Tibbits Opera House

Address: 14 S Hanchett St
City: Coldwater
State: MI
Zip:
County: Branch
Open: 1882
Capacity: 499
Owner History:
Number of visits to this page: 12457
Notes:
Info Updates:
4/16/2021 - Andy Gray

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.

2/14/2021 - Andy Gray
Between 1934 and 1956 my maternal grandfather, Albert S. ("Al") Johnson, built and remodeled theaters and drive-ins throughout Michigan. His company was called the Johnson Construction Co., and it was based out of Birmingham. His first theater job, according to records compiled by his son A.S. Johnson Jr. (my "Uncle Bud"), was a remodel of the Tibbits Theatre, in Coldwater, which Johnson completed in 1934. The Tibbits, which opened originally as the Tibbits Opera House in 1882, later began showing silent films and eventually "talkies." This photo, taken by Al Johnson in June 1948 fourteen years after his remodel job, shows the theater still in its 1934 "art deco" or "art moderne" style. The theater has since been restored to its original opera house style and is open to this day. Johnson theater work became something of a family affair. My dad (Doug Gray) and paternal grandfather (Robie Gray) both worked for Johnson on theater and drive-in jobs for many years - as did Al's son Bud Johnson. Dad related to me that during one theater renovation job, an old car (a Model T or earlier model) was discovered at the back of the original theater stage when an interior wall was removed. The car had been used as a prop for a theater production and had been left in place during an earlier renovation. When it was discovered, the theater owner assumed ownership and had the car delivered to his house. I'm almost certain that this story referred to the 1934 Tibbits Theatre project.
12/30/2008 - Executive Director
Tibbits operates year round with a host of professional and community events. It is well recognized for its professional summer theatre program.
To correct an an earlier post. The original glorious facade was changed in the mid 1930s when the theatre was turned into a movie house. In the 60s the movie facade was taken down and covered with a brick facade to protect the original until it could be properly restored. There were never stained glass windows in the large openings of the theatre.
4/12/2008 - Ron Gross
In comparing the first two photos, I''m a little confused. in the old photo, the main entry is at street level. In the current photo, it is much higher with stairs. Did they raise the entry, or lower the street!?
3/19/2008 - Development Director, Tibbits Opera House
Tibbits Opera House is pleased to announce that we have successfully raised over $2 million dollars toward the Restoration Campaign from its inception in 2000. The campaign has been broken down into phases. Phase I & Phase II have been completed. Phase I included all of the design development documents and Phase II included installing an elevator, accessible restroom, boiler repairs and demolition of the adjacent annex building. Currently we are raising money toward Phase III of the project which is the facade restoration. To date we have completed the Tuckpointing Project within Phase III and we are about to start the Cupola Reconstruction this summer. We continue to move forward in accomplishing our goal of restoring this gem of a theatre.
10/30/2006 - WaterWinterWonderland
The restoration effort has been underway for years with lots of fundraising but not too many tangible results. Millions have been raised towards the 13 million dollar (or so) goal yet the building remains in pretty much the same condition as it has been for many years, especially the exterior. The plywood over the windows replaced what were once amazing stained glass windows. That might be a place to start!
12/18/2003 - Box Office Magazine
January 1959 - The BIll Shulte Circuit has sold 2 houses, closed for some time, the Tibbits at Coldwater which used to play the bigtime as the halfway point between Detroit and Chicago, now being taken over by a local dramatic group, and the Grand at Brighton.
1/6/2003 - Web
The Tibbits Opera House is owned and operated by the Tibbits Opera Foundation and Arts Council, Inc., a nonprofit organization which fosters enrichment of life for all people by preserving the historic opera house and supporting the arts, culture and education.
1/6/2003 - Web
Built in 1882, the Tibbits Opera House is among the oldest theatres in Michigan. Rich in history and ambiance, the theatre even today offers theatre-goers nearly perfect acoustics, an intimate 499-seat setting, and a fine array of performances throughout the year.
 Photos:9
Tibbits Opera House - JUNE 1948 FROM AL JOHNSON
JUNE 1948 FROM AL JOHNSON
Tibbits Opera House - 1907 FROM PAUL
1907 FROM PAUL
Tibbits Opera House - Photo from early 2000's
Photo from early 2000's
Tibbits Opera House - AUDITORIUM SHOT
AUDITORIUM SHOT
Tibbits Opera House - AUDITORIUM SHOT
AUDITORIUM SHOT
Tibbits Opera House - AUDITORIUM
AUDITORIUM
Tibbits Opera House - AUDITORIUM SHOT FROM MOVIE DAYS
AUDITORIUM SHOT FROM MOVIE DAYS
Tibbits Opera House - OLD PHOTO
OLD PHOTO
Tibbits Opera House - OLD POST CARD
OLD POST CARD
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