Family Theatre

115 Monroe Street S,
Monroe, MI 48161

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: W.S. Butterfield Theaters Inc.

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Family Theatre

The original 225-seat Family Theatre opened in 1917 and was located on Front Street.

A new Family Theatre was built in 1929 directly across the street from where the Monroe Theatre would be built eight years later. The theatre went dark in 1959, and then reopened in 1961 as the home for the Monroe Community Players. The theatre was destroyed by fire in 1975.

Contributed by Jack Coursey

Recent comments (view all 2 comments)

robboehm on September 25, 2023 at 10:05 am

Believe the original Family Theatre was built by the Bissonette family and seated 225.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 26, 2023 at 3:58 am

Monroe’s original Family Theatre launched a bit earlier than 1917. A Family Theatre is listed on Monroe Street in the 1914-1915 American Motion Picture Directory, but an item in the March 3, 1917 issue of Moving Picture World reveals an even earlier origin for the house. The item concerns the plans of J. R. Denniston to open a new, 1000-seat theater in Monroe by September. Mr. Denniston’s background in Monroe is described thusly:

“J. R. Denniston is proprietor of the Family theater in Monroe. Six years ago he took it over after it had undergone a series of financial failures made by six proprietors in two years. It only goes to prove that the right man can always succeed.”
If this item’s account is accurate, the Family must have been opened by 1909. After this the story gets a bit garbled. Both Cinema Treasures and Water Winter Wonderland say there were two Monroe houses called the Family, but if one was built in 1929 I think there would have to have been three: The first (opened by 1909) and the third (opened in 1929) on Monroe Street, and the second, which would have operated from 1917 until (probably) 1929 on Front Street.

However, there is good evidence that there were indeed only two Family Theatres, both were on Monroe Street, and no new house was built in 1929. The only references I can find to the Family Theatre in 1929 are about the installation of sound, and an item from the June 3, 1959 issue of Motion Picture Exhibitor says that “Joe Deniston [sic], now in his 80’s, made proud the citizens of this city when he opened the doors of the plush $75,000 Family in 1917. Last week he closed it and passersby stare at the closed doors, letterless and lightless marquee.” This was the location across the street from the Monroe Theatre, as is made clear later in the article.

As for the exact location of the first Family Theatre, I’ve been unable to discover if it was on the site of the second house and demolished to make way for it, or at another location on Monroe Street. If it was at another location I don’t know if it was closed when the new Family opened or continued to operate under a different name. All we can be sure of at this point is that the first Family Theatre was on Monroe Street, was opened by 1909, and was either closed or its name changed in 1917, and the second Family Theatre, at 115 Monroe Street South, opened in 1917 and closed in 1959. There was never a Family Theatre on Front Street.

As for the 225-seat house owned by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Bissonette, it was called the Monroe Theatre and was located at First and Monroe Streets, according to the item about its opening in the April 15, 1916 issue of Moving Picture World. It can’t have had anything to do with the Family Theatre. I have no idea what became of it. A 244-seat house called the Eagle Theatre was listed in the 1926 FDY with no location specified, and that might have been the Bissonette’s house, but I’m not at all sure.

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