Unique theaters and once-popular movie houses part of Dayton’s history

Over the years, Dayton has had several unique and interesting theaters. Many of them have been torn down or repurposed for other use.

Here’s a look at some of Dayton’s theaters and movie houses that no longer exist.


Gebhart’s Opera House, Park Theatre, Lyric Theatre, The Mayfair

This theater started as Gebhart’s Opera House in 1876 before changing names several times.

In 1889, the building became Park Theatre. In 1906 it became the Lyric Theatre and in 1934 it changed names once again and was known as the Mayfair.

ExplorePHOTOS: A look at some of Dayton's historic theaters and movie houses

A well-known statue, called the “Goddess of Liberty” or the “Mayfair Lady,” stood atop the building from 1879 until it was removed in 1968 and donated to the Dayton Art Institute. It was later moved to Carillon Historical Park.

The building, at 18-26 E. 5th St., was razed in 1968 to make way for the Convention Center.


RKO State Theatre

The RKO State Theatre was originally built as a YMCA in 1887.

By May 1908, the building, located at 32 E. Fourth St., became the Auditorium Theatre, with two screens, one on the main floor and one the second floor. The main lower auditorium seated 1,040.

The theater was destroyed by fire in November 1917 and was rebuilt. The theater was said to resemble an old castle.

Renamed the State Theatre in 1923, it primarily ran B movies.

Less than a year later it was renamed RKO State Theatre. It was remodeled in 1935.

According to a Dayton Daily News story from 1999, the RKO State once showed Dracula movies with real bats flying around the auditorium.

The theater closed in 1965 and was demolished in 1970 to make way for what would become part of the Dayton Convention Center and Hotel complex.


The Midget Theatre

The Midget Theatre, located at 1021-1025 W. Third St. in the Wright Dunbar Business District, was built in the Neoclassical Revival architectural style, opening on Sept. 6, 1913, with a seating capacity of 300.

It was named after Sherman Potterf, who was of short stature and at one time a touring performer with the Kohl & Middleton’s Dime Museum. He would become the manager upon the theater’s grand opening.

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The theater was billed as “The Home of Quality Photo Plays.”

ExploreThe Midget Theatre Building was home to one of Dayton’s last nickelodeons

The Midget Theatre closed its doors in 1928, mainly because the Classic and Palace theaters had opened for business in the neighborhood the year before, making the competition tougher.

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the West Third Street Historic District on Jan. 25, 1989.


The Mecca Theatre

The Mecca theater opened on 1217 W. 3rd St. in Dayton on Aug. 26, 1914, with a seating capacity of 500.

The theater had a unique look inside and out. On the exterior, there were two tall towers with the word “Mecca” on each. Inside, the color scheme was green and white, with the first row of seats sitting far back from the screen to give a better view.

After a good run, showing mostly second-run movies, it closed in 1952 and was later demolished.


Loew’s Theater

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

The Loew’s Dayton Theater, which opened May 4, 1918, was the first deluxe motion picture house in the city. Located at 125 N. Main Street, its capacity was listed at 2,208 seats.

When it first opened it was called the Dayton Theater. In 1924 it became Loew’s Dayton and in 1930 the name was shortened to Loew’s. In 1972 it was renamed the Palace Theatre.

It closed in April 1975 and was demolished a few months later. Today the site is used for parking.


The Classic Theater

The Classic Theater was built at 817 W. 5th St. in Dayton, with one screen in 1927 and a seating capacity of 600.

Movies were shown on the lower level and live entertainment took place in the ballroom upstairs.

The first-run theater was built and operated solely by African-Americans. Carl Anderson and Goodrich Giles built the theater in response to racism at other downtown theaters.

A 1927 Dayton Daily News article described it, saying, “The furnishings are of the highest class from the magnificent lobby with the finest of marble walls and marble floors with rubber mats; the elegantly carpeted foyer, passing 11 splendidly arranged boxes on down to the magnificent $17,500 Wurlitzer pipe organ. All brilliant under subdued lights makes this a structure of class, and a more fitting name could not have been found than that with which it has been christened.”

The Classic closed down in 1959 and was demolished in 1991.


Federation Theatre

The Federation Theatre, located at 528 Xenia Ave., opened on Nov. 17, 1926, and was one of four Dayton theaters that had a Page Theater Pipe organ installed in it.

At the time, it was the largest suburban play house in southern Ohio and could “seat 700 with comfort.”

It closed in 1968.

Developers bought the building and it was turned it into three apartments.

The theater is now owned by New Hope Church which is in the process of renovating the building.


The Palace

Credit: book "When Dayton went to the Movies"

Credit: book "When Dayton went to the Movies"

The Palace Theater was built in 1927 on West 5th Street in Dayton with a seating capacity of 1,200.

Located in a predominately black neighborhood, it was compared to the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, N.Y. Notable performers included Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and Dinah Washington.

Live stage performances ended in the early 1950s, but the venue remained a movie theater until 1957.

After standing vacant for decades, the Palace was demolished in 2002.


Da-Bel Cinema

On April 22, 1947, Mid-States Theaters Inc. opened the Da-Bel Cinema at 1920 S. Smithville Road. It had a seating capacity of 950, all on a single floor.

A contest was held to pick a name for the theater. The winner was “Da-Bel,” a combination of Dayton and Belmont, the neighborhood where the theater was located.

In 1963, the Da-Bel was converted to show Cinerama films and became known as Cinerama DABEL or Da-Bel Theater. The transition involved the installation of a wide, curved screen.

A Dayton Daily News advertisement in 1963 for the DABEL before re-opening after renovations described it as, “From the ultra modern plush seats to the thick carpeting, from the utmost in beauty and comfort to the most advanced designs in the screen, sound and projection equipment, the new Cinerama DABEL ha no peer. No expense has been spared to make this opening an exciting and memorable experience in theater going.”

The theater closed on Sept. 29, 1992 and was demolished in October of that same year.


Kon-Tiki Theatre

Credit: Dayton Daily News

Credit: Dayton Daily News

The Kon-Tiki Theatre opened in 1968. The building, located on Salem Avenue in Trotwood, had three auditoriums inside the building that seated 1,650 people.

The Kon-Tiki used to be one of the most unique theaters in Dayton because of its island theme. And, for many, it was the place to take a date and watch a movie.

The building was demolished in 2005 to make way for redevelopment.


Huber Heights Cinema, The Flicker Palace, Movie Palace

The theater, located at 5589 Old Troy Pike in Huber Heights, opened as a Jerry Lewis Cinema in 1972. Later, it became Huber Heights Cinema in 1974 before ending up as the Flicker Palace in 1978.

Plans to expand the theater to three screens fell through in 1995 when DanBarry Cinemas opened a 12-screen theater close by. Instead of expanding, the Flicker Palace was closed.

In 1996 it was reopened as Movie Palace and remained in business until it closed for good in 2001.

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