Robins Theatre

40 S. Main Street,
Niles, OH 44446

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Additional Info

Firms: Simons, Brittain & English

Previous Names: Butler Theatre

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ROBINS Theatre; Niles, Ohio.

Opened as the Butler Theatre in 1922. In the 1950’s it became another Robins Theatre Enterprises Company theatre headed by founder Daniel J. Robins and brothers Ben and David. (David was an in-law to the Warner brothers.) In 1969, a fire did damage estimated at $15,000 to the lobby area; a passer-by noticed the blaze and summoned help, or the building would have been lost. The building was mostly vacant in 2013, but had been demolished by early-2024.

Contributed by Lou Rugani

Recent comments (view all 9 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 26, 2013 at 4:48 am

I wonder if the Robins Theatre could be the house that was built for the McKinley Theatre Company in 1921-1922? The new house was the subject of reports in several construction trade publications of the time, and was described as being 63x175 feet, which looks to be the size of the Robins in satellite view.

A couple of items in issues of The Film Daily in 1924 indicate that he McKinley Theatre changed hands at least once that year, though I’ve been unable to find any references to the Robins Enterprise Company Becoming the operators. But given the fact that Niles was a fairly small town it seems likely that it had only one large theater, so it also seems likely that the McKinley and the Robins were one and the same.

If the Robins was the house that opened as the McKinley, it would be an unusual theater. The construction journals said that the McKinley was being designed by the Pittsburgh architectural firm of Simons, Brittain, & English. That firm specialized in the design and construction of banks, and the McKinley Theatre is the only building of their design that I’ve found any reference to that was not a bank.

ShortyP on August 11, 2013 at 7:42 pm

The McKinley Theater was about 2 blocks north of the Robins theater on the same side of the street. Their is a Sparkle Market their now.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 12, 2013 at 12:02 am

ShortyP: It’s probable that the McKinley Theatre on North Main Street was a later theater of the same name, and not the one built in 1921-22. The October 9, 1937, issue of The Film Daily had this item about a new theater in Niles:

“Niles, O. — A new corporation, McKinley Theaters, Inc., has been granted permission to issue $50,000 worth of stock for the erection of a new picture house here. Incorporators are George Delis, A. G. Cinstant and Angelo Alex. The new theater will be one of a chain of houses controlled by Southwestern New York Theater Corp.”
Another item said that National Theatre Supply Co. of Cleveland was equipping the new McKinley Theatre at Niles, Ohio, with Super Simplex projectors, Magnarc lamp houses, generators and a Walker screen. The November 6 issue of the same publication said that RCA sound equipment had been purchased for the McKinley Theatre. The November 23 issue listed the McKinley among theaters that had recently been opened.

In light of this, I’m still unable to eliminate the possibility that the Robins Theatre was originally the first McKinley Theatre. If I could find a source indicating that the McKinley Theatre of 1937 was an older house being reopened, that would do it, but so far everything I’ve found suggests that it was a new theater. It would also help if we could find a source giving the opening date, or at least the opening year, or perhaps the name of the architect, of the Robins Theatre.

Shorty, do you have any details about the McKinley Theatre, such as how long it was in operation, how big it was, and what it looked like? It should be given its own page at Cinema Treasures.

babysnooks on September 27, 2014 at 7:19 pm

niles is my home town grew up there in the 40s and 50s I went to the McKinley theater every sat 10cents 10 cartoons double feature and serial news there were three movie theaters in Niles Ohio a very prosperous and thriving community

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 27, 2014 at 9:16 pm

Although the photo we have of this theater shows the name Robins on the marquee, for some reason CinemaTour has it listed as the Butler Theatre, with the address 40 S.Main Street. Photos by Adam Martin from June, 2011, on this page show that it is the same building, but CinemaTour is missing the aka Robins Theatre.

In any case, the Robins did indeed open as the Butler Theatre in 1922, when it was mentioned in the June 22 issue of Iron Age, which said that “[t]he new theater at Niles, Ohio, has been named the Butler Theater in honor of J. G. Butler, Jr., vice-president Brier Hill Steel Co., Youngstown, Ohio.”

I haven’t found out when the name was changed to Robins Theatre, but the newest car in the postcard photo looks to date from about 1950, so it must have happened by the early 1950s. It also seems unlikely that this house was ever called the McKinley Theatre, although it is very likely that it was the house built by the McKinley Theatre Company in 1922, recorded in this item from the February 25 issue of The American Contractor:

“Contracts Awarded. Niles, O.—Theater & Office Bldg.: Abt. $150,000. 2 sty. 175x63. Niles. Archt. Simon Birttain & English, 336 4th av., Pittsburgh, Pa. Owner McKinley Theater Co., L. R. Edwards, supt., Robins av., Niles. Gen. contr. for substructure & superstructure let to Vasconi Bros., Sharon, Pa. Brk. mas. by gen. contr.; materials purchased. Carp, work to Harry Edwards, Niles. Htg. & plmg. to Mundon Htg. & Plmg. Co., Sharon. Elec. wiring to Elec. Service Co., Sharon. Rfg. to Dalzell Bros., Holmes St., Youngstown. Ptg. to Scott & Fitch, Niles. On brk. wk.”
The correct name of the architectural firm, as I noted earlier, was Simons, Brittain, & English.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 27, 2014 at 9:53 pm

Now I have to question my assumption that the 1922 project cited in my previous comment was in fact the Butler Theatre. The problem is a photo of the McKinley Theatre in this PDF from the Niles Historical Society.

The McKinley was an old building, probably dating from the early 1920s, so there’s a very good chance that it was the 1922 project after all, despite all the items in issues The Film Daily from 1937 suggesting that it was new at that time.

If the 1922 project was the McKinley, then two new theaters opened in Niles that year. All I can pin down about the Robins Theatre for now is that it opened in 1922 as the Butler Theatre, had been renamed the Robins Theatre by the 1950s, and the building is still standing.

richardg on December 16, 2021 at 5:59 am

This theatre was for sale approximately 3 years ago. Interested parties should phone 330 565 0255. You’ll need very deep pockets though. Restoration would be in the millions. The balcony is still intact but the nain floor has been leveled. Leveled in the sense that wooden framing was erected over the sloping floor to make it level. This was done during the 1970’s when the Ohio Bureau of Employment had offices in the theatres space. Later the space was used for storage but has been vacant for years. All the store fronts are vacant except for a lawyers office which owns the building. He is a relative of the original owners. Although this was a small theatre chain, Robins had no difficulty in booking 1st run films. They were, as mentioned above, cousins of the Warners. My information source didn’t know the seating capacity but judging from the exterior portion of the theatre it’s probably well over 1500. Someone in the Niles municipal offices told me the theatres roof has leaked for years and has been condemned by the city of Niles.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 16, 2021 at 7:57 am

The 1940 FDY lists the Butler Theatre with 1,120 seats.

EsseXploreR on January 16, 2024 at 5:11 pm

This theater has been demolished.

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