Majestic History

Opening Night
 
On the evening of July 29th, 1907, C.A. Day, president and chief stockholder of the Majestic Theatre Company, opened an ultra-modern theatre devoted to “high-class family vaudeville” to a capacity crowd of 1,000 in Streator, IL.

The opening night lineup consisted of six parts: mandolinist L.A. Loar; Streator native Hazel Neely, who sang with “an operatic voice of a very pleasing quality” (according to the Streator Daily Free Press); Temple and Clark, a male-female duo of comedy singers and dancers; Imperial quartello (joined by Neely for a number); a monologue by Edward Warren; and Zazell and Vernon Co., which presented the comedy pantomime “The Elopement,” which involved acrobatics.

The next day, the newspaper described the new Majestic Theatre as “a pretty theatre with boxes on either side of the stage and electric lights”. It continued its description by saying it had “enough electric fans overhead and along the walls to keep the audience cool and comfortable, ushers in full uniform, an asbestos curtain (complying with the strictest fire ordinances of the time) and ice water passed free between acts.”
 

Early photo of the curtain (with ads), stage and orchestra pit
 

Marriage in the Lion’s Den
 
The Majestic hosted more than musical, comedy and vaudeville acts during its early days.  An August 5th, 1907, story in the Streator Daily Free Press told of Majestic manager F.H. Cox's desire to find a couple to marry onstage in a den of African lions. The story concluded with the following quote, essentially daring someone to take Cox up on his offer.

“It requires some nerve to get married and agree to support a woman for life. Where is there a man in Streator or vicinity who will agree to do this with a half dozen lions glaring at him?”

On Saturday, August 17th, 1907, Ernest Payne and Katie Thomas were married in a lion cage in front of more than 1,000 guests at the Majestic. The Reverend E.A. Cantrell, minister of the Church of Good Will, officiated and delivered a 10-minute sermon about “marriage in the lions’ den”.

Inside the cage, the trained lions were not more than a dozen feet away from the couple. The couple stood at the back of the cage facing the audience, and the minister faced the bride and groom. Senor Cardona, a French lion tamer armed with a whip, stood between the lions and the others. The minister invoked God’s blessing on the couple, then on the lions. After the ceremony, the lions were paraded up and down the aisles among the theatre patrons.

 

 
  From Vaudeville to Movies
 
C.A. Day, an astute businessman, built his theatre primarily for presenting motion pictures.  He realized that this new medium would soon shape the entertainment market and make it available to the masses at reasonable prices. And he knew that the days of vaudeville and opera houses were numbered. However, before eventually transitioning into a full-time movie house, the Majestic hosted performances by several well-known stars, such as Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Ed Wynn, Eddie Cantor, Sophie Tucker and Eva Tanguay.
Day was fortunate in attracting a large clientele to his theatre and it became a very popular source of entertainment. He presented not only vaudeville, but played long seasons of “stock” drama, alternating with motion pictures. Because of its large capacity, which was frequently tested, the theatre was able to maintain its reasonable ticket prices.

During these early days of film, single and two-reel silent comedies, melodramas and westerns were accompanied by a single pianist, who, in early productions, played whatever music seemed appropriate. The price of a ticket was 5 cents.

Day continued to present the occasional vaudeville show and local entertainment, but the theatre quickly captured the public’s interest with movies. A movie was actually produced on the stage of the Majestic , over a period of several weeks, using local youths who aspired to become Hollywood stars.
 
Rebuilt in 1921
 
The Majestic was closed for about three months in 1921 – the theatre was gutted and rebuilt at a cost of $80,000. The current façade, which includes 2,100 light bulbs, was built at that time.

On April 15th, 1922, at the height of its popularity as a movie palace, the Majestic was purchased from C.A. Day by Roger Williams.

For the next few years, serials became the rage in the movie business, attracting the young and establishing a movie addiction among the public. Lyle Kennedy, former Times-Press city editor, said “I remember the Friday and Saturday serials. It cost 10 cents pus 1 cent war tax to get into the shows. Tom Mix was my favorite”. Then, in 1927, the Majestic closed.

The theatre finally reopened on Saturday, May 9th, 1936, under the direction of William Heasman, resident manager for Publix Theatres, Inc. It opened with the film ‘Too Many Parents’, starring Frances Farmer. The new theatre boasted “the finest sound reproducing system money could buy,” the RCA Photophone High Fidelity Wide Range Sound System.
 

The Majestic circa 1936
 

Closed Again
 
The Majestic continued to show first-run movie fare into the mid ‘50s, when a new form of competition entered the market – the drive-in. The Streator Drive-In, located at the north end of town on Rt. 23, was open during the summer months and showed two features on weeknights and three on weekends. By mid-May 1955, the Majestic closed again and was later condemned by the city as unsafe.

This left Streator with only two other cinemas, the Plumb and the Granada. The Plumb theatre (originally the Plumb Opera House) was named after noted Streator native Col. Ralph Plumb, and was located one block south of the Majestic at 108 S. Vermillion. The Granada was located at 117 S. Monroe. On the night of  April 28th, 1963, the Granada was tragically destroyed by fire, leaving it in complete ruin. It was showing Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ at the time.

The Majestic remained closed until the late ‘60s, when it was purchased by Robert Norris. Norris planned to renovate the movie house to its original glory, but sold the property after only two years of ownership. He had been unable to obtain the quality of films he wanted to show. Norris said he had found a party in Peoria who was willing to share movies with him, but it wasn’t going to be enough to keep the theater running, so he sold it.

Another Total Rebuild
 
Eventually, the Majestic reopened under the ownership of the Kerasotes theatre chain of Springfield, IL, who also operated the Streator drive-in.

After a complete refurbishing and renovation, the theatre had been given a complete face-lift from sidewalk to screen. A giant new screen, new carpeting, an expansive new snack bar, new foyer and lobby, and new continental-style seats (with side spacing) brought the capacity of the main floor from 500 down to 300.

George Bundy, who had managed the Streator Drive-In since 1962, assumed the resident manager-directorship of the new Majestic along with his summer drive-in duties. Bundy remembered the Majestic reopened on Dec. 24th, 1968, with ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and ‘The Horse in the Grey Flannel Suit’, both Disney movies.

A Second Screen
 
Sadly, in 1980 the Plumb Theatre was demolished, leaving the Majestic as the last remaining cinema in Streator. A May 15th, 1980 article in the Streator Daily Times-Press ran the headline “Kerasotes chain plans August opening for Majestic Twin 2”. Extensive remodeling converted the former Liptak Funeral Home building, located adjacent to the Majestic, into a new movie theatre. In the aforementioned article, Kerasotes was quoted as saying “Since the closing of the Plumb Theatre, our company has been searching for ways to bring another theatre screen to Streator to give patrons a wider choice of screen entertainment. We also feel this investment demonstrates our faith in the continuing growth and health of Streator”.  The article also stated that “the two theatres will be known as the Majestic Twin 2”. In more recent times this additional theatre has been called “The Granada” in honor of the former cinema.
The Kerasotes family owned the Majestic for the longest period of time in its history, operating it until October 1st, 1995.
Shut Down Again

The Majestic was shut down again in 1995, because of the building’s deteriorating condition and lagging ticket sales. The theatre was originally slated for demolition, but later was determined to not be in as bad condition as previously thought.
In the September 16th, 1995, edition of The Streator Times-Press, GKC Vice President Beth Kerasotes said “remodeling the Majestic is not worth the money. Considering (Streator) is a small town, it doesn’t warrant fixing up the building,” Kerasotes said.

GKC’s decision left Streator without a movie theatre until the Northpoint Cinemas multiplex opened several years later in Northpoint Plaza.

Rescued Again
 
Tim Burke, a Streator native who moved to Los Angeles in 1979, purchased the Majestic from Kerasotes in 1997. His grandfather, Ted Burke, worked as a projectionist at the Majestic during one of the theatre’s previous incarnations.

Burke, who works for Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, CA, reopened the Majestic in November 1998, showing classic movies on both screens. However, slumping attendance led to the theatre closing again six weeks later. One of the conditions of the sale from Kerasotes to Burke was a protective covenant that prevented the Majestic from screening first-run movies for a period of ten years.

The Majestic came back to life briefly during Cruise Night 2001. The theatre was opened for tours, viewing of movie trailers from the 1960s, ‘70s and 80s, and purchase of popcorn and soft drinks. Cruise Night participants were encouraged to have their photographs taken with their vintage vehicles in front of the historic theatre.
 

 

Shut Down Again
The Majestic was shut down again in 1995, because of the building’s deteriorating condition and lagging ticket sales. The theatre was originally slated for demolition, but later was determined to not be in as bad condition as previously thought.
In the September 16th, 1995, edition of The Streator Times-Press, GKC Vice President Beth Kerasotes said “remodeling the Majestic is not worth the money. Considering (Streator) is a small town, it doesn’t warrant fixing up the building,” Kerasotes said.

GKC’s decision left Streator without a movie theatre until the Northpoint Cinemas multiplex opened several years later in Northpoint Plaza.

Rescued Again
 
Tim Burke, a Streator native who moved to Los Angeles in 1979, purchased the Majestic from Kerasotes in 1997. His grandfather, Ted Burke, worked as a projectionist at the Majestic during one of the theatre’s previous incarnations.

Burke, who works for Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, CA, reopened the Majestic in November 1998, showing classic movies on both screens. However, slumping attendance led to the theatre closing again six weeks later. One of the conditions of the sale from Kerasotes to Burke was a protective covenant that prevented the Majestic from screening first-run movies for a period of ten years.

The Majestic came back to life briefly during Cruise Night 2001. The theatre was opened for tours, viewing of movie trailers from the 1960s, ‘70s and 80s, and purchase of popcorn and soft drinks. Cruise Night participants were encouraged to have their photographs taken with their vintage vehicles in front of the historic theatre.

Katie Troccoli - Robert Endres - Denise Frazier

 
Had a wonderful visit with Robert Endres on Aug 10, 2015.

Thank you Robert for your continued support!

You may never know how far reaching an act of kindness will be.

 
Tim Burke, a Streator native who moved to Los Angeles in 1979, purchased the Majestic from Kerasotes in 1997. His grandfather, Ted Burke, worked as a projectionist at the Majestic during the 1950’s, & 1960’s.  Burke ran his first movie in the Majestic at the age of 8 when his Grandfather became ill during a show.

Burke, who works for 20th Century Fox in Century City near Hollywood, CA, reopened the Majestic in November 1998, showing classic movies on both screens. However, slumping attendance led to the theatre closing just six weeks later. One of the conditions of the sale from Kerasotes to Burke was a protective covenant that prevented the Majestic from screening first-run movies for a period of ten years.
 
The Majestic reopened in May 2007 as a first-run movie theatre after getting new seats, new screens, an upgraded sound system, and new paint. The first two movies featured were ‘Air Guitar Nation’ and ‘Disturbia’. Seven years later, in 2014, the Majestic continues to roll along showing first-run films but now faces a new challenge: converting from film to digital.
 
The movie industry as a whole is winding down production of 35mm film prints of movies in favor of a digital media format. The cost of purchasing new digital projectors and sound systems is staggering; the early estimate to convert the Majestic’s two theatres to digital was $120,402.73. The original deadline imposed by the movie industry has been extended, but time is running out. The staff and friends of the Majestic theatre at the urging of Chuck & Amanda Vaughn continued their efforts to raise money to fund the digital conversion, and as of this writing (June 2014) have raised approximately $28,500.00.  “The public support for the Majestic has been amazing”, said “Katie Troccoli, theatre operator  “From private donations from individuals like Cinda Bond at Grant St Grocery, & Sara Bresser at the Silver Fox, to Clubs including The Knights of Columbus bingo ladies, The Friday Night Scribs Car Club to the Streator Fireman, and many, many, more to numerous to mention, we are forever grateful for your support” 
 
Now comes Robert Endres. “I was around nine years old when I first entered a projection booth. I had been given a 16mm hand-cranked projector by my uncle and, already a movie fan, I was fascinated by it. I attended a Saturday matinee at the Majestic Theatre in my home town of Streator, Illinois. I was seated in the balcony right in front of the projection booth, and stood on the arm rests of two of the theatre seats to peer through the projection port. Not seeing as much as I’d like, I went around to the booth door and was peeking through the keyhole when a manager caught me and ushered me into the booth. I was scared at being caught, but fascinated by the equipment. By the time I was twelve, I was being taught how to thread one of those machines by one of the projectionists”. (I was able to re-enact the experience a couple of years ago and was surprised to see how much lower the keyhole seemed than when I was nine).”
We believe that Projectionist was Ted Burke. Endres went on to be head projectionist at Radio City music hall in New York City for 25 years, then took a job as projectionist at Dolby Laboratories in New York City where he continues to work today.  In an effort to make sure the, theatre where he got his start, “The Majestic” does not go dark, he graciously gifted the balance of the cost as well as technical support for the installation of the new equipment.
On June 20, 2014 both screens at the Majestic Theatre became capable of running both 35mm film and digital projection.  It’s hard to comprehend that the acts of kindness by Ted Burke so many years ago who took the time to show a 9 year old kid (Endres) the projection booth, and who also taught his Grandson (Tim Burke) his craft would end up saving the Majestic theatre not once but twice for their love of the building that gave them their career’s at opposite sides of our nation.
On June 26th at 9:15 PM The Majestic Theatre will be screening Transformer’s Age of Extinction a film produced by Paramount Pictures who was the first studio to discontinue 35 mm film.
Please watch for upcoming events as there are still issues that need attention at the 107 year old Majestic building.   Now that digital projection has been installed we know we have a bright future in the community and want only the best for the theatre to serve the public.  We also want to pay it forward and help others.
With Digital Projection
Thank you, Bob Endres for you most gracious gift of kindness and friendship!