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Fuller Theatre

1909–1953


East side of S. Burdick St., north of South St.

Completed from an expansion of the Wonderland and run as a stock, variety and film theater from September 3, 1909 to March 29, 1953. Designed by Kalamazoo architect Rockwell A. LeRoy.

fuller-theatre-kvm-photo-598.jpg
Fuller Theatre, c.1930s Portage District Library photo.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan, 1908 (Library of Congress).
“The New Fuller Theater,” c.1909. (inset: H. Crull, Local Manager) Labadie’s Souvenir of Picturesque Kalamazoo, p.38. Local History Room.

The following article was published in the Kalamazoo Gazette in September 1909, a day after the theater was opened to the public. It provides extensive detail about the theater design and decoration, along with its (then) important safety features. It also gives additional information about Horace J. Fuller. (all sic.)

“The auditorium and foyer is finished throughout in Roman gold and mahogany. There is nothing cheap and gaudy about the place. One can see each time something new, something different. It will please at the first visit, it will also please after hundreds of visits to the place.

Entrance in White.

Striking? Yes – but there is that something that will make the ‘striking’ appearance of the house pleasing at all times.

Passing from Burdick street into the first lobby, one immediately walks into an entrance that is finished in white marble and ivory and lighted with several clusters of lights. The ticket office does not extend into the entrance and a crowd in passing in or out will never be obstructed by anything in the wide entrance.

Located next to the ticket office is the manager’s office, which is finished in mahogany. The arrangement of the ticket office is such that the beauty of the entrance to the theater is increased.

Beautiful pressed steel doors, swinging outward, separate the entrance form the handsome foyer of the theater. From this point one secures the first good view of the theater within. The golden shaded lights reflecting on the golden brown walls produce a most pleasing sight. Two great stairways, with banisters finished in heavy mahogany and golden trimmings, lead to the balcony.

Separating the foyer from the parquet is a highly finished mahogany circled banister.

Sloping Floors

No steps are found on the main floor to trouble patrons. All approaches are made with sloping floors, a feature that prevents difficulty when a crowd enters or leaves the theater.

Each seat is upholstered in leather and finished in mahogany. On the main floor of the auditorium and in the balcony nothing but the best of seats have been placed. The first three rows in the balcony are also mahogany seats and, unlike the arrangement of most theaters, they will be reserved.

From every seat in the theater one may secure a complete view of the stage and no matter if a seat is secured in the remotest corner of the theater, the spectator will have a good view of the stage. There are 1,500 seats in the building.

Over 1,000 lights are used to light up the playhouse. Nearly 500 of these are in the auditorium, the remaining number being on the stage.

Midway Approaches.

Approaches to the balcony have been built in such a way that one is not required to walk way to the top or bottom of the balcony before securing a seat. Ever approach comes directly in the middle of the balcony and a person is required to go only a few steps in either direction for a seat, this feature doing away with a certain amount of confusion that always exists when entrance or departure is made.

The gallery has been finished off as handsomely as the remainder of the theater. Two beautiful boxes have been placed at each end, which add much to the pleasing arrangement of the theater. Brass railings surround both the balcony and gallery.

There are 12 boxes and six lodges, all most exquisitely arranged. Surrounding the boxes of the balcony is a marble railing.

Neither time nor money has been spared to make the auditorium a thing of beauty. The decorations and paintings are most gorgeous. Only leaders of the skilled have been engaged to to this work.

Stage Large One.

The stage of the theater is a wonderful place. Lighted by over 500 incandescent globes, with a loft 60 feet high and containing over three miles of rope to handle the scenery, one can secure but a slight idea of many requirements to produce a modern show.

Off from the stage are six rooms, fitted out in every way, for the stars [who] will visit the theater. These rooms have been finished off in mahogany and contain all of the little things that will make acting at the Fuller a pleasure, because actors and actresses like conveniences just as well as any one else.
The stage floor is made in sections. Two great doors lead from the stage to the alley in the rear. Both are so large that a team of horses could be driven onto the stage without difficulty.

Two ways lead to the large room under the stage. Here are the rooms for the chorus girls, which have been nearly fitted out. A ventilation system has been installed throughout the theater and each room under the stage is equipped with a ventilation pipe. There are four large exits from the stage.

The orchestra has also been cared for. Directly under the front side of the stage is a large, well furnished room for the musicians. While not playing the room will be used by the musicians.

Baggage Room.

Besides the numerous rooms for the players, there is a large baggage room off the stage and arrangements made so that trunks can be easily handled.

Over the stage is two automatic skylights. In case of a fire, the heat will force these skylights open and the fire and smoke will pass out of the theater in this way instead of being forced into the auditorium.
Throughout the entire building, fire doors have been placed. In fact, there is not a single door in the entire structure that is not made of metal. Door sills, window frames, braces, in fact everything is absolutely fireproof. Every electric wire in the entire building has been placed in a conduit and there is no possible way for fire to start form this source.

Floors, walls and beams are made of concrete and steel. While one may walk on costly rugs in the lobby, he will also be walking over a floor that is of solid concrete. Stairways leading to the basement of the theater are of concrete.

It is doubtful if there is 100 feet of lumber in the Fuller theater under the first floor. Everything has been built of a cement and steel.

Many Precautions.

So precautious has been Mr. Fuller in the building of the place that he erected the heating plant outside of the theater building and large pipes are used to connect the two places. In every part of the theater fire hose has been placed, and all that one must do to put out a blaze, if one should start, would be just turn a little check valve that is in plain sight, and high pressure water would be running through the hose.

On the stage two large standpipes have been placed, and plenty of hose lines. The stage, while a large one, 34×56 with a 36 foot opening, is absolutely fireproof and the precautions Mr. Fuller has taken seem almost useless. Each window has a fuse-link connection. The slightest heat would cause it to break and allow the window to close. Wire-glass has been used throughout.

Many Exits.

There are large exits from every direction. From the main floor one can leave the theater from eight different ways, through large doors. Six ways to escape are found in the balcony and one can easily leave the gallery from four different ways.

‘Detail’ has been the one watchword of Mr. Fuller. He has watched every step in the erection of the theater. If plans called for something that did not look right, he has changed the plans. He has arranged the heating system so that the theater can be heated in three different ways. The auditorium can be heated separately from the stage, or the stage without the auditorium. Even the orchestra pit can be heated, with the rest of the building remaining cold.

The Builders.

R.A. LeRoy, a Kalamazoo architect, made the plans that the theater was built from. He submitted them to Mr. Fuller first and then sent them to some of the leading theater architects in the country. They were also passed upon by Architect Lovell of Chicago, who was formerly with Colonel Weed, the architect who drew the plans for the Academy of Music. There are no square corners in the theater, the plans calling for curves in the walls and general construction of the theater. This will be a great aid in carrying sound from the stage. The theater having been planned with this idea in view.

All cement and brick work was superintended by William L. Atkin and done by Albert White.

The Kalamazoo Foundry & Machine company furnished and placed all of the steel and metal in the building.

The electrical work was planned and placed by Vern Spannagel.

All steam fitting was supervised and done by Frank Buchner and the plumbing work by the R.R. Brenner firm.

The Kalamazoo Gas company did all of the gas fitting and the interior finish work supplied by the Chicago Decorator’s Supply company. The decoration was done by John J. Weber, who was formerly art superintendent of the Marshall Field company of Chicago.

All interior work was supplied by Dewing & Sons and the Burleigh Woodworking company did the finishing work.

The galvanized metal work was placed by the Kalamazoo Sheet Metal company. Frank Covey of New York city, who has had great experience in theater building, supervised the carpenter work. Fred J. Buckley designed the striking canopy that extends over the walk in front of the theater. Mr. Buckley is connected with the Kalamazoo Foundry & Machine company. All the rigging of the stage loft was placed by William Young of Grand Rapids, who has been with the Majestic theater of that city since it was built.

The scenery for the theater has been painted by the Henderson-Ames company and the tapestries by Gilmore brothers.

The seats were placed by the American Seating company.

Starting in on the job mixing grout for the foundation, Martin Terpester has advanced to assistant electrician. He has never lost a day’s work since on the job.

Horace J. Fuller.

It is an interesting story, the career of Horace J. Fuller. Born on a farm in Oshtemo township, he moved to Kalamazoo with his parents as a boy, securing his education at the public schools here.
After completing his education, Mr. Fuller went into the livery business with his father.

In 1890 he organized the Kalamazoo Hack & Bus company, giving the city the best transportation service it ever had. It is doubtful in the entire state there is another receiving the excellent hack service that Kalamazoo has since Mr. Fuller started the Kalamazoo Hack & Bus company. Since organizing the company, he has been president and manager. The equipment is as good as the service of the company.

In building the theater, he has shown that same great interest that he has in the hack and bus business. There has never been a time when he was away from the job and he has directed every step of the work from the foundation up.

Historic Site.

The property on which the theater now stands was purchased by Mr. Fuller from M. Israel and family. For years it was used for the Israel residence. It was one of the pioneer homes in the city. When Mr. Fuller purchased the property it was covered with burdocks and old, dying trees. Where the stage of the theater is now located was an apple orchard. That was in 1884. Mr. Fuller immediately erected a livery stable on the rear of the place. The next year he built the Fuller block, the three story building that is now used as the front of the theater, on the front of the lot.

Mr. Fuller is one of those quiet active business men that any city is proud to have. Without public glamor, he has done as much, or more, for Kalamazoo than any other citizen. He has worked quietly, but effectively—and he has accomplished results.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, September 4, 1909

The following article, published in the Kalamazoo Gazette in June 1912, gives an updated description of the theater and its background. (all sic.)

“…the Fuller theater was built by Horace J. Fuller of this city at a cost of $60,000. It seats 1,600 people, is modern in all its appointments and is one of the handsomest and most artistic playhouses in the middle west. The interior color scheme is old rose, old ivory and soft yellows and is very restful and pleasing to the eye. The theater opened in August 1909, with the musical comedy ‘The Candy Shop.’ It had previously been leased for a term of years by Orin Stair, owner of the Majestic theater at Grand Rapids, and he has given Kalamazoo showgoers some of the finest attractions they have ever witnessed — in fact, more and bigger attractions have played Kalamazoo since the Fuller opened than ever before in its history, all the big stars of both sexes having made bids from the Fuller stage for the commendation of local audiences.

For nearly two years the Fuller’s manager has been Will J. Donnelly, an experienced theatrical man and a real manager from the ground up. He is all business and he has run the house on strictly business principles, making of it an institution of which Kalamazoo is proud. ‘Bill’ is one of the best known show men in the United States, having been the ‘man ahead’ for A.G. Field’s Greater Minstrels and other big attractions for a quarter of a century before he became manager of the Fuller.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, June 19, 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

Labadie’s Souvenir of Picturesque Kalamazoo

Labadie, E.E. 1909.
Call Number: H 977.418 P62L, p.38

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

“Work Of Architect Aids Civic Beauty Architect R.A. Leroy Has Done Much In City”

Kalamazoo Gazette, March 17, 1909, p.5, col.5

“’Fuller’ is Marvel of Beauty. Kalamazoo’s New Theater is Credit to City as Well as Owner”

Kalamazoo Gazette, September 4, 1909, p.1, col.3

“Kalamazoo’s Amusement Houses This City Regarded as Best ‘Show Town’ in Michigan Outside of Detroit”

Kalamazoo Gazette, June 19, 1912, p.24


Local History Room Files

Subject File: Theater

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