EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier. Information for the current series on Findlay “live” theaters came from the research of the late Don Smith of Findlay.
By R.L. HEMINGER
The night of Sept. 18, 1893, was an occasion of much significance in the history of the local community. It was the time of the opening and dedication of the new Marvin Theater, which William Marvin had built here. Findlay, then in the midst of its oil and gas boom, had two other theaters, but the Marvin was built on a grander scale.
The house was filled to capacity for the opening. Thomas W. Keene, a Shakespearean actor of distinction, was on hand to star in a presentation of “Richard the Third” as the theater’s initial attraction.
Prior to the play, there was a brief program. Actor Keene spoke briefly, after which David Joy, of Findlay, was heard. Mr. Joy, a former state senator and one of the owners of the famous Joy House, a well known Findlay hotel, praised Mr. Marvin for his construction of the theater.
Mr. Marvin made a few remarks in which he said: “I can play a good game of checkers, but I cannot make a speech. This is the proudest moment of my life.”
An orchestra, directed by Professor Claude Marco, was in the pit. Between acts, Professor Marco played a violin number, accompanied by Mrs. J.J. Jelley.
Three years after the theater’s opening, Mr. Marvin completely redecorated the playhouse and made a number of improvements. Five years later in the spring of 1901, he sold the theater. The buyer was Col. John Moores, who was traveling passenger agent for the Ohio Central lines, later the Penn-Central railroad between Toledo and Columbus through Findlay. Associated with him were several eastern capitalists, identified with theatrical properties in several large cities. The purchase price was $75,000.
The Moores ownership did not continue very long. In April 1902, a little less than a year after Col. Moores had bought the theater from William Marvin, John C. Peters, of Findlay, purchased the playhouse. It was announced that his two sons, Roy and Loren, would help him manage the house.
A month later, in May 1903, Mr. Peters sold the property to Louis H. Cunningham, of Lima, who took possession June 1. The new owner made a number of improvements and in 1904 installed an asbestos curtain. (The Iriquois theater fire in Chicago in which many died prompted such action all over the country.) A motion picture machine also was installed.
In 1906, Mr. Cunningham decided on a policy of vaudeville for the theater. One of the first numbers in September of that year was the Five Columbians, composed of Guy Miller and his family, including little Marilyn Miller, Findlay’s own performers.
An event of importance took place Oct. 12, 1906, when the Republican party held a political rally at the Marvin, with U.S. House Speaker Nicholas Longworth and his wife, the former Alice Roosevelt, here to speak. They were guests of Rep. Ralph D. Cole, of Findlay, then serving in Congress.
In November 1906, another change in policy took effect. Keith vaudeville was discontinued and it was announced that one-night attractions would return.
In the fall of 1907, Mr. Cunningham sold the theater to John W. Stephens, who in turn soon sold it to George G. and Amanda E. Gillett for $50,000. An extensive improvement was carried out by the new owners. In July 1908, the theater again changed hands, Cleveland parties buying the property for $40,000.
During the Gillett ownership, the name of the theater was changed to Gillett, by which it was to be known for the greater part of the next decade. The name was changed back to Marvin in 1916.
Stormy financial days were just ahead for the theater, which was destined for court sale soon.
Next week: The continuing story of the Marvin Theater.