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Early Twentieth-Century Commercial Architecture of Rochester, Michigan
Item 7 of 10
This building was constructed in 1913 to house James Wilson Smith's Idle Hour Theatre, which was previously located across the street in the Smith/Crissman building. The theatre moved into its new quarters in February 1914. Under new ownership in 1936, the business was renamed the Avon Theatre, and an Art Deco glass front was added to the building during a remodel. The Avon Theatre operated until the early 1950s, when an electrical supply company moved into the building. It has since housed a variety of businesses, but is most notable as the former home of Rochester's first successful movie theatre.

  • Idle Hour Theatre, east elevation, 2020

James W. Smith, proprietor of the St. James Hotel on the southwest corner of Main and University Drive (formerly Fifth St.), built this building to house his Idle Hour Theatre in 1913. Smith opened the New Idle Hour Theatre under the management of Oscar Price in February, 1914. The Era told its readers that the new moving picture house was "of white brick with steel ceiling and sidewalls, concrete floors, asbestos operating booth, perfect ventilation, steam heat, and ... absolutely fireproof." It was described as seating 400 patrons, and boasting an 18-foot stage with a depth of 16 feet, suitable for live performances as well as film screenings. The premiere of the new house offered a live performance by the Rochester Comedy Company, entitled True Irish Hearts.

The following year, Edward J. Cole took over the Idle Hour and ran it for eight years. In 1923, Charles L. Sterns took over management of the theatre. In 1936, Sterns remodeled it with a modern, Art Deco face and renamed it the Avon Theatre. The Avon was Rochester's only movie theatre until 1942, when Sterns opened the Hills Theatre across the street. The larger Hills became the town's first-run house, and the Avon presented second-run titles and serials. After the Avon Theatre closed in the early 1950s, the building housed a series of businesses, including Oberg Electric, the National Bank of Rochester, Michigan Chandelier, the Varsity Shop, and Whoo-U-R Upscale Resale, among others.

On May 5, 1955, the Rochester Clarion reported:

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Remodeling of the old Avon Theatre on Main Street began last week. The building was purchased two weeks ago by Harold Oberg. Present remodeling plans call for leveling off a large portion of the theatre floor and modernization of the building front from the marquee down. Mr. and Mrs. Oberg tentatively plan to move their store into the one-time movie house when the remodeling is complete.

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A week later, during remodeling, a steel beam across the front of the building gave way and the Art Deco front collapsed onto the sidewalk.

"New Theatre," Rochester Era, October 3, 1913.

"Work has been commenced on the new Idle Hour theater, adjoining the St. James Hotel," Rochester Era, November 14, 1913.

"The New Idle Hour Theatre," Rochester Era, February 3, 1914.

"E. J. Cole of Quincy has bought and taken possession of the Idle Hour..," Rochester Era, May 14, 1915, p.5.

"Charles Stearns, new proprietor of the Idle Hour...," Rochester Era, October 19, 1923, p.5.

"Avon Theatre Plans Grand Opening: Patrons Will be Amazed At Thrilling Beauty; New Avon Theatre, Rochester, Formerly Idle Hour, Opens Thanksgiving," Rochester Clarion, November 20, 1936, p.1.

"Start Remodeling of Avon Theatre," Rochester Clarion, May 5, 1955, p.1.

"Front of Avon Theatre Collapses, No One Hurt," Rochester Clarion, May 19, 1955.

"Oberg Moving Store into New Building This Week," Rochester Clarion, July 28, 1955, p.3.

"Obergs Vacating Store for Bank," Rochester Clarion, January 17, 1964, p.1.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Deborah Larsen