Victoria Theatre (Dayton, Ohio)
Front view of the Victoria Theatre
138 North Main Street|
|Type||Performing arts center|
January 1, 1866
Victory Theater Building
|NRHP reference #||72001037|
|Added to NRHP||June 22, 1972|
The Victoria, one of the oldest continually operated theaters on the continent, was opened to the public as the Turner Opera House on New Year's Day, 1866, at a cost of $225,000. Its initial offering was the James Sheridan Knowles drama "Virginius, starring Edwin Forrest – a play strongly associated with the famous actor. According to press clippings of that era, the theater was referred to as "the best [sic] theater west of Philadelphia". General admission was $1. The best seats in the house were between $10 and $12. The theater's presence in Dayton even inspired the publishing of a musical march by Edward Spoth entitled "Turner's Opera House March".
Arson was suspected of having caused an all-consuming fire May 16, 1869, which destroyed the theater at a loss of $500,000, of which insurance covered only $128,000.
In 1871, the edifice was re-opened – its rebuilding based, in part, on a portion of the surviving facade, although built to three stories instead of six. The opera house resumed operations as "The Music Hall". It in 1885 it became "The Grand Opera House". On September 18, 1899, it became the "Victoria Opera House", and in 1903, it became the Victoria Theatre, two years after the death of Queen Victoria of England.
Damage again befell The Victoria during the catastrophic Great Dayton Flood of 1913 which severely damaged the Dayton region along with the ground floor of the theater. The theater's interior was rebuilt and remodeled. But on January 16, 1918, fire struck again and gutted portions of the building. Reconstruction was delayed due to material shortages during World War I. Thus, after Armistice, The Victoria saw extensive interior remodeling and in 1919 re-opened as "The Victory Theatre" – a name commemorating the American war effort and its result. For decades, the theater thrived as a major national embarkation point for traveling theater and stock companies. This included performances by Al Jolson, The Marx Brothers, Helen Hayes, Fannie Brice, George M. Cohan, Lynn Fontayne, Gertrude Lawrence, Alfred Lunt, Harry Houdini, and many other names.
In 1930, the Victory Theatre was outfitted for talking pictures, in its effort to continue as a full-service cinema house.
By the late 1960s, Dayton's changing business patterns Downtown and the proliferation of freeways and suburban shopping malls threatened the Victory Theater's existence, and in 1975 it was slated for demolition, in favor of a proposed parking lot. A public outcry for the theater's preservation that year helped to earn the building its listing in the National Register of Historic Places and, thus, it escaped demolition. However, portions of the building were in poor or fading condition. All the while, it continued to be visited extensively by traveling theater companies. Twyla Tharp - the famed choreographer - used the Victory as a try-out venue for various productions before taking the material to the East Coast. A popular vintage film series drew patrons during the summertime and featured pipe organ house music and silent film accompaniment, thanks to the acquisition of an NCR-donated Estey pipe organ.
The theatre had a network of access tunnels stretching out beneath the city's streets for several blocks. It was said that, during Vaudeville times, the tunnels allowed circus animals to be unloaded from railroad cars blocks away from the theatre, and held underground until showtime. As late as 1979, much of the tunnel network was accessible to employees, although some sections were blocked off by city steam pipes. The stage also bore remnants of its original gas footlights.
Throughout the 1970s, the theater was operated as "The Victory Theater". It staged legitimate theatrical shows, rock concerts and movies. The theatre was also home to the nationally-known Dayton Ballet Company. A mainstay through the period was its screening of "Midnight Movies", offered by a local independent producer, on Friday and Saturday nights that drew a, largely, teen audience for films with counter-cultural themes.
During revitalization efforts in the late 1970s, the stage manager, Gary Kuzkin, overhauled much of the stage's technical capabilities. Crews from the Stagehands Union (IATSE) local restored much of the theatre's ancient hemp-and-sandbag fly galley, replacing several hundred thousand feet of rope—along with miles of electrical wiring.
In 1978, the theatre was greatly benefited by the donation of a cache of equipment and stage draperies from National Cash Register's (NCR) auditorium, which had been slated for demolition. NCR also donated its historic five-rank Estay pipe organ to the Victory, which was renovated and installed by aficionados.
The 1989 rebuilding of the theater was extensive. It involved razing the interior commercial space within the forward, Main Street-facing section of the building as well as the stage house, while carefully preserving and restoring the 1866–71 facade and the 1919 auditorium. At the same time, the interior auditorium portion of the structure was completely renovated. All of the commercial space at street level was reclaimed for a grand, new lobby. The result was an extensively-new Victoria Theatre (as it was now so re-named) designed expressly for the performing arts. The auditorium retained its original appearance with completely restored plaster work, drapery, marble work, gilding, and fresco detailing. Additionally, the house received state-of-the-art upgrading to its wiring, lighting, and sound systems and now accommodated infrared sound transmitters for headphone use.
The current theater accommodates 1,154, with 635 seats in the orchestra, and 519 in the balcony. The proscenium measures 37'7" wide by 29'0" high by 39'3" deep. A full-sized orchestra pit lies just below the stage lip. Ten dressing rooms, accommodating up to 18 people, are off-stage left, in the basement and at stage level.
In 2003, the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, under the operation of The Victoria Theatre Association, opened as another venue to house the Associations larger Broadway productions as well as large acts. The Dayton Philharmoinc, the Dayton Opera, and the Dayton Ballet also rent the building for their performances. These two venues along with the Metropolitan Arts Center, which is a renovated former department store building next to the Victoria Theatre, are able to hold a variety of performances of any size and is the heart of the performing arts district in Downtown Dayton.
The Victoria Theatre Association is the company which owns and operates both the Victoria Theatre and the Schuster Center. Both buildings are used for different series throughout the theatre season. In addition to the Premier Health Broadway Series (featuring Broadway musicals and productions), Victoria Theatre Association also presents the Morris Family Series (for families with children ages 4–12), the Cool Films series (classic movies run in the Victoria Theatre during the summer months), Projects Unlimited Star Attractions (any one or two night shows), and the Frank M. Tait Discovery Series, which features curriculum-enhanced live theatre productions for school children.
- "NPS Focus". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
- Walters, Jeanne D. "Transition Again" Dayton: Dayton USA Magazine, October 1976: 32
- Zumwald, Teresa "For the Love of Dayton" Dayton: Dayton Daily News, 1996: 56
- Zumwald, Teresa "For the Love of Dayton" Dayton: Dayton Daily News, 1996: 58
- Dalton, Curt "When Dayton Went to the Movies" Dayton: Curt Dalton, 1999: 75
- Victoria Theatre Collection (MS-021). Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio.
- Victory Theatre Records (SC-14). University of Dayton Archives, Dayton, Ohio. "View online finding aid". Retrieved August 29, 2012.
- Victoria Theatre Collection (MS-360). Wright State University Special Collections and Archives, Dayton, Ohio. "View online finding aid" (PDF). Retrieved August 29, 2012.
- Save the Victoria Theatre Association Records (SC-65). Wright State University Special Collections and Archives, Dayton, Ohio. "View online finding aid" (PDF). Retrieved August 29, 2012.