Victoria Theatre marks 20th anniversary of its renaissance

DAYTON — It has endured two fires, flooding, massive renovations and carried many names, but the Victoria Theatre has anchored the corner of First and Main streets since 1866.

The Victoria Theatre Association and Arts Center Foundation, which owns and operates the 1,100-seat theater, observed the 20th anniversary of the landmark’s $17.5 million renovation with an open house on Sunday.

“We could easily be looking at a parking lot right now,” said Ken Neufeld, Victoria and Arts Center Foundation president and CEO, as he unveiled a plaque on the theater’s facade commemorating its designation on the National Register of Historic Places.

Looking on, Maribeth Eiken Graham nodded in agreement. She helped lead a 1975 campaign to save the deteriorating building from demolition.

“There were no Broadway musicals here then. It was down to just midnight movies like ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ ” she said.

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“I wasn’t a native Daytonian. I didn’t go to the theater. But it struck a chord when I was driving to the airport on a business trip and heard on WHIO radio about a drive to raise money to save our last theater,” Graham said. “One man sold his car and turned the money over to us. A group of Girls Scouts were very proud of raising $3. It took everyone’s help.”

The renaissance came in 1990 when the Victoria reopened after an 18-month renovation that sparked momentum for construction of the Schuster Performing Arts Center in 2003. Susan Kettering, whose grandmother Virginia committed money and personal support to the project, shared some personal memories.

Sunday’s “Viva Victoria” celebration also included a ceremony signing the Victoria’s historical materials over to the archives at Wright State University, where they will be available to the public.

Those attending also enjoyed a concert by British organist Paul Roberts, who deployed many of the bells and whistles on the theater’s Mighty Wurlitzer theater organ during a 45-minute concert.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2377.

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