Washington, the present site of Capitol Pharmacy. The building was erected by Judge Chapman who realized that the city was in need of a theater if it was to continue its social and economic growth. There was also Downer’s Hall located on the North Side of E Grand River near Center Street. Downer’s Hall operated at the same time as Mead’s Hall. Downer’s Hall was razed in 1933.
  • Constructed in 1865 by James I Mead, Mead’s Hall was located over two stores in the Mead Block. The Hall was located upstairs at 118 N Washington. The image is of the entrance to the Garden Theater.
  • A view of Mead’s Hall in the 1870s. Notice the dirt streets.
  • Humorist Mark Twain spoke to the Young Men’s Society at Mead’s Hall on December 21. 1871. There was a capacity crowd of over 200 people and the box office was nearly $250. The presentation was a great success; Mark Twain wowed the crowd with tales of his experiences in the west.
  • On the corner would have been the Vaudette, then two doors down the Garden, then again two doors down the Orpheum. Mead’s Hall later the Star Theater occupied the second floor. The other theaters were located on the first floor.
  • The popularity of Mead’s Hall waned with the construction of Bucks Opera House, the hall fell on hard times and was renamed the Star Theater, which survived for a short time. The hall also served as a roller rink and meeting place for the Boys of Lansing Organization. Linked with Mead’s Hall was the Garden Theater, which operated in the same building until September of 1940. It reopened in January 1945 as the Downtown News-Reel Theater with a seating capacity of 300 people
  • An interior shot of Mead’s Hall during the demolition in the 1970s
  • The Downtown closed in the 1950s, there had been an attempt to renovate the building in 1949, but that was prevented by a court order. A description of Mead’s Hall from 1865. "Mead's Hall was fitted up with scenery, chairs and even a low-slung horseshoe-shaped balcony facing toward the east and the avenue. The three large windows, which may be seen clearly from across the street today, were at the back of the stage." The building was torn down in the Urban Redevelopment program of the early 1970s
  • The Gladmer Theater was one of the finest of the Lansing Theaters. It began its life as Bucks Opera House in the 1870s. Designed by architect E.E. Meyers and was considered one of the best theaters in Michigan. It is amazing to think that the theater could seat 1060 people
  • The entrance to the theater off Washington Ave. Notice the Emery Stationery store, the Emery’s were a well known Lansing family.
  • The Floor plan to the Opera House. Locate the private boxes on the succeeding images.
  • An interior photograph of the theater.
  • Baird’s Opera House Program for the 1898-1899 season.
  • Between 1910-1920 the Gladmer Theater flourished by providing the best live entertainment in Lansing. But, the theater owners began to realize that a new entertainment medium was beginning to make and impact and the era of motion pictures began at the Gladmer. From 1920-1930 the Gladmer Theater provided a mixture of both live entertainment and movies. It was not until movies with sound provided the deathblow to vaudeville did the Gladmer Theater switch exclusively to movies. Later in 1939 it was decided that the current building was unsuitable for movies so a new Gladmer Theater was planned A very gritty and striking image.
  • Entrance to the Gladmer in 1925. Madame Sans-Gêne a romantic comedy that takes place in Napoleon’s court, A French washerwoman becomes a duchess and a friend of Napoleon. Staring Gloria Swanson as Catherine Hubscher, and Émile Drain as Napoleon.
  • An interior shot of the Gladmer circa 1920.
  • In 1939 the theater that had once stood as the premier show place in Lansing for over 65 years was no more. In its place would arise a new Gladmer Theater, a state of the art facility that would serve the residents of Lansing for 40 years
  • Some of the workmen who worked on the renovation of the theater
  • A photograph of N Washington.imagine what that area would be like today, if it wasn’t leveled.
  • The Gladmer Theater operated in Lansing until 1979 when the Butterfield Theater chain decline to renew its lease. The Gladmer sat vacant until 1984 when it was torn down. For 112 years a theater sat at 233 N. Washington and served as the premier site for entertainment for the residents of Lansing. Instead of being the anchor for a downtown renaissance the site, you guessed it, is now a parking lot.
  • An image that really places the size of the Gladmer Theater in relation to the surrounding structures.
  • A view of the marquee after the decision to tear the theater down had been made. The image displays a sense of neglect
  • Looking east the Gladmer in the final stages of its destruction.
  • The original Bijou Theater was located at 109-113 E Ottawa and operated between July 10, 1905 to April 18, 1907. The theater was located under the Governors’ Guard Armory; could this be the illusive Cosgrove Theater of DB Moon? Later in 1907 the theater was relocated to the Oakland Building. Thanks Doug for your work on this image.
  • Located at the corner of Washington and Michigan Ave. in the Oakland building the Bijou operated from 1908-1926. The theater was destroyed in the Oakland Building fire of 1926. The Bijou was later renamed the Regent Theater.
  • The Bijou had seating for 600 patrons on two levels. The SR describes the theater. “The interior of the theater presents a handsome appearance with its red and white decorations. The lobby and offices are finished in oak. Four steps lead from this to the auditorium. The floor here is built with a one to twelve lift which insures everyone getting a good view of the stage, which is raised about four feet.”
  • One of my favorite photographs of Lansing. This must have been taken just before the Regent burned. It is a wonderful street scene photograph of Lansing which conveys the vibrancy of the downtown area in the 1920s. Notice the sign above the Regent sign you will see it again in the next sign. Also you can see the police crows nest by the street car, the crows nest was located at the intersection of Michigan avenue and Washington avenue.
  • On Friday morning December 22, 1923 fire swept through the Regent Theater. The fire alarm was sounded at 5:10 am by a milkman who was beginning his delivery route. By 7:45 am Friday morning the flames were contain but the building was essentially gutted. Damage to the Oakland building was estimated at $300,000. Fire Chief Hugo Delfs was of the opinion that the blaze began under the Regent Theater's stage and swept up through the building. The Honey Bunch Musical Comedy Company was performing at the Regent Theater and their featured comedian Curley Burns puts the company's losses at between $25,000 and $50,000.
  • The Idlehour Theater was located at 121 S. Washington Avenue and was a vaudeville house that began operations in 1908. Thomas Hurlburt, is listed in the city directory as the manager, but Fred Swan who would later open the Colonial Theater was the real boss. It is one of a series of small movie houses that would appear in Lansing known as 5¢ theaters. North Lansing in 1907 boasted several 5¢ theaters, one in the Hart building, the old Hotel Donaldson 319-325 E Franklin avenue and another at 301 E Franklin owned by Van Wixon.
  • Located at 204-206 N Washington the Theatorium opened in 1907-1908 and was remodeled in 1910 adding two hundred more seats. The original firm of Kneal & Bates dissolved in 1907 with JM Kneal taking sole control of the business.
  • The theater was renamed the Empress by Joseph M. Neal; in 1921. Then in 1923 it was sold to Mr. Butterfield and renamed the Capitol. In 1913 Kneal hired architect Darius Moon to remodel the theater.
  • Interior view of the Capitol. In 1927 the first talkie was shown at the Capitol Theater. The “Jazz Singer”.
  • The Capitol had a second run movie policy or as we like to term it today, a cheap seat theater. The Capitol closed in 1955 and in 1960 the building was converted into the Eagle Restaurant. The building was torn down during the urban redevelopment of north Washington Avenue.
  • The Orpheum was located at 114 N. Washington Ave. The theater operated between 1911-1952 and had a seating capacity of 400 patrons. In the far left of the image you can see the Garden Theater. Architect Fuller Claflin designed the theater and when it opened in 1911 was considered one of the finest theaters between New York and Chicago. Italian decorators were brought in from Chicago to do the plaster and mold work and were paid an unheard of wage of one dollar and hour.
  • The property was owned by Jim, Baird (of Opera House Fame) and was leased to LeRoy Brown of the Vaudette for $150.00 a month. The story goes that Jim Baird stood across the street observing the theater on its opening day, when questioned why he was doing that, he snorted, “I am just counting to see what ‘Brownie” can take in enough nickels to pay the rent.”
  • A long misidentified photograph of the Orpheum. In the background you see a movie poster for Silas Marner released in 1916, the newspaper banner speaks of the war. The curved entrance arch and the central box office were only present in the Orpheum Theater’s design.
  • E Clement Jarvis owner of the Jarvis Engine and Machine Works also owner the Garden and Orpheum Theaters. As the caricature states “ …his theaters are a good place to see the latest and best in moving pictures. Mr. Jarvis is a crank on pictures and does not allow any pictures in his houses that could possibly be objected to.”
  • The Plaza Theater was located at 211 N. Washington. It was also known as the Palms and the Downtown Arts. The theater was located in the Tussing Building. The theater was constructed in 1914 and had 600 seats
  • In the 1960s the theater was renamed the Downtown Arts Theater and began screen “art” films. The capacity of the theater was reduced from 600 to 400 at this time. The marquee reads "Frank and revealing for lover and others” also “The Lady Doctor”.
  • The Colonial Theater actually began its life as the JoJo Family Theater (Vaudeville) in 1909 owned and operated by Fred Swan, proprietor of the Idle Hours Theater. In late 1909 Swan sells his interest to C.A. Clark and O.E. Johnson. Mind you this is all in less than a year. Later renamed the Colonial Theater in 1910 and located at 122 E. Michigan. The theater was later purchased by Claude E. Cady and Mr. Kors and in 1914 was turned into movie house; sold to Butterfield chain in 1923. Notice the name on the bottom of the pamphlet, Strang, one of the Beaver Island Strang descendants
  • Patrons of the Colonial could eat while they viewed the movies. John Wilson operated a popcorn stand adjoining the theater and theatergoers could pick up their treats, a first in the area. Notice the motorcycle.
  • The theater was remodeled in 1930 and renamed the Lansing which it operated as until 1953
  • In 1954 the newly renovated theater reopened as the Esquire, and planned to feature first run films, foreign films and unusual subjects. By 1960 the Esquire was done, she had ended her day showing second run films. The site is now a parking lot
  • Lewis Barnes and Roy Brown in 1908, Barnes would sell his interest to Frank Kahl in 1908, with Brown continuing as manager. The theater was later sold in 1914 to Ben Vollmer who “ improved and enlarged this palace of amusement, thoroughly revamping the inside and making one of the most attractive playhouses in the city.” As an interesting side note the Vaudette was one of the US theaters that were a victim of a movie film theft in 1909. This is the only image of the Vaudette that could be located. The Vaudette operated until 1924 when D.K. Mead the owner of the Mead Business block decided to renovate the building for retail space.
  • The Strand Theater began as the project of Walter S. Butterfield who wanted to build one of the finest theaters in Michigan. Ground was broke in March of 1920 and the building was completed in April of 1921.
  • Apr 21, 1921 Strand Theater & Arcade opened;(215 S. Washington) $500,000; 1,774 seats; crystal chandeliers, Turkish carpets, grand ballroom; basement bowling alley and billiard room; 14 stores in the arcade. Designed by John Eberson noted Chicago theater architect. A Barton organ installed in 1928.
  • Interior shot the day of the Grand Opening
  • Looking towards the Ladies Lounge
  • The Strand Theater and Arcade was located at 215 S. Washington Avenue and became an immediate hit with the people of Lansing. The popularity of vaudeville was waning and the decision was made to phase out vaudeville in favor of the new media movies
  • A crowd of children circa 1937 waiting to attend a matinee at the Strand Theater. After the Strand Theater was remodel in 1941 the new Michigan Theater had a seating capacity of 800 on the main floor and 700 in the balcony.
  • The Strand Theater remained popular with movie going patrons. The building was beginning to display its age and in 1941 the theater was remodeled in an Art Deco style. The old marquee was replaced with a new one introducing the Michigan Theater.
  • Interior View after the renovation. The Michigan Theater was a mainstay of the downtown community for years, but like all urban theaters it began to succumb to the pressure brought by drive-ins and mega-plex movie theaters. The end had come, in a way, for this theater. Fortunately it did not become just another abandon lot. Part of the building was converted into office space and the rest, yes, a parking lot.
  • Two images that give you an idea of the immense size of the theater, notice the Knapps building in the background of the lower image.
  • The Michigan Theater as it is being torn down. Notice Hacks Key shop and the arch for the stage.
  • Art Deco light fixture from the Michigan Theater
  • The three story building that was attached to the back of the Michigan Theater. These buildings faced Grand Avenue, there were six store fronts in this business block.
  • In this image you can see the destruction of the rear business block. Notice Hack’s Locksmith shop. Bonus image courtesy of Kurt Wanamaker
  • Bonus image courtesy of Kurt Wanamaker
  • Bonus image courtesy of Kurt Wanamaker
  • Bonus image courtesy of Kurt Wanamaker
  • Bibliography
  • Lansing Theaters Web

    1. 1. Lansing Theaters
    2. 2. Mead's Hall Star Garden Downtown
    3. 9. Buck's Baird's Gladmer
    4. 25. Bijou Regent
    5. 30. Idlehour
    6. 31. Theatorium Empress Capitol
    7. 35. Orpheum
    8. 39. Plaza Palms Downtown Arts
    9. 41. Colonial Lansing Esquire
    10. 45. Vaudette
    11. 46. Strand Michigan
    12. 62.   For more information on Lansing's Downtown Theaters see the excellent article " Lansing's Lost Theaters" by Manuel Castro in the Lansing Metropolitan, Spring 1994, p 6-19. The article is the definitive history on Lansing's Theaters and Mr. Castro needs to be praised for his work.   For the neighborhood theaters, including the East Lansing theaters see another fine article by Manuel Castro. "When Marquees Dimmed: Yesterday's Movie Theaters" by Manuel Castro in the Lansing Metropolitan, Fall/Winter 1994, p 24-26.   Not to be overlooked is the "Lansing Theater Directory" edited by Michael Doyle and William Davis, which provides a list of the theaters, owners, address and prior names of theaters that once operated in Lansing.   Other theaters that once existed in Lansing prior to 1950 are; Southtown 2316 S. Cedar 1940-1956. Majestic Theater also known as the Avenue Theater 223 S Washington Metropole 115 E. Grand River 1917. Orient 425 E. Michigan 1916-1917. Washington Strand 1131 S. Washington 1916-1917. Northtown 417 E Grand River
    13. 63. A Fezziwig & Whitford Production