Waterville Historical Society

your connection to the past

The Waterville Historical Society collects, preserves, provides access to, interprets and fosters an appreciation of history that has an impact on the Waterville, Ohio and surrounding area.

The Majestic Theatre researched by Randy Studer

                 Courtesy of Bud Bauman

The Majestic Theatre located at 6778 Providence St. , Whitehouse, Ohio.  Former names: Empress, Town, Whitehouse Theatre

In 1925, Henry A. Sipher, who was a prominent businessman in Whitehouse, Ohio, built and operated the Empress Theatre as a silent picture theatre with seating for 299 people. The opening day feature was the 1923 silent movie version of “The Ten Commandments” with Theodore Roberts, Charles de Rochefort and Estelle Taylor. Henry managed all aspects of the theatre. Fred Sipher, who was Henry’s son, was the manager and projectionist. It was a complete Sipher family affair with Fred's daughters Fritzie Sipher Schifferly and Christie Sipher helping to run the theatre. Their mother Ann also pitched in. It was their job to sell tickets and clean up the theatre after the movies. Twice a year, the family would go to Cleveland’s Film Row district to book films, an event Fritzie looked forward to with great excitement. Her father would go from one film booker to another to select movies he felt Whitehouse and the community would enjoy. Film salesmen would stop in Whitehouse during the year to visit Mr. Sipher and would enjoy eating at Mrs. Kordy’s Whitehouse Inn across the street from Townsends Drug Store.

    Showman's Trade Review March 15, 1941

Mary Koenigseker and Burton Bender were the silent theatre’s pianists. Mary remembers playing five nights a week for silent stars such as Vilma Bankey, Norma and Constance Talmadge, and Claudette Colbert. “There was a touch of glamour in my job, although it only paid $2.50 a night. I felt a great rapport with Hollywood, it sort of served as an introduction to life”. Burton recalls the times the film broke and the pianist had to rush back to the keys to quiet the crowd, “Lots of foot stamping and whistling then.” From an article in the Swanton Express dated January I, 1931 it is stated a midnight show at the Empress Theatre Whitehouse, Ohio will start at 10:40. Floyd Merrill, relief operator at the theatre states that “the Empress has installed new sound equipment. The sound works from the side of the film and ensures the picture being in register at all times.” In July of 1940, A. Milo DeHaven and his wife came to Whitehouse to operate the Empress. De Haven, who was an experienced theatreman, signed a 10 year lease for the Empress. The first thing De Haven did was to rename the Empress to the Town Theatre. Next he brought the Town Theatre up to the standards expected of theatres in the 1940s.

The theatre was completely renovated, including painting and installation of a new lighting system and a new RCA sound system with projection equipment and a new screen. The Town Theatre featured live entertainment with dance recitals between the first and second movies, sometimes featuring tap dancing students Jerry Kiger and Yvonne Bauman Walters on stage. Yvonne Bauman Walters recalled that Mr. DeHaven did give the students a friendly warning to be careful and “don’t kick the movie screen when dancing or fall off the stage.” In January of 1942, DeHaven took out a five year lease on the Grand Rapids Theatre. He renamed the theatre to the Town Theatre, Grand Rapids, Ohio. Janice Sullivan Witte worked at the Town Theatre as an usher, ticket taker, and concession stand. Janis worked there from the winter of 1942 to fall of 1943. Since gasoline rationing was in effect during the war years, most of the theatre seats were full most movie nights. In late 1948, DeHaven left the Town Theatre to become the manager of the new Woodville Drive-In Theatre, which opened on April 25, 1949.

In November of 1957 Carroll W. Harris leased the theatre from C. M. Townsend. Harris also operated the Skyline Drive-In and the Rex Theatres in Morenci, Michigan and The LaFrance Theater in Swanton, Ohio. Harris completely redecorated the Town Theatre and would have a contest in the future to rename it. It was advertised as the Whitehouse Theatre in the meantime. On March 7, 1958, it reopened featuring “Hollywood or Bust” starring Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. It screened movies on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only. On January 20, 1961, the old Town Theatre reopened as the Majestic Theatre. The Marquee was changed to reflect the new name of the Majestic Theatre. The Majestic screened movies up into 1962, but could not compete with the advent of television and newer indoor and drive in theatres. This was the end of many of the small town theatres like the old Majestic and it finally closed for good.

Over the years the old theatre has been rented out to various stores and businesses. It has been a chiropractor’s office, tax service office, lawyer’s office, and auto detail/hobby shop. The old theatre building is still standing with the overhang still in place. One of the coming attractions boards is still in place waiting for the next movie poster to be displayed. From the bright lights shining from the marquee, to looking at the coming attractions boards for upcoming movies, to enjoying eating popcorn, candy and soda from the concession stand, meeting your family and friends, screening the latest movies, the excitement of going to the Empress-Town-Majestic Theatre in the Village of Whitehouse, Ohio is long gone.

P.O. Box 263,  Waterville, OH  43566            whs43566@outlook.com

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