Saturday, April 4, 2009

Main Street Stories: 435 S. Main

It may not stand out from the block today, but for the first forty years of its history, the building at 435 S. Main Street was a theater and entertainment center in downtown Rochester. In October 1913, the Rochester Era announced that James W. Smith, owner of the Hotel St. James at 439 S. Main, had purchased property adjoining his hotel to the south in order to build a new theater. Smith promised that construction would be rushed on the new building which would be "up-to-the-minute in every particular."

True to his promise, Smith opened the New Idle Hour Theatre under the management of Oscar Price in February, 1914. The Era told its readers that the new moving picture house was "of white brick with steel ceiling and sidewalls, concrete floors, asbestos operating booth, perfect ventilation, steam heat, and ... absolutely fireproof." It was described as seating 400 patrons, and boasting an 18-foot stage with a depth of 16 feet, suitable for live performances as well as film screenings. The premiere of the new house offered a live performance by the Rochester Comedy Company, entitled True Irish Hearts.

The following year, Edward J. Cole took over the Idle Hour, and eventually the operation of the theater passed to Charles L. Sterns, who renamed it the Avon Theatre in 1936. The Avon was Rochester's only movie theater until 1942, when Sterns opened the Hills Theatre across the street. The larger Hills became the town's first-run house, and the Avon presented second-run titles and serials.

The Avon Theatre closed in the early 1950s, and the building was sold in 1955 to the owners of Oberg Electric and Appliance. While the Obergs were in the process of remodeling the building in May 1955, the facade of the building peeled off and crashed to the sidewalk when a steel beam across the front of the building collapsed. Nobody was hurt in the mishap, but it brought an abrupt end to the Art Deco face of the building. Oberg Electric occupied the building for about a decade, and it was home to Michigan Chandelier, another electric supplier, until the mid-1980s. A number of retailers have come and gone since then; among the recent ones were the Varsity Shop, the Body Tonic Spa and the current occupant, the Who UR Upscale Resale for a Cause (formerly the Women Helping Others Resale Shop).

The former Idle Hour theater building celebrates its 95th birthday this year.

Photo: This view from of the west side of Main, south of University, shows the Avon Theatre as it looked in the 1940s with its Art Deco facade.

1 comment:

  1. Great article about local Rochester history.