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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Wealthy Theatre

Wealthy Theatre

GRHC - May 8th, 2011

Wealthy Theater was first opened in 1911. It has seen it's share of ups and downs over the last 100 years. This episode of Glance at the Past takes you through it's history of closures, imminent demolition, and its glorious renovation and reopening in 1997.    



When a lady has witnessed a century of happenings there will have been good times, bad times, and enormous changes. That is the story of the Wealthy Theater.

Her birth name in 1911 was the Pastime Vaudette. Her parents were Thomas and Laura Giles who built the theater on Wealthy Ave., as it was called then.

The little theater, unable to keep up with changing times, closed in 1917. When Oscar Varneau took over in 1920 the paper reported, “The Wealthy Theater, remodeled and refurnished with new equipment, will open as a picture house March 20.” Wealthy Theatre became the area's main attraction and even had its own streetcar stop.

Varneau ran the theater until 1973. Then it stood empty for 14 years, and in 1989 the city voted to demolish the building. South East Economic Development, convinced the city to declare Wealthy Theatre an historic landmark, and bought it for $1.

They turned to Peter Wege knowing his belief in restoration. What they didn't know was his connection to the theater. Wege raised $2.2 million, and in 1997, a gleaming Wealthy Theatre opened as a community performing arts center.

The highlight for Wege was having his boyhood friend Gordy Varneau fly in from Las Vegas for the dedication. Gordy was moved when he saw what Wege had done for his parents’ theater. Next time you’re there notice the restored mosaic on the lobby floor that spells VARNEAU.

In 2004, Grand Rapids Community Media Center acquired Wealthy Theatre and re-opened as a multi-format community use venue.



Full Details

TitleWealthy Theatre
KeywordsGlance at the Past, history, radio, Wealthy Theatre, Oscar Varneau, Peter Wege, Southeast Economic Development, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission, Podcast
Pubdate StringMay 8th, 2011

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