By Colin Foster
On Jan. 31, 1928, a new theater was opened on the edge of downtown Troy and quickly became a hot spot in Miami County.
More than 80 years later, the Mayflower theater still stands.
Sure, the building has undergone ownership changes and renovations over time. It has had to reinvent itself and adapt to the growing and changing world of cinema. But the Mayflower is rich in history and is one structure out of a select few in downtown Troy that has stood the test of time …
Get your popcorn ready people, this is the story of the Mayflower.
• Survival of the Fittest: Many Theaters Built in Troy
The Mayflower hasn’t always been a movie theater. In fact, the building used to be liquor store. According to “The History, Development, Industrial and Community Activities of Troy,” published in 1931, the first movie house in Troy was established in the fall of 1908 by a fellow named Mr. Hunt, who was from Sidney. The movie house actually stood right next to the Mayflower.
Hunt’s theater, located on East Main Street, had showings that consisted of illustrated songs and one reel of mediocre pictures. The price of admission was 5 cents. According to “The History, Development, Industrial and Community Activities of Troy,” as a soloist sang at the opening of each show, colored slides depicting scenes in the song were thrown upon the screen, and it was the dream of every young woman singer at that time to become a singer in a movie show … then followed the one-reel picture. The new show became immensely popular and patrons began crowding the house for every performance.
But with success comes competition. Others began duplicating Hunt’s business model and opening up theaters of their own all over town.
“The History, Development, Industrial and Community Activities of Troy” pointed out that there were five movie houses in Troy at one point in time. But gradually, all the theaters closed with the exception of The Jewel, owned by Sam McCurdy, then later by Hary Shoupp, before George Pfister, who managed the Troy Amusement Company, took over in 1916.
The three main theaters in Troy by 1919 were the Gem on South Market Street, The Jewel and Mr. Hunt’s Star Theater on West Main Street. Eventually, the other smaller theaters closed, leaving the Star and Jewel theaters in business. Around this time, the two theaters were combined under one standing ownership, known as Troy Amusement Company, co-owned by George Pfister, William H. Maier, George Pfister’s son, C.F. Pfister and Harry and Frank Henne.
In 1921, the share of the business owned by the Hennes were bought by William Maier, and eventually George Pfister’s half was acquired by his son upon his death. The rising popularity and increasing demand for the showing of better movies led to a plan being devised between the two new owners. That plan was to construct a movie theater that would draw masses of people from surrounding areas.
Christ Pfister and Maier purchased land on the corner of Cherry Street and West Main Street on Sept. 15, 1919. The original building that would house the future Mayflower was built around 1845 and was the home to many types of businesses from drug stores to law firms.
An article published in the local newspaper, The Troy Democrat, on Aug. 18, 1927, outlined the general plans drawn up by Pfister and Maier to occupy the entire of Cherry and Main streets with not only the Mayflower, but also the Troy Sweet Shop. The entire construction had a combined cost of $100,000 — that included its Wurlitzer organ ($15,000) and its Western Electronics Sound Equipment ($10,000), which was the first installed in the county.
The Mayflower started being built in 1927 and opened its doors on Jan. 28, 1928, with a special “dedication program.” As described by “The History Development, Industrial and Community Activities of Troy,” the theater had a seating capacity of 600, hanging chandeliers, a stage that was 16 feet deep and 36 feet wide and was large enough for “vaudeville acts,” two dressing rooms located in the basement and the Wurlitzer Pipe Organ that was located to the stage right.
On the opening night, many performances were planned, as well as a showing of an “Our Gang” film, followed by the film, “The Noose,” starring Richard Barthelimess.
As of Jan. 31, 1928, the Mayflower Theatre had opened its doors to the public and ushered in the beginning of the “Golden Age of Film.” And just like that — the Mayflower quickly became the go-to-place to watch a show in Miami County.
• Ownership Change
The original owner, Chris Pfister, had control of the Mayflower into the early 1970s, before selling it to Alan Teicher, a Detroit native with a background of working in theaters.
Teicher, who had already been in the theater business prior to coming to Troy, ushered in a new era at the Mayflower. He came to town after having worked in theaters in Detroit, Hamilton, Ohio, and Chicago. The Mayflower was his first purchase.
In the years following, Teicher would go on to purchase a collection of cinemas. At one time, he had control of close to 30 theaters spread throughout the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Florida, according to past newspaper articles. He would go on to operate Movies 5 in Troy. By October 2008, Teicher’s collection of theaters shrank to a total of eight.
Teicher temporarily closed the Mayflower for the first time ever for painting and general maintenance in the fall of 2008, according to an article in the Troy Daily News. He closed the theater during that time because business couldn’t compete with Troy football on Friday nights and Ohio State football on Saturdays — and added that maintenance was long overdue.
“Those are our two biggest nights. But with football, you can’t fight it. I’ve wanted to (temporarily close for fall maintenance for 30 years),” said Teicher in the TDN article.
The Mayflower, which was still bringing in good business at that time, would go on to reopen its doors on Nov. 7 of that year with a new format — adult art films.
After 40 years of owning the Mayflower, however, Teicher and wife Joyce decided it was time to retire to Florida. According to past newspaper articles, he planned on selling all of his theaters except for the few he owned in the Sunshine State.
The Mayflower closed in 2009, but Teicher continued to use the top floor office to conduct his business. In 2012, a buyer came knocking.
• Mayflower Arts Center
Lisa Bauer of Springfield said she fell in love with the Mayflower building at first sight. Bauer was having lunch with a friend at NightSky in Troy in the fall of 2011. Following the meal, they took a stroll around downtown, which is when she saw the “for sale” sign sitting in the box office window. From there, she contacted a realtor and put together a business plan.
“The more I thought about it, the more I realized the potential in it,” Bauer said.
Bauer made the purchase in July 2012. Today, the space, located at 9 W. Main St., goes by the name of the Mayflower Arts Center. Bauer has opened a community-friendly space to create art, and enlighten and inspire a deeper appreciation of art among artists and patrons. The Mayflower Arts Center offers gallery and exhibit spaces, fine art retail, classes and workshops, art lectures and variety of other special events. More information can be found at mayflowerartscenter.com.
Bauer said they’re continuing to renovate and upgrade the building. She also added they have big plans for the future — including a camp for children in the summer.
During the weekend of the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover Tour in Troy, people filled the Mayflower Arts Center for four separate screenings of “Big Easy Express.”
The Mayflower may not be the 600-seat theater it once was. It’s no longer a mecca of film screenings like it was during the “Golden Age of Cinema” and for many years after. … But for one weekend this past summer, crowds of people again packed the house to capacity.
— Jim Davis contributed to this story and Colin Foster may be reached at 937-440-5208 or followed on Twitter @colinfosterbg or @Troydailynews