Al's theater construction work began sometime in the 1930s. The first job that we can conclusively date was the Tibbits Theatre in Coldwater, which he remodeled in 1934. The last known job was the construction of the Maple City Drive-In near Charlotte, which opened in 1953.
Eleven of the theaters that he built or remodeled are still showing films today. Several of the other buildings still stand and house a variety of other businesses.
The theaters ranged from very modest small-town community venues to some large metropolitan cinemas. Most had an art moderne (later called "art deco") style and shared some common design elements. Al often filled dual roles as general contractor and theatre consultant, which leads us to believe that he had an outsized influence on the design of many of these projects.
A typical Johnson-built theater incorporated ceramic-like glossy tiled walls in a cream and red exterior color scheme. Many of the interiors featured elaborate murals, abstract designs and decorative lighting fixtures. Al was said to have patented a style of paired entrance door featuring matching glass panes of various shapes (e.g. half-moon, half-hexagon, half-octagon and others). These were known as "Johnson doors" and were a feature of most of Al's projects. The Almont Theatre, completed in 1948, is representative of a community theater built by Johnson.
Sadly, none of Al's drive-ins have survived. After completing the Maple City Drive-In, Al shifted his company's work to other types of commercial and residential construction. Al passed away in 1958, at which time the company was dissolved.
Five of our family members were key to the success of the Johnson Construction Company. The company founder was Albert S. (Al) Johnson. His two sons Charles (Chuck) and Albert S. Johnson Junior (Bud) also worked on several of the projects.
Al's future son-in-law Doug Gray, and Doug's father Robie Gray, also worked for the company on these theaters and drive-in jobs.