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Grand Rapids in 1856

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"Help Save the Wealthy theatre"

Heritage Herald Nov./Dec. 1989, Vol. XV, No. 6, p. 9.

Built as a part of the Giles Block in 1911 by Laura and Thomas Giles, the theater opened as the Wealthy Vaudette; was renamed the Pastime Vaudette according to the 1911 city directory; became simply the Pastime in the directories from 1912 through 1918; did not appear in the directories for either 1917 or 1919; and finally was named the Wealthy in the 1920 directory. Except for two years during World War I (perhaps leading to its exclusion from the aforesaid directories), it operated continuously until 1973. In 62 years, it outlasted competition from other neighborhood theaters and was known city-wide in the 1960's as the place to see art films. (Allen Johnson was the manager at that time.) A beautiful structure, with massive bow-string wood trusses, brick and masonry walls, a sloped oak floor, decorative dome ceiling, plaster wall arches, curtained stage, perfect acoustics, seating for 580. South East Economic Development, Inc., (SEED) spearheading effort to save the building. "Wealthy theatre's Next Role May Be As a Cultural Center," GRP 12/04/89 B1-2. Open house at theater 12/08/89 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. “With Restoration in Full Swing, Wealthy theatre Is Reborn,” Northfield Advance, 09/16/98 12. By summer of 1998, total estimated cost of renovation was $1.9 million, most of which had already been raised. (Old # 944-48, or 946.)

“Putting Grand Rapids on the Ether Waves”

G.R. Herald, Sunday, October 5, 1924, p. 7:

A story on Grand Rapids' new East End radio station, WEBK, notes, “The studio from which the popular entertainments will be broadcast has been placed in the Wealthy st. theater, owned and operated by Oscar E. Varneau. This studio is complete in every detail and will make it possible for the entertainers to have their songs broadcast in a manner which will insure the hearers splendid programs. . .

“This program will start every Wednesday night at 10:30 o'clock and no signing off time is being announced in order that available talent will not have to be hurried through, but will have all the time necessary to go through with their entire program.

“From this studio, as in the case of the other (at Trinity Methodist Church in Lake Drive), wires have been strung to the broadcasting station (at 211 Diamond S.E., headquarters of the Grand Rapids Radio Co.) where the actual transmission by air will be started. . .

“One of the features of the program on Wednesday evenings will be the short organ recital on the $15,000 organ in the Wealthy st. theater. All of the organists of the city will be asked at various times during the winter to give a recital, and in this way people will have an opportunity to hear all the talent in the city.”

The story included a photo group, which included a photo of Oscar E. Varneau at the Wealthy Theater's organ console.

“Wealthy Theater in New Welcome”

G.R. Press, Saturday, February 7, 1931, p. 11:

Popular Film House Completely Transformed in Beauty and Comfort. Will Offer Talkies.

From floor to ceiling and generally all around the Wealthy Street theater, Oscar E. Varneau, proprietor, is brand new and will re-open Saturday evening presenting Charles Farrell in the talking picture, “The Princess and the Plumber.”

The theater was closed temporarily while these extensive alterations, costing more than $25,000, were being made.

The general scheme of improvement includes a lobby in Spanish patio style. The same style idea has been observed in the interior of the theater. The walls are in light tones and have alternating decorative designs. The hardwood flooring supports new style seats and the lighting includes side lights and ceiling domes, the latter showing changing colors. The domes use a total of about 500 electric light bulbs.

New Sound Devices.

Besides these new features and the new fixtures and drapes, the theater has a new and improved screen and new sound devices for the presentation of talking pictures. All in all the theater has been thoroughly equipped with new accessories and virtually has been rebuilt.

Mr. Varneau stated that as far as possible contracts for the work of rebuilding the theater had been let in Grand Rapids. Peter Ebels had the general contract. Hesse's, Inc., provided the rugs and the draperies. The Consolidated Tile & Fireplace Co. provided the tiling used in th new theater. Antoine Reim & Co. furnished the fixtures and the Grand Rapids Steel Furniture Co. the new seats. Lumber came from the Spears Lumber Co. The Spanish style furniture for the theater was obtained from Lamber's and the new style heating and ventilating system came from the Heating Equipment Co. The electrical work was done by Haven's while Peter Silje looked after the ornamental plastering, which is one of the features of the theater. The American Sign corporation furnished the neon sign designating the theater.

Plans for Good Shows.

Mr. Varneau said that the opening picture was selected after many releases had been considered and that he is arranging for especially good bookings during the season now that he has his theater completely transformed.


At the bottom of p. 11 were the following notices announcing the opening of the new Wealthy Theater:

  • We take great pleasure in announcing the completion of one of Grand Rapids foremost suburban theaters. During the past four months we have completely rebuilt, redecorated and re-equipped this theater for your entertainment and comfort.
  • The new Wealthy Theater. Designed, entirely rebuilt, and redecorated by Peter Ebels, 616 Sherman St., S.E.
  • Neon Sign on the new Wealthy Theater designed by Perry C. Burnham. Manufactured by American Signs Corp., 250 Pearl St.
  • Ornamental plastering by Peter Sillje & Co., plastering contractor.
  • Tile floor in lobby by Consolidated Tile & Fireplace Co., contractors and jobbers. Tiles--mantles--marbles. 410 Ethel Ave., S.E.
  • The lumber and millwork for the new Wealthy Theater was furnished by this organization. Spears Lumber Company.
  • Heating and ventilating. Piatt oil burning furnace. Heat Equipment Corporation, 7 Fountain St.
  • Fixtures by Anton Reim & Company. High grade lighting equipment and fireplace furnishings. 20 Fountain St., N.W.
  • Dutch Kraft Paints used throughout in redecorating the new Wealthy Theater. Grand Rapids Paint & Enamel Co., 565 Godfrey S.W., manufacturers of paints--varnishes--lacquers--enamels.
  • The beautiful furniture in the lobby was furnished by L. Lamberts & Son, 738 Wealthy St., S.E.
  • More and more the choice of up-to-date theater owners. Theater chairs furnished Wealthy Theater by Steel Furniture Company, 1480 Buchanan S.W.
  • Decorations--draperies--floor coverings in the new Wealthy Theater by Hesse, 80 Ionia Ave.

Oscar E. Varneau (1888-1948) married Lillian M. Poisson (1890-1969). They are buried at Rosedale Memorial Park, Section C.

Full Details

Address1130 Wealthy ST SE 49506
CreatorFather Dennis Morrow
Also Known AsPastime, Pastime Vaudette, Wealthy Vaudette
Locationlocation on map

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