113-115 S. Main Street,
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Previous Names: Unique Theatre, Gayety Theatre, Happy Hour Theatre
The first Akron demonstration of motion pictures took place in 1897. But if someone were to ask when and where the Rubber City’s first actual movie theatre opened, it would be right here with the Unique Theatre. The Unique Theatre launched in the Summit Block in downtown Akron and was called the Grant & Wheeler Building during construction. The Summit represented a major change in Akron entertainment at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Once the address housing a feed store and livery, the new Summit Block was considered the “most complete place of amusement in Akron". It housed the Colonial Billiard Parlor and Bowling Alleys run by Frank Cohen that launched in 1902. (They would be refreshed as the Brunswick Lanes a decade later.) There was also a dance hall. There was a hat store called the Metropolitan Hatter. There was also a steamship agency for booking your steamship travels. In 1905, a space was carved out for the Unique Theatre. Manager Achille Phillon started with live vaudeville and four shows daily beginning on February 13, 1905. H. Frank Allan was the projectionist in charge of the Cameragraph where short films were interspersed between live acts.
The 1,000-seat venue lived up to its Unique moniker in providing films and was just Akron’s fifth theatre. It wowed audiences to the point that other theatres opened. In fact, 32 additional movie theatres reportedly launched in the next 15 years, alone. One of those - the National Theatre in 1907 - was the first to commit to movies full-time, seven day a week. The Unique Theatre had clearly lost its uniqueness.
On March 2, 1907, the venue was renamed under new operators as the Gayety Theatre. But competition was challenging. On March 20, 1909, under yet new operators, it became the Happy Hour Theatre with vaudeville and movies. A popular performer was Ybur, the Handcuff Lady. Finally, on October 12, 1911, the venue got new operators and became the Grotto Theatre finally moving to full-time motion pictures. It launched with Edna Fisher in “The Stage Drivers Daughter” and Bertie Bonner in “Making a Man of Him".
The Grotto Theatre was surpassed by more than a dozen other downtown movie houses and stopped showing films in favor of vaudeville. It also subleased the space for church services in 1913. Final operators W.J. Jeffers and Fred Mueller of Cleveland tried to revive full-time movies before closing in September of 1914. The Grotto Theatre hosted events and was transformed before being converted to the Lyceum Dancing Pavilion. The last event under the Grotto Theatre name occurred in 1915. The former theatre and dance space would be converted into a retail space in the late-1910s. The building appears to have been destroyed in a 1923 fire and replaced by a bank.
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