- Tom Gilliam
Did you know a Dayton area movie theater’s success has helped revive its downtown business district?
This week on The Buildings of Dayton, I'm going to tell you about the historic Plaza Theatre, located at 33 S. Main St. in downtown Miamisburg.
In 1832, the first Miamisburg elections were held in a saloon that happened to be the future site of the Plaza Theatre (the existing stone cellar dates back to the early 19th century). Built by the Weaver Brothers, The Plaza Theatre opened on Christmas Day 1919 to much fanfare during the silent era of film. (Movies were not produced with sound until 1927.) The cost of seeing a movie in 1919 was a mere 22 cents compared to today's average movie ticket price of $8.65, according to Box Office Mojo.
The original seating capacity was 700 seats. Moviegoers were treated to the sounds of a Wurlitzer organ (the largest, state-of-the-art organ in southwest Ohio at the time), clear projection and new movies.
In 1968, the Plaza Theatre closed its doors as a movie house due to its main competition, television, as well as other economic factors. The building wasn't vacant for long.
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Bill and Dorla Sorrell moved their business "The Western Shop" from 1 S. Main St. to the building on November 1, 1969. The shop was renamed Sor-rell's, which became one of the most successful western retail stores in America.
Dayton-area auctioneer Doug Sorrell, a Miamisburg native and board member of the Plaza Theatre association, worked for the family business.
"When the building was being used as Sor-rell's, we had a steady stream of celebrity customers, mostly to view the saddlery or to buy a Stetson and have it steamed to their specs with their name gold embossed into the inside leather hat band," Sorrell said.
Sor-rell's was sold in 1994 to another owner, and the business closed in 2002. The building sat vacant until 2015, when the Plaza Theatre Association, with the help of Downtown Miamisburg Inc., began a $350,000 renovation project on the theater after a year of successful fundraising efforts. Features of the finished theater include 285 seats, a single, 34-foot screen, digital projection equipment, a state-of-the-art sound system and a concession area. All movies cost just $5 per person.
The restored Plaza Theatre re-opened on Christmas Day 2015 with the movie "Field of Dreams," which also happened to be the 96th anniversary of its first showing. Guests who turn around and look up after they enter the lobby will see a full-sized fiberglass horse named "Pinkie” who previously stood atop the marquee as an advertising symbol during Sor-rell's time in business. Bill and Dorla Sorrell named him Pinkie in honor of Bill's Palomino in the Antioch Shrine Mounted Patrol.
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Emily von Stuckrad-Smolinski, executive director of the Plaza Theatre, recently spoke with me about the theater's future plans.
"We are seeking funds to update and add to our lighting and sound packages as well as starting to book live music and shows. This month, we are showing The Wizard of Oz & The Wizard of Oz Sing-A-Long, Hidden Figures, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (a fundraiser for the Plaza Theatre) and Lion. In March, we began to play first-run movies such as Loving, Manchester by the Sea and La La Land. Thus far, they have had great turnouts and we hope to continue to find a new audience with different booking avenues expanding our horizons beyond just film."
The theater is an important key to the continued revitalization of the downtown Miamisburg business district.
"The community of Miamisburg has been incredibly supportive of the theater. The restaurants see a boost in business before and after movies and events. The theater was one more piece to the puzzle in rebuilding Miamisburg," she said.
"The most successful event as far as the theater is concerned was the weekend of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, believe it or not."
Find out about future movie showings and events by visiting myplazatheatre.com or at 937-247-5980.
Special thanks to Emily von Stuckrad-Smolinski & Doug Sorrell from The Historic Plaza Theatre for providing historical information and additional resources for this article.