Remembering the Kon-Tiki, Trotwood’s Polynesian-themed movie theater inspired by Hollywood

Many who grew up in the Dayton area remember seeing movies at the Kon-Tiki, a theater known for its distinctive architecture and South Pacific Polynesian-themed décor.

The one-of-a-kind Trotwood theater closed in 1999 and the vacant building at 4100 Salem Ave. was demolished in 2005.

» PHOTOS: Views of the once-beloved Kon-Tiki movie theater in Trotwood

The Kon-Tiki opened on Aug. 23, 1968 with a showing of “The Odd Couple.” The theater was owned by the Samuel Levin family, who later donated the building to the city of Trotwood so the city could redevelop the land.

According to a 2004 Dayton Daily News story, the front of the theater was inspired by Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (now TCL Chinese Theatre) in Hollywood. The sinks in the restrooms were giant conch shells, elaborate mosaic-rounded tile countertops graced the ticket areas and more than 20 illuminated Tiki faces shone from the facade. Accents of volcanic rock and abalone shells were built in the walls. The theater doors weighed 800 pounds and were hand-carved, as were the wooden lighting fixtures.

Credit: Dayton Daily News

Credit: Dayton Daily News

Ryan Levin said his uncle Sam, the owner, “was inspired by the look of the Hollywood set — he wanted to be cutting edge. He had some money and he wanted to be a trendsetter.”

One large screening room was eventually divided into three auditoriums that had seating for a total of 1,650 people.

Credit: Dayton Daily News

Credit: Dayton Daily News

And, for many, it became the place to take a date and watch a movie.

Over the years, it became the Salem Avenue Cinema owned by USA Cinemas, which was later acquired by the Loews chain during the late 1980s. The theater was remodeled with less emphasis on the Polynesian theme.

After the theater was donated to the city of Trotwood, Karen Levin said in a 2005 Dayton Daily News article, “Our biggest hope is that whatever goes there next, it will be a positive contribution to the area.”

During its 2005 demolition, many people stopped to watch. Some of them said they remembered coming to the theater when they were kids.

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

A medical building was constructed on the site in 2007 and it’s currently occupied by Fresenius Kidney Care West Dayton.

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