There have been several movie theaters in the city of Xenia over the years, the last being the Xenia Cinema on Greene Street.
That theater had quite a history before it was purchased by Greene County for office purposes.
In 1911, Henry Binder closed his coal and building supply business to open two theaters in town. The Dreamland and the Orphium (spelled to avoid conflict with the Orpheum Circuit).
Just a few years later, in 1917, Cliff Sutton opened a theater on Greene Street which he named Bijou.
Apparently he first tried the movie business on Feb. 10, 1909 when 500 people crowded into a storeroom theater to view “Stormy Days of Old Virginia.” He continued with his music store but decided that he really wanted to be in the movie theater business as well.
Music always played an important part in the presentation of the silent movies. There was a wonderful Wurlitzer organ, played by Mrs. Foster Clemens. Later the organist was the very talented local music teacher Juanita Rankin Fultz. She was a master of that organ and no matter if it was a thunderstorm, a western, or a passionate love scene she provided the appropriate music. The subtitles on the screen were beneficial to know what the actors were saying, but she provided the excitement.
In the 1930s the organ was no longer needed and was donated to the Xenia Friends Church and from there went to a private owner in Columbus.
In addition to showing movies on a regular basis at the cost of five cents per person, the theater also often invited traveling artists to perform. Vaudeville was a big draw at that time and since the performances were live, the cost of admission went up to 10 cents.
Sutton was anxious for the general public to recognize the theater and all that was happening there. He thought of a wide variety of ways to advertise the theater — releases in the newspaper and of course, he told everyone who came into the music store about the upcoming presentations.
And then he acquired an Edison talking machine which he installed in one of the windows on the second floor of the theater. The horn on the unit faced out the window toward the street. He hired a young man to play the device often during the daylight hours and perhaps even into the evening to attract customers to the theater. Unfortunately, the selection of recorded songs was rather small and no doubt some of the local folks grew weary of hearing the same, rather raspy, songs played over the over.
Around 1910, Sutton decided it would be wise to use some of the local talent on the stage when movies were not showing. Residents would pay to see their friends and neighbors perform on stage and many were willing to exhibit their respective talents. Sometimes the local talent on stage consisted of school-age children, which would be sure to draw a large crowd of adoring parents and grandparents.
In the early days of the movie business, several companies were involved in producing movies including one known at Kalem. Philip Laughead, a native of Xenia, was affiliated with this firm and when the movie “Hal Chases’s Home Run” was to be shown at the theater, a great deal of interest was shown. The advertisement stated that the production was written and staged by Laughead, who also played a bit part in the film.
A photo of the marquee of the Xenia Theater from the late 1930s or early 1940s shows a movie “The Good Earth” with Paul Muni and Louise Rainer. The marquee also shows Xenia’s own Charley Grapewin as being in the film. Grapewin was a character actor who appeared in many films including “The Wizard of Oz.”
In 1937, Sutton sold the business to James Hibbert but kept the music store open in a portion of the foyer at the theater.
In the late 1930s Chakeres Theaters, Inc., leased the building from Hibbert and it was at that time the Bijou ceased to exist with the name being changed to Xenia Cinema.
Movies continued to be shown on a regular basis at the theater and the structure survived the 1974 tornado.
In 1977 a huge fire nearly destroyed the building. The marquee sign said that the movie showing was “A Bridge Too Far.”
The structure was remodeled extensively and reopened as a two-screen theater. For a while, this was very successful; however in 1987 the theater was closed for good due to low attendance.
In the fall of 1988, a new owner purchased the old building. The Greene County commission agreed to purchase the downtown structure from the heirs of James Hibbert for $115,000.
At the time of purchase, there were no immediate plans for the 11,090 square foot structure, but since that time, the structure has been remodeled and now accommodates several County offices including the office of the Greene County commission.
And so, the last of the movie theaters in Xenia was no longer; having joined the Ohio Theater, the Orphium, and the Dreamland as memories of days gone by when movies were a major form of entertainment and the words “air conditioned” on the marquee of a theater would attract crowds in the hot summer months no matter what film was showing.
Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.