History of The Strand Theatre
Spencer Opera House
Kendallville’s Strand Theatre is one of the oldest continually operating theaters in the United States. Edward Spencer opened the Spencer Opera House in 1890, costing $29,000, on the former site of the Blockbuster Hotel. The ornately decorated opera house could seat 750 patrons and included a dress circle, balcony seating, and box seats. The Spencer Opera House opened in September 1890 with the play, “Edmund Kean”, starring Marlande Clarke. It also hosted opera, legitimate theater, and minstrel shows.
Boyer Opera House
In 1905, A.J. Boyer bought the opera house and renamed it the Boyer Opera House. The Boyer continued to host opera, legitimate theater, and minstrel shows, and it also added vaudeville acts. Moving pictures were first shown at the Boyer in 1909. During WWI, the Boyer Opera House was closed, but was reopened in 1919 and was refashioned as a movie theater.
In 1928, Robert Hudson purchased the Boyer and renamed it the Strand Theatre. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, seating was increased to 953 and a new screen and modern sound system was added. The owners also removed the dress circle and box seating, and they added the state-of-the-art, dazzling marquee. It also began to offer serials and double features on Saturdays.
In 1952, they installed a 33-foot-tall CinemaScope screen and stereophonic sound equipment. The Strand Theatre also began selling candy and popcorn for the first time around this time also. During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, the Strand Theatre began to feature long runs of Hollywood epics like “Cleopatra”, “Bridge on the River Kwai”, and “Lawrence of Arabia”. The 1959 showing of “Ben Hur” remains the all-time highest attended movie at the Strand Theatre.
In 1980, the owners began another extensive remodel to the Strand, rebuilding the interior from a one-screen to a two-screen theater house and removing the stage. Each auditorium had about 400 seats and the owners increased the size of the lobby and office space and removed the outside ticket booth.
Several owners ran The Strand from 1980 to 2001 and it was even closed for a brief period due to lack of business and a poor reputation. In 2001, a new owner, Cinema Associates, acquired the Strand. They also owned the Auburn Garrett Drive-In and the Silver Screen Cinema.
While the theater was undergoing renovations to re-open the theater, vandals set fire to auditorium 2 and they also slashed the screen. The theater was able to open, despite the set-backs and heartaches. A total renovation was set for the Strand to make it majestic once again. A second, larger fire struck in 2002 because of the renovations in progress in auditorium 1, causing extensive damage once again to the theater. Renovations were finally completed in late 2002, which completely revived the Strand, making it stand proud once more.
Can The Strand Theatre Be Saved?
In January 2014, movie production companies discontinued distributing movies via reel film and began only distributing films via digital media. Consequently, movie theaters like the Strand needed to have digital equipment to be able to show first-run films. For that reason, the Strand would have to close, unless it generated over $110,000 within a few months. This was needed to buy two new digital projectors, sound systems, and screens.
Community To The Rescue
Because of this need, the citizens of Kendallville organized the ‘Keep the Lights On’ campaign in order to raise the funds needed to purchase the digital equipment. The East Noble History Club also started the campaign STS (Save The Strand). They managed the social media for the campaign and generated a lot of attention for the project. The community, including the youth, had a vested interest in saving the Strand Theatre since it is considered an anchor for Kendallville and Noble County businesses.
The Keep the Lights On committee partnered with the Kendallville Redevelopment Commission to purchase the equipment. So that even if the Strand owners decide to retire or sell the business, the city of Kendallville would own the equipment, ensuring that the Strand would stay in operation for generations to come.
The various groups involved in the fundraising effort received an overwhelmingly positive response, and subsequently, within a matter of a few months, were able to exceed their goal of raising $110,000. Raising money to save the Strand was an aggressive goal, yet the people of Kendallville rallied and showed that they were not willing to let their local theater die.
On account of the efforts and donations by students and citizens of the area, the historic theater was saved, and the Strand Theatre is proud to live on in the heart of downtown Kendallville as Noble County’s only theater.