Majestic Theater

1907–1924


South side of E. South St., east of Burdick St. (118 E. South St.)

Built and run as a vaudeville house from November 18, 1907, to October 1918. Claimed to seat 1,152 including balcony.

Postcard view of the Majestic Theater, c.1912. Private collection.

“… the home of vaudeville in Kalamazoo.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, June 19, 1912

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan, 1908. Library of Congress.

Stair-Havlin Syndicate

In March 1906 word of a proposed 1,350-seat theater on Portage Street “in the immediate vicinity of the interurban station” (near South Street) was leaked by the Gazette. The planned three-story theater building, designed by Kalamazoo architect Rockwell A. Leroy, was to be 70 feet wide and 130 feet deep with a 40’ by 70’ stage and a 15’ by 50’ lobby. Space for two additional stores along the south side of the building was planned with room for offices above.

The project was supposedly capitalized by Kalamazoo attorney and realtor LeRoy Hornbeck, who then intended to lease the building to the Stair and Havlin Theatrical Management Syndicate of Detroit. Orin and Edwin Stair, along with partner John Havlin then operated several theaters in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Muskegon, with still more in St. Louis and Cleveland. (Their company eventually had control of more than 30 “second class” or “popular price” theaters around the country.) They planned to call the new theater the Grand or the Majestic, with a “prominent Kalamazoo man” (W.S. Butterfield perhaps?) under contract to manage the place.

Construction was set to to begin in April with the theater ready to open by fall. “The site has been picked out,” the Gazette wrote confidently, “the money is in hand, the plans are ready and there is not one chance in a hundred of the deal falling through.” But unfortunately the project did fall through and the theater in that form never got off the ground.

“Aerodome”

The following spring in May 1907, W.S. Butterfield proposed an “air dome” open-air summer theater with seating for 1,200. It was to be located in the (then) vacant “Bixby lot” on South Burdick Street next to the Baumann Building (future home of the Elite Theatre) with a brightly lit stage for “sketches and comedians” and circus ring “where equestrian and trained animal acts” would perform.

“Majestic”

Plans quickly changed, however, and just two weeks later it was announced that Butterfield had closed a deal to build a new $50,000 permanent theater on the “Matthews property” east of the Elk’s Temple on South Street (just around the corner from the proposed “air dome”), to be known as the Majestic. On June 20, workers broke ground for the new building; the Majestic opened on Monday, November 18, 1907.

Postcard view of the Majestic Theater, c.1912. Private collection.

The following articles, published in the Kalamazoo Gazette in June and November 1907, give a preliminary description of the proposed theater building with some brief info about those who were involved. (all sic.)

“Walter S. Butterfield, representing the Bijou Theatrical Enterprise Company of Michigan, yesterday closed a deal with O.W. Brundage for the plot of ground, 76×165 feet, just east of the Elks’ temple on East South street, known as the “Matthews’ property,” and will erect thereon a theater to cost between $40,000 and $50,000.

Contracts for the work have already been let and actual operations on the construction of the playhouse will begin June 15.

A cottage and a barn now stand on the property, and the tenants have been notified to vacate the same at once.

Known as the Majestic.

The new theater will be known as the Majestic. Frank P. McClure, the well-known theater builder, of St. Louis, is the architect and contractor. He will sub-let contracts for most of the work in Kalamazoo.

The Majestic will be a strictly modern playhouse in every particular. It will be commodious, ornate and furnished throughout after the most approved fashion. The theater proper will be in the rear of the structure on the ground floor and will seat 1,200.

The building will be two stories high in front. The lower floor at each side of the entrance will be given over to stores, while the upper floor will be for office purposes. Pressed brick will be used for the front.

A Beautiful Lobby.

The lobby will be spacious and beautifully decorated, while the entrance will be most attractive and brilliantly lighted.

The stage will be one of the largest and finest equipped in the state — 72×40 feet, with all the latest paraphernalia obtainable. In size this will be larger than any stage in Michigan outside of Detroit, being two feet deeper and wider than that of the Post at Battle Creek. From the floor to the rigging is 64 feet.

All the scenery will be furnished by Sosman & Landis, of Chicago, one of the largest and best known houses of its kind in the country. The order is now being filled and calls for an especially elaborate array of scenery.

There will be 12 dressing rooms, all under the stage, and fitted up with a view to convenience and perfect sanitary arrangement.

No Gallery in Theater.

The gallery will be done away with in the Majestic, all the 1,200 seats being on the lower floor and in the balcony. This will give the management an opportunity to reserve the entire seating capacity of the house in case of an extra big attraction. The two floor idea embraces the newest ideas in theater construction and will be strictly up-to-the-minute.

The seats on the lower floor will be upholstered, while the decorations and furnishings of the house throughout will be beautiful, high-class and artistic.

The lighting effects will be particularly brilliant.

Eight Boxes, Seating 64.

Two tiers of four boxes each, seating 64 persons all told, will add to the beauty and attractive features of the theater.

The construction of the playhouse will be of steel and cement, with metal laths and concrete floor. It will be absolutely fire-proof and equipped with a large number of exits.

The space beneath the stage will be taken up by a cement cellar in which will be the steam heating plant, etc.

Talks of New Theater.

In speaking of this latest theater enterprise for Kalamazoo, Mr. Butterfield said yesterday to The Gazette:

‘This is not a hot-air proposition. The plans for the new theater have been in the making for three months and are now complete. The abstract for the Matthews property has been turned over to me and the contract for the house let. Ground will be broken as near the fifteenth of this month as possible and the Majestic rushed to completion.

‘Mr. McClure is one of the most successful theater builders in the country and the new house will be a model in every particular. Not later than Thanksgiving it will open ans a high-class vaudeville theater and later in the season some of the biggest and best theatrical attractions going will be played there.

‘The plans for enlarging the present Bijou theater are off and the Bijou will be continued as a 10-cent vaudeville house under the same management.

Room for Two Theaters.

‘I am convinced, from my personal knowledge of the local situation, that there is ample room in Kalamazoo for two high-class theaters and that the experience of the Majestic will prove this. This is one of the best show towns in the country. If I did not think so I certainly would not be investing thousands of dollars here.’

The Bijou Theatrical Enterprise Company of Michigan, builders of the Majestic, is backed and managed by the Western Vaudeville Managers’ association, with headquarters in the Majestic theater building, Chicago.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, June 7, 1907, p.1


“The Majestic house staff is as follows:

Frank W. Bryce — Manager
Katherine Schelb — Cashier
Edward Makins — Pianist
John Wynn — Stage Manager
Beldon Rouse — Stage Carpenter
Carl C. Beals — Electrician
R.H. East — Property Man
Lionel Church — Chief Usher

The Majestic vaudeville theater is the outgrowth of the Butterfield Bijou theater on South Burdick street, which opened to the public in February 1905, and as it stands completed it represents and outlay of $45,000. It is one of the handomest little vaudeville houses in the middle west and a credit in every way to its builders and to the progressive city of Kalamazoo, which by its generous patronage of Mr. Butterfield’s initial enterprise in this city — the Bijou theater — made possible the building of this attractive and up-to-date amusement house.

Work on the Majestic was started on July 7 of this year it and it was practically completed on November 18, although there are yet a few finishing touches to be put upon the interior of the theater. Frank W. McClure of St. Louis was the architect and builder and George W. McClure, his brother, superintended the work of construction. All the newest ideas in the line of theater building were employed in the erection of the house. The Bijou Theatrical Enterprise company, Walter S. Butterfield, manager, financed the building of the Majestic.

The walls are of red brick and substantially constructed and of sufficient thickness.

Spacious Auditorium.

From curtain line to back wall the theater is 70×76 feet, with a lobby 50×18 feet. The floors in the main part of the house are of wood, while the lobby floor is of mosaic tile, with the words ‘Majestic Theater’ fashioned in the floor at the street entrance. The side walls of the lobby are finished in ox-blood, with ceiling of light steel gray and ornate trimmings to match.

The theater proper has a seating capacity about 1,200, exclusive of the eight boxes, which will accommodate 48 persons, or eight apiece.

There are 622 seats on the main floor and 548 in the balcony, all arranged so that a good view may be obtained from any part of the house.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, November 19, 1907, p.1

Majestic Gardens

The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people, including more than 650,000 in the U.S. In mid-October, the state Board of Health ordered all churches and “places of public amusement” closed. All theaters in Kalamazoo were closed for three weeks from mid-October until December.

During the flu ban the Majestic was “renamed, redecorated, renovated and fumigated” (Gazette) to be re-opened as a movie house (sans vaudeville) called Majestic Gardens under the management of C. Warde Brown. The theater remained as such to the end of June, 1924.

Capitol theater, c.1950s. Private collection.

Capitol

Enlarged and reopened as the Capitol August 30, 1924. Survived as a film house until December 4, 1976.

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.


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

“Plan New Theater. Stair-Havlin Syndicate to Build $50,000 House in Kalamazoo.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, March 28, 1906, p.3, col 1.

“Aerodome Theater Will Open In July”

Kalamazoo Gazette, May 19, 1907, p.2.

“New Theater A Certainty”

Kalamazoo Gazette, June 5, 1907

“Decorators At Work”

Kalamazoo Gazette, October 30, 1907, p.3.

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

Kalamazoo Gazette, June 19, 1912, p.24

“Theatres of City Plan Big Programs When ‘Flu’ Closing Ban Is Removed”

Kalamazoo Gazette, October 18, 1918

“Majestic Has New Manager”

Kalamazoo Gazette, October 27, 1918

“Majestic to Drop ‘Vodvil’ For Pictures”

Kalamazoo Gazette, November 3, 1918

“Majestic”

Kalamazoo Gazette, November 6, 1918

“Kalamazoo Theatres Ready for Opening”

Kalamazoo Gazette, November 7, 1918


Local History Room Files

Subject File: Theater

Subject File: Elite Theater

Subject File: Majestic Theater

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