The Kent Opera House

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Opera House
The Odd Fellows Building and Opera House was built during the summer of 1889, by the Odd Fellows Building Company, incorporated for $20,000. Shares in the company sold for $10. Officers were: George L. Stauffer, president; Mark H. Davis, secretary; M. G. Garrison, treasurer. The work was started May 20 and on November 4 the Opera House was opened with Harry Lindley in "The Stowaways," the seats selling for 25, 35 and 50 cents. The opening night crowd was discouragingly small; a packed house had been expected, but not even the orchestra circle was comfortably filled. In future years, various owners of the Opera House became accustomed to small crowds ­none of the owners made much money while several lost heavily. The I.O.O.F. lodge rooms were dedicated with elaborate ceremonies Friday and Saturday, April 24 and 25, 1890.

Another big "improvement" came in 1906-the first moving pictures. On Monday, November 5, 1906, the Liberty Moving Picture Company, with "a mighty array of pictures," gave a show in the Opera House. In advertising the show, the company stated: "These pictures cover every phase of human interest, touching all that is interesting in the realm of science, poetry, literature, art, drama, current events, sport, travel, magic, vaudeville and fantasy, and being at once interesting as well as educational and amusing, with smiles and tears intermingled, thrills of surprise, and feeding every emotion of the mind. The pictures are void of that annoying flicker ordinarily seen in moving picture entertainments and so tiring to the eye. Relief is afforded by the interpolation of high-grade songs which are illustrated." The motion pictures became so popular that, within a year, three theatres were opened in Kent-the Bijou, Electric, and the Grand.
Karl H. Grismer – The History of Kent

As entertainment tastes changed, fewer travel­ing shows made the trip to Kent. In 1912, the opera house was purchased by M.E. Hanley of Canton, who brought in vaudeville acts as well as motion pictures. The piano gave way to a pipe organ.
The building changed hands a number of times from 1913 until 1921, when it was purchased by John Palfi, who was destined to be its final owner.
The opera house was barely 30 years old but already had seen better days. Palfi remodeled the in­terior and installed sound equipment in 1929 as silent films were replaced by "talkies." The De­pression hastened its decline and Palfi shuttered the building in 1936.

It reopened for its final run in 1940, when the Schine Theater chain, which also owned the Kent Theater, reopened it as a movie house. Films were shown there until the early 1950s, when the opera house closed for the last time.
Boarded up and decaying, the structure that once was the pride of Kent became a downtown eyesore and pigeon roost. Unlike other landmarks which ultimately were renovated and restored, the opera house was doomed to the wrecking ball. By the time it was razed in July 1963, few mourned its demise.
Nothing remains of "the handsomest building in town," which rose and fell in less than 75 years. The lot where this once grand building stood is now a bank drive up facility.
Roger DiPaoloPortage Pathways, The Record Courier – 02/06/2000

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