171 East Main Street,
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Canton Theatre (Official)
Previously operated by: Martin Theatres
Functions: Performing Arts
Styles: Art Deco
Previous Names: Bonita Theatre, Haven Theatre
For over 90 years, the historic Canton Theatre has been a shining star for entertainment As early as 1911, the theatre was first used to show slides and silent movies in downtown Canton. Later, in the early 1920s, the theatre changed owners and was renamed the Bonita, which held movie showings on Fridays and Saturdays.
During this era, the popularity of the theatre grew rapidly. The theatre was soon renovated, expanded and renamed the Haven. It presented the people of Canton first line shows, including their first talking motion picture, “Singing Fool”, starring famous singing star Al Jolson.
The Haven continued to be a movie house for several more years until the late 1930s, when the theatre was sold to the Martin-Thompson Theatre Company. The newly named Canton Theatre was then remodeled to reflect the Art Deco design so popular during that time. The spectacular new theatre had improvements that were truly unique, such as a steel skeleton for improved stability and safety. The fireproof walls and sprinkler system insured that no fire would last long. New air conditioning and heating systems were installed in the theatre to make it more comfortable for larger audiences than ever before. New restrooms and dressing rooms had a modernistic design. Red and blue uniformed employees at the “Candy Bar” sold candy and popcorn from the new popper while an array of bright neon lights surrounded the theatre, bathing it in colorful beauty. The theatre’s stage was bigger than ever before. The new Canton Theatre was indeed a splendid site at the Grand Opening on September 30, 1940.
The Canton played the best motion pictures that had been produced at the time. It was described as a “thoroughly modern sound and movie palace, with all the comfort, light and cheer that denotes a first class picture theatre housed in the larger cities”.
The theatre continued to show movies for 30 more years, but by the mid 1970s, the popularity of the theatre declined dramatically. It was too out of date for people. They wanted to see movies with the convenience of drive-ins and with many more choices. As a result, the theatre sat idle for many years and subsequently went into disrepair.
In 1994, the theatre was purchased by an individual for restoration. The City of Canton then acquired the property in 1997 and later deeded it to the Downtown Development Authority, in order to secure financing for restoration, which soon began.
The Canton Theatre is now an elegant, grand facility bringing Broadway productions to downtown Canton and the surrounding area for its fourth wonderful season.
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