Unique theaters and once-popular movie theaters are part of Dayton’s history

This theater began as the Gebhart Opera House in 1876 before changing names several times.

In 1889 the building became the Park Theatre. In 1906 it became the Lyric Theatre, and in 1934 it changed its name again to the Mayfair.

ExplorePHOTOS: A look at some of Dayton’s historic theaters and movie theaters

A well-known statue, called the “Goddess of Liberty” or the “Mayfair Lady,” stood atop the building from 1879 until it was removed in 1968 and donated to the Art Institute of Dayton. It was later moved to the Carillon Historical Park.

The building, at 18-26 E. 5th St., was torn down in 1968 to make way for the Convention Center.

RKO State Theater

The RKO State Theater was originally built as a YMCA in 1887.

By May 1908, the building, located at 32 E. Fourth St., became the Auditorium Theater, with two screens, one on the main floor and one on the second floor. The main lower auditorium seats 1,040.

The theater was destroyed by fire in November 1917 and was rebuilt. The theater was said to resemble an ancient castle.

Renamed the State Theater in 1923, it broadcast mostly B movies.

Less than a year later it was renamed the RKO State Theatre. It was remodeled in 1935.

According to a 1999 Dayton Daily News story, RKO State once showed Dracula movies with real bats flying around the auditorium.

The theater closed in 1965 and was demolished in 1970 to make way for what would become part of the Dayton Convention Center and Hotel complex.

The theater of the dwarfs

The Midget Theatre, located at 1021-1025 W. Third St. in the Wright Dunbar business district, was built in the Neoclassical architectural style and opened on September 6, 1913, with a seating capacity of 300.

It was named after Sherman Potterf, who was short in stature and at one time was a traveling artist with Kohl & Middleton’s Dime Museum. He would become the manager of the theater’s grand opening.


The theater was billed as “The Home of Quality Photographic Plays”.

ExploreThe Midget Theater Building was home to one of Dayton’s last nickelodeons.

The Midget Theater closed in 1928, primarily because the Classic and Palace theaters had opened in the neighborhood the year before, making competition more difficult.

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the West Third Street Historic District on January 25, 1989.

the theater of mecca

The Mecca Theater opened at 1217 W. 3rd St. in Dayton on August 26, 1914, seating 500 people.

The theater had a unique look inside and out. Outside, there were two tall towers with the word “Mecca” on each. Inside, the color scheme was green and white, with the first row of seats positioned far back from the screen to provide a better view.

After a good run, showing mostly second-run movies, it closed in 1952 and was later demolished.

Loew’s Theater

Loew’s Dayton Theatre, which opened on May 4, 1918, was the city’s first luxury movie theater. Located at 125 N. Main Street, its capacity was listed as 2,208 seats.

When it first opened, it was called the Dayton Theatre. In 1924 it became Loew’s Dayton and in 1930 the name was shortened to Loew’s. In 1972 it was renamed the Palace Theatre.

It closed in April 1975 and was demolished a few months later. Today the site is used for parking.

the classical theater

The Classic Theater was built at 817 W. 5th St. in Dayton, with a screen in 1927 and a 600-seat capacity.

Movies were shown on the lower level and live entertainment took place in the upstairs ballroom.

The premiere theater was built and operated solely by African Americans. Carl Anderson and Goodrich Giles built the theater in response to racism in other downtown theaters.

A 1927 Dayton Daily News article described it by saying: “The furnishings are of the highest class from the magnificent lobby with the finest marble walls and marble floors with rubber mats; the richly carpeted lobby, through 11 lavishly arranged boxes to the magnificent $17,500 Wurlitzer pipe organ. Everything bright under dim lights makes this a class structure, and a more appropriate name could not have been found than the one it has been christened with.”

The Classic closed in 1959 and was demolished in 1991.

Federation Theater

The Federation Theatre, located at 528 Xenia Ave., opened on November 17, 1926, and was one of four Dayton theaters to have a Page Theater Pipe organ installed.

At the time, it was the largest suburban playhouse in southern Ohio and could “seat 700 in comfort.”

It closed in 1968.

The developers bought the building and converted it into three apartments.

The palace

Credit: book “When Dayton Went to the Movies”

Credit: book “When Dayton Went to the Movies”

The Palace Theater was built in 1927 on West 5th Street in Dayton with a seating capacity of 1,200.

Located in a predominantly black neighborhood, it drew comparisons to the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. Notable artists included Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Dinah Washington.

Live stage performances ended in the early 1950s, but the venue remained a movie theater until 1957.

After lying vacant for decades, the Palace was demolished in 2002.

Da-Bel Cinema

On April 22, 1947, Mid-States Theaters Inc. opened the Da-Bel Cinema at 1920 S. Smithville Road. It had a capacity of 950 seats, all on one floor.

A contest was held to choose a name for the theater. The winner was “Da-Bel”, a combination of Dayton and Belmont, the neighborhood where the theater was located.

In 1963, the Da-Bel was converted to show Cinerama films and became known as the Cinerama DABEL or Da-Bel Theater. The transition involved the installation of a wide curved screen.

A 1963 Dayton Daily News advertisement for the DABEL prior to its reopening after renovations described it as: “From ultra-modern plush seating to thick carpeting, from the utmost in beauty and comfort to the most advanced designs in screen, sound and projection equipment, the new Cinerama DABEL has no equal. No expense has been spared in making this opening an exciting and memorable theater experience.”

The theater closed on September 29, 1992, and was demolished in October of that same year.

Kon Tiki Theater

Credit: Dayton Daily News

Credit: Dayton Daily News

The Kon-Tiki Theater opened in 1968. The building, located on Salem Avenue in Trotwood, had three auditoriums within the building that could seat 1,650 people.

The Kon-Tiki used to be one of the most unique theaters in Dayton due to its island theme. And, for many, it was the place to go on a date and watch a movie.

The building was demolished in 2005 to make way for a refurbishment.

Huber Heights Cinema, The Flicker Palace, Palace of Cinema

The theater, located at 5589 Old Troy Pike in Huber Heights, opened as the Jerry Lewis Cinema in 1972. It later became the Huber Heights Cinema in 1974 before ending as Flicker Palace in 1978.

Plans to expand the theater to three screens fell through in 1995 when DanBarry Cinemas opened a 12-screen theater nearby. Rather than expand, Flicker Palace was closed.

In 1996 it was reopened as the Movie Palace and remained in operation until it closed for good in 2001.

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