Would you like to learn about a building that officially brought two villages together to become one city?
In this installment of our ongoing series The Buildings of Dayton, we share the story of the Fairborn Theatre, located at 34 S. Broad St. in downtown Fairborn near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
HOW IT GOT STARTED
Phil Chakeres (1885-1971) — a native of Tripoli, Greece who immigrated to America in 1900 at the age of 15 — founded the Chakeres Amusement Company (now Chakeres Theatres, Inc.) in 1911. It started with the 150 seat Princess Theatre in Springfield, Ohio.
Shortly after the end of World War ll, Chakeres enlisted architects Lloyd Zeller and Herman Hunter of Springfield, Ohio to design a new movie theater that would serve the neighboring villages of Fairfield and Osborn as part of the theater chain's post-war expansion plans.
THE STORY BEHIND THE NAME
Zeller and Hunter applied the Art Moderne architectural style, a continuation of Art Deco, to their design. After breaking ground in fall 1945, the C.W. Fry Construction Co. of Greenville, Ohio built the theater in just over two years. Chakeres was confident enough that the villages of Fairfield and Osborn would eventually merge that he dubbed his cinema the Fairborn Theatre, a combination of the two villages names. This was the first business in town to use the name Fairborn. (And when the cities did officially merge, guess where that milestone was celebrated?)
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THE FIRST FILM
Dedication of the 1,000-seat theater was held on January 27, 1948 with a showing of "Where There's Life," starring Bob Hope, Signe Hasso & William Bendix.
Movie-goers entered a circular lobby with an ornate chandelier as its centerpiece. Showcased just beyond the lobby doors before entering the cinema, a mural painted by Vincent V. Chalmers — a landscape artist from Detroit — featured WWII era airplanes flying above a pastoral scene with an Airman and Airwoman from the Army Air Corps and Women's Army Corps looking on.
On the exterior, a lighted sign with the name FAIRBORN stood on a 48-foot tower to greet anyone entering the city on Broad Street.
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In 1973, the theater was converted into a "twin cinema" with two screens showing movies and was subsequently renamed "Fairborn Twin Cinemas."
After the last showing of "Three to Tango" and "Runaway Bride" in January 2000, the Fairborn Theatre officially closed its doors.
The Chakeres Family donated the building to the Fairborn Performing Arts and Cultural Association (FPACA) in April 2002.
The Fairborn Theatre left an immediate and lasting impression on Chad Wells of Dayton.
"My first memory of seeing a film at the Fairborn Theatre was around 1978 or '79. It was the premiere of the movie 'Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.' My uncle had free passes and we got lost on the way to the theater, arriving about 10 minutes after the movie had already started. I remember the lights on the front of the building were so intense and bright that I felt like I was in a movie walking up the red carpet to some old Hollywood premiere. The theater was beautiful, lavish and one of a kind. The detail and decor made an impression on my young mind that what I was experiencing was of some importance — much different than the Cineplex's that would become the standard that we still know today and were starting to crowd our local shopping malls. The Fairborn Theatre, like the Kon-Tiki on Salem Avenue and so many other previous cinema landmarks, was one of the last theaters of its kind in our area that made the movie-going experience one to remember and cherish," said Wells.
A HISTORIC ACCOMPLISHMENT
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 27, 2005. There are only two other properties in Fairborn listed on the register: the Mercer Log House (built 1799, added to NRHP on October 16, 1981) and the Bath Township Consolidated School, now known as the Fairborn Senior Apartments (built 1924, added to NRHP on Sept. 22, 1983).
The FPACA made efforts over a 10-year period with mostly volunteers and a sparse budget to restore the theater into a community performing arts center. Projects included: asbestos abatement, roof maintenance and removal of the middle wall from its twin cinema days to bring back the original one-room theater.
However, the FPACA was unable to raise enough capital to see the restoration project to its fruition.
THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE
Before the Fairborn Development Corporation (the City of Fairborn government's economic development department) took control of the property on March 14, 2016, most of the theater's contents and furnishings were removed by the FPACA.
This included the mural from the theater's lobby that was moved to the Fairborn Senior Center after an extensive restoration.
Will the lights on this historic theater's marquee shine brightly again?
"As a city, we are seeking and building relationships aimed at activating the Fairborn Historic Theatre as a usable space in our community. We hope to facilitate projects that will aid in the revitalization of our historic landmark,” said Fairborn's City Manager Rob Anderson.
Do you have memories of the Fairborn Theatre? Share them on our Facebook post below: