Liberty Theatre

340 W. Market Street,
Akron, OH 44303

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Highland Circuit, Scoville, Essick & Reif

Firms: Boenisch, Kraus & Helmkamp

Styles: Streamline Moderne

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Charles and Frank Menches launched their theatre project in 1917 during World War I. The brothers were well known as popular concessionaires at Summit Lake Park. They had claimed to have invented the hamburger in 1885 and that they were the first to sell an ice cream cone in Summit County. They also claimed to have set a Stark County Fair record by selling 3 tons of hamburgers in 1921. Their unnamed theatre project was announced as an ambitious 1,500 seat neighborhood theatre in December of 1916. After a naming contest in which 11,200 folks sent in names, 42 entrants chose the patriotic “Liberty” Theatre and that was the winner. Marie Eagle was selected to receive the $25 cash prize and received no bonus for the naming of the hotel above the theatre as the Liberty. (Park, Pershing and Alamo finished second through fourth in the naming contest.)

Akron-based architects Boenisch, Kraus & Helmkamp designed a three-story multipurpose building that housed a hotel on its upper two floors and had space for two retailers. (Their sketch is in photos.) But the project was scaled back in the forthcoming months to a $150,000 venue with a much more modest count of 650 seats. Innovations at the theatre at launch included telephone reservations of the box seats, balcony party area, and lighted paths on the floor. The venue had a Wurlitzer Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra costing $10,600. It was purportedly just the second such model in use in Ohio. The venue launched December 15, 1917 with Charles Ray in “Son of His Father". The demand proved too great in the Liberty’s first day and – additionally - in its first years of operation. So, in 1920, the Menches expanded the theatre after a refresh to 980 seats.

In January of 1929, the Menches installed what they considered a “Phototone contraption” to become the first neighborhood theatre in Akron to play sound films. Charles Menches became President of the Ohio Motion Picture Theatre Owners Association soon thereafter. Son Robert took on the Liberty Theatre when Charles passed in 1931. Apparently, a World Record occurred on the Liberty Theatre stage when Tommy McCready hit a paddleball 7,298 times without missing. The venue received a Streamline Moderne style makeover reducing seat count to 800. The Liberty Theatre was sold to a Cleveland interest in 1942 likely at the end of a 25-year leasing period. The theatre had a very brief closure for what appears to be its final refresh.

Following World War II, television and population shifts took their toll on Akron theatres. The Liberty Theatre experimented with foreign films beginning in 1950. Highland Circuit operated the venue to its summer closure in 1951. Highland booked its art films at the Copley Theatre and terminated their lease with building owners Charles and Max Schneiener. The pair reopened the Liberty Theatre one last time as a sub-run, double-feature house before shuttering. It appears to have closed on January 1, 1953 with a double-feature of Deborah Kerr in “The Adventuress” and Chips Rafferty in “The Overlanders" ending its 35 year run in motion pictures.

The venue which was at 340-342 W. Market Street purportedly had a brief run as a live country music venue in 1953 before becoming a full-time house of worship later that year headed by famed local televangelist Ernest Angley. The Liberty Theatre played to its fullest crowds with Angley packing the venue for three years before he moved on to new, larger digs. Rev. Jerry Bacher, a radio evangelist, also used the Liberty Theatre into the 1960’s for his popular sermons. The entire building that had also held a beauty shop, a dry cleaner and a doctor’s office, was later demolished and replaced by an auto dealership.

Contributed by dallasmovietheaters
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