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Acadia Theatre

Kalamazoo’s “South Side” Suburban Theater (1913-1922)


Southwest corner of Portage and Washington streets (1308 Portage Street).

“South Side Picture Theater” Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 May 1913.

Owned and financed by grocer Burton R. Barber, the Acadia Theatre (also called “Arcadia”) was built as a standalone 280-seat movie house in 1913. Designed by Kalamazoo architect Rockwell A. Leroy, the single-story building brick building—26 feet wide by 80 feet deep—was located on the southwest corner of Portage and Washington streets (1308 Portage Street), one block south of the Washington Square Branch Library.

“Portage street’s suburban ‘Movie’” (Gazette) underwent several management changes over the years. The elder Barber retained ownership of the building while his son, Lynn I. Barber, managed the theater from the time of its public opening on 29 May 1913 until 1915, with Earl Hess occupying the projection booth. Billed as a “Family Theater” that presented films “of the cleanest character” (Gazette), hundreds of neighborhood residents who “long hungered for an amusement place in that part of the city” (Gazette) stood in line on opening night to enjoy the festivities.

“The beautiful interior decorations, the excellent methods of management and the comfortable homeness of the new theater were a revelation to all that attended, and each patron left with an ‘I’ll-never-go-down-town-again’ expression on his face.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 30 May 1913

New Theater proprietor Frank P. D’Arcy took over management of the Acadia in 1916, then sold his interest to C.J. Farkey from Binghamton, New York later that year. John G. Weber became manager in 1917, followed by partners James E. Russell and Glen L. Dane. Frank Krueger and Ralph Weaver, “two well-known tailors” (Gazette), leased the theater for three years in July 1919, but sold out a year-and-a-half later to W.C. Woodland. George Gillette was manager in 1922 when the theater closed.

The Acadia Theatre was designed as a suburban theater, apart from the many existing theaters in Downtown Kalamazoo. When the theater first opened, the South Side Neighborhood Association held meetings there. Like most theaters in its day the Acadia also featured its own three- or four-piece orchestra, led by pianist Ruth Ott. Fischer’s Orchestra and the Fuller Theater Orchestra gave special performances on occasion.

On April 1, 1922, the theater’s interior was severely damaged by an early morning explosion and fire, which ended the building’s use as a theater. After the fire the building was remodeled and converted to individual shops initially occupied by Joe Boynton’s barber shop and Henry Steinbacher’s haberdashery. By 1929, Burton M. Barber had moved his dry goods business into the building. Recognizable by the shape of its façade, the building still stands today.

Portage Street at Washington Avenue. Acadia Theater building (Barber’s) far right, 1938. Kalamazoo Public Library photo file P-856.

The following excerpts were published in the Kalamazoo Gazette during the early months of 1913, shortly before the theater opened, and give us some idea of what the theater might have looked like (all sic).

“Doric style of architecture has been selected for the ornamental front. Exits will open on the side street so that the building can be cleared of occupants within a very short time. A small stage similar to other motion picture houses is to be built with a large orchestra pit. A special steam heating plant will keep the room warm in the coldest weather and the ventilation facilities are said to be of the very best.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 January 1913


“ ‘The building is strictly fire proof,’ declared the architect. ‘Two exits give ready access at side and rear. The lighting of the latest model of inverted type, is easy on the eyes, and harmonizes with the general plan of the building. The capacity is between 275 and 300. All the woodwork is of deep mahogany finished birch. The wall and ceiling decorations will be based on a glaze stucco in mellow tones, similar to the finish of the Commercial club. The fixtures are artistic and substantial. The cost will approximate $10,000. … The stage of the theater fit in for musical work as well as the pictures, and we intend to show how an up to date vaudette should be run. That there is a demand in the neighborhood, so populous and removed from the theater district, goes without saying. In the hot summer evening, the charm of the cool, well ventilated, commodious playhouse, convenient at hand, certainly will prove a great attraction, and do much to build up the business of the neighborhood.’ ”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 May 1913

Information compiled and edited by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library Staff, December 2019.

 

Sources

Information compiled by library staff from Kalamazoo City Directory listings, newspaper reports published at the time by the Kalamazoo Gazette and Kalamazoo Telegraph, Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, and other sources. Updated December 2019.


Additional Resources

Books

A history of theater in Kalamazoo
Pixley, Jorge V., 1958
H 792 P694

Theater in Kalamazoo from 1860–1890
Johns, Marion, 1955
H 792 J65


Articles

“To begin work on theater costing $15,000 on Monday”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 January 1913, p.1, col.4

“New playhouse on south side to be opened to public next week; cost totals $10,000”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 May 1913, p.3, col.3

“New movie theater will open Wednesday”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 May 1913, p.8, col.7

“Hundreds visit new Acadia playhouse as theater opens”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 30 May 1913, p.6, col.2

“South side news”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 7 April 1916, p.13, col.4

“New Yorker buys Acadia theater”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 13 November 1916, p.6, col.4

“Acadia”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 February 1919, p.8, col.5

“Take over lease of Acadia theatre”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 30 July 1919, p.7, col.4

“W.C. Woodland buys Acadia theatre”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 2 December 1920, p.14, col.2

“Blast rocks theatre as blaze rages”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 April 1922, p.1, col.8

“Theatre to be business block”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 October 1922, p.18, col.1

“H.J. Steinbacher opens haberdashery shop”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 October 1922, p.16, col.8


Local History Room Files

Subject File: Theater

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