The inside and design of the theater was patterned after the New York Roxy theater Art deco paintings can be found on the large chandelier and ceiling medallion, lobby murals, original wood furnishings, and side lights. All of these are original to the construction and have been preserved and maintained. By the time the theater was ready for opening, the Great Depression had set upon the country and Vaudeville entertainment had passed away. Instead, "moving pictures" were making their way into the hearts and minds of crowds. A large screen, on one of the stage flies, was installed and old arch-welder type projectors (one still survives and is on display in the lobby).
In 1984, the theater had been closed and was in poor repair. The wood-back seats with their decorative cast iron ends had shown their years in tears, popped springs, and broken parts. The plastered ceilings in the main auditorium, on the walls and in the lobby had begun to fall from years of leaking roofs. Carpet was worn through to the concrete floors. The lighting had shorted and was not usable in most of the building. The beautiful marquee and "Ionia" flashing sign had shorted and burned; held up by 6 x 6 wood posts. The projectors did not work.
A group of citizens involved in one of several committees that made up "Project 90", a visioning undertaking to prepare Ionia for the 21st century, surveyed residents to find items that concerned them. One of the top items identified by citizens was preservation of the downtown theater This was not just some casual mention-more than 450 people were actively involved in this project and hundreds more on a casual basis.
This group formed the nucleus that raised the money to buy the theater from its private owner, purchase a new projector, and begin showing movies in the facility. A local industry, GenCorp, donated a new rubber roof for the building and other community groups, banks, and businesses likewise contributed. With several different state grants and funds from the Ionia Downtown Development Authority, the building was literally saved from the wrecking ball.
All of the interior has been restored, including new stage drapery, seat upholstery, paint, wiring, and the marquee and "Ionia" sign fully renovated. The "Ionia" sign is original with new neon, wiring, and paint. The marquee had deteriorated beyond restoration and so an original replica was manufactured and installed. Today, more than 60,000 people attend first-run movies in the original 1,000 seat auditorium and new "second screen" that sits 132. Other uses of the building include annual meetings for local banks, union meetings for various industry and business groups, workshops, performances by the Grand Rapids Symphony, stage shows, and use by all school groups.
Our prices are much lower than nearby metropolitan theaters and volunteers continue to help staff the concession stand, ticket taking stands, and ticket selling areas. Full time manager Dave Cook coordinates the various volunteers with the numbers ranging from 250 to 400 in order to make the year work. Crews from the Ionia Temporary Correctional Facility lend a hand in cleaning the building, allowing us to keep costs reasonable. Click on the link below to see current movies and events showing at the Ionia theater Take a drive and enjoy a step back in time at this restored treasure. Youll be glad you did!