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The Airdome

Downtown Kalamazoo Theater (1910–1912)


North side of West Kalamazoo Avenue, between North Rose Street and North Burdick Street.

Outdoor theater claiming to seat 2,000, featuring mostly stock, with occasional film novelties. Downtown outdoor “Airdome” theaters were as common between 1910 and 1912 as drive-in theaters of the 1950s.

Airdome02-Saugatuck
Airdome theater in Saugatuck, MI, similar to the Kalamazoo Airdome. photo credit: Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society.

Opened in July 1910 by Harvey D. Orr, manager of the Harvey Stock Company. Originally planned as “The Garden Theater” to be located in the vacant “Bixby lot” on South Burdick Street next to the Baumann Building (see Majestic). “The Garden” was built and scheduled to open on July 7 with moving pictures and a vaudeville performance by the Harvey Stock Company, but the building inspector pulled the plug on the project at the last minute due to lack of permits.

With approved changes to meet local fire codes, the location was moved to a vacant lot at the northeast corner of Rose Street and Kalamazoo Avenue. The outdoor theater opened on Monday, 18 July 1910, with an orchestra concert and a performance by the Harvey Stock Company. Tickets were 10¢ and 20¢.

Sold to George A. Knowles (proprietor) and Ellsworth A. Adams (manager, orchestra drummer) in June 1912. Closed in July 1912 when Adams sued Knowles for unpaid wages.

sanborn-map-1908-airdome-theater
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan, 1908. Library of Congress.
Schanz Bismarck Buffet
Bismarck Buffet, 111 W. Kalamazoo Ave., c.1912. Note the “Airdome” reflection in the window. Kalamazoo Public Library photo file P-1526.

“Harry D. Orr applied for permission to erect a summer theater, commonly knows as an airdome, on the vacant lot adjoining the Baumann building on South Burdick street. The petition was referred to the building committee and building inspectors with power to act. The theater will have a seating capacity of 1,000.

Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 June 1910, p.2


“With the stipulation that certain changes in the building plans be carried out to make the structure fireproof, the council at a special meeting last night accorded Harvey D. Orr permission to move the airdome from the lot it now occupies on South Burdick street to a lot opposite the Rickman hotel.

The changes ordered by the building committee of the council before the alderman gave their approval to the moving of the open air theater and its opening to the public, consists of the studding of the girders of the stage with iron both top and bottom, the construction of a fire-proof gravel roof, and the enclosing of the entire theater within canvas walls.

The promoters say these alterations will require but little time. The removal will be made at once, and the airdome opened by the first of next week, if not sooner.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 13 July 1910, p.8


“On next Monday evening the Harvey Stock company will return to Kalamazoo and open an indefinite engagement at their new aerodome near the corner of Kalamazoo avenue and Burdick streets. A splendid open-air theater has been built on these grounds and seating capacity has been prepared for 2,000 people. Every precaution and comfort for the patrons have been carefully looked-after and no doubt it will be an ideal place to enjoy the warm summer evenings.

The curtain will be rung up promptly each evening at 8:15, preceded by a half-hour concert by the Harvey orchestra, and between each act at every performance moving pictures and vaudeville will be introduced. Harvey D. Orr, manager of the Harvey Stock company, has arranged to give the patrons of the aerodome one of the largest and best evening’s entertainment ever offered in Kalamazoo. Twelve hundred seats are offered at ten cents and eight hundred reserved seats at twenty cents.”

Kalamazoo  Evening  Telegraph, 16 July 1910, p.3


“The Airdome is growing in popularity daily and crowds that test the seating capacity are in attendance almost every night. The bill this week has proved especially attractive and the management promises even a stronger bill for the balance of the week.

Tonight a new play and an entire change of vaudeville will be put on. The play will be “For Love and Honor,” a comedy drama with plenty of thrills in it. The play is new here and will be seen for the first time in our city tonight. Special vaudeville acts will be given by Ben Greenfield, who has already proven his worth in this line and become a great favorite and “The Wilsons” will have two new acts for the balance of the week.

The orchestra will give the usual half-hour concert before the play begins and moving pictures will be shown if the management can find any time then there is not “something doing.” When this place of amusement opened up the management promised “the biggest show ever seen in Kalamazoo for the money” and from all appearances they are more than making good on their promise.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 August 1910, p.8


“Through a deal closed yesterday E.A. Adams will take over the Airdome. The open air theater on West Kalamazoo avenue will be opened tonight, motion pictures and vaudeville being the offering.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 June 1912, p.7


“The law suit brought by Ellsworth A. Adams against George A. Knowles to recover $99.65 alleged due in money advanced was settled outside of court yesterday afternoon. The suit was instituted by Adams July 29. The sums named by him in the bill of particulars included the payment of salaries, purchase of supplies, etc., for the Airdome theater, of which Knowles was proprietor and Adams was manager at the time.”

Kalamazoo Telegraph-Press, 23 August 1912, p.1

airdome-ads-1910-12
Kalamazoo Gazette: 10 September 1911, 17 May 1912, 17 August 1910, 19 May 1912

Sources

Information originally compiled in 1995 by J.P. Jenks. Additional information was later added by library staff. Information compiled from Kalamazoo City Directory listings, details obtained in researching newspaper reports published at the time by the Kalamazoo Gazette and Kalamazoo Telegraph Press, Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, Kalamazoo County Warranty Deeds and numerous other sources. Updated March 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


Local History Room Files

Subject File: Theater

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