Vacant theater in Ohio

Fairborn Theatre - Fairborn Twin Cinemas, Fairborn Ohio
Date added: October 21, 2022 Categories: Ohio Theater
Facade, facing east (2004)

Advances in transportation have historically defined the area that is present day Fairborn, Ohio. Early settlement began in the area in 1799 and by 1816 the village of Fairfield had been platted. The Mercer Log House reflects the early settlement of the Fairborn area, and the Bath Township Consolidated School represents the area's late nineteenth-century development. In 1850, railroad tracks for the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad were laid one mile outside of the village of Fairfield. Named for the superintendent of the railroad, the town of Osborn developed along this railroad route. Osborn flourished while Fairfield declined in population until the War Department purchased 25,000 acres west of Fairfield for an air base in 1917, the precursor to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The towns of Fairfield and Osborn merged on January 1, 1950, and the name Fairborn reflected the merging of the two municipalities.

The Fairborn Theater, located on S. Broad Street or Rte. 444, provides a twentieth-century example of the way in which transportation, specifically the automobile, shaped development in the late 1940s. Broad Street has historically been a significant commercial corridor in the Fairborn area. Originally named Dayton Street, and then Main Street, this corridor was renamed Broad Street during the Osborn and Fairfield merger. The 1874 map in the Greene County atlas indicates the importance of Broad Street as a major county road, likely important in the transportation of goods and people. A tavern, known as The Ohio, was located on the corner of N. Broad and W. Xenia Drive. The importance of this transportation continued in the 1880s as the interurban streetcar lines ran down present-day Broad Street.

World War II brought a major influx of people to the towns of Fairfield and Osborn. A large majority of the newcomers came to work at the air base. Developers worked quickly to fill the demand, building new housing tracts, office buildings, and commercial establishments. In the years following World War II, the area's population continued to grow. In 1940, the census for Fairfield reflected almost 2,800 people. The population was divided with 50% Caucasian and 50% non-Caucasian. Ten years later, the population increased by almost 557% to approximately 15,600 people. Commercial development continued to attempt to keep up with the increase in population. Many commercial structures were built on Rte. 444 and located on the eastern border of the Air Force base. Both military and civilian personnel and their families likely frequented the businesses along Rte. 444, including the Fairborn Theatre.

Taking advantage of the dramatic population growth, Chakeres Incorporated opened the Fairborn Theatre on January 27, 1948, with a seating capacity of over 1000. Lloyd Zeller and Herman T. Hunter of Springfield, Ohio served as architects for the Fairborn Theatre and C.W. Fry Construction Company of Greenville, Ohio were builders for the theater. Seven years after the construction of the theater, Fairborn residents still considered the Fairborn Theatre "one of the most modern theaters... up to date in every way". The architecture of the theater reflected a modern image with its sleek lines, decorative metal, and smooth finishes. The Art Moderne style of the theater is continued on the interior with the lobby's rounded recessed ceiling and decorative streamlined borders around the lobby and foyer areas.

The name Fairborn Theatre also proved to be progressive thinking, as it reflected the future name of the area that occurred as a result of the merger of Fairfield and Osborn in 1950. According to Mary Parker Poole's history of Fairborn, Chakeres Incorporated felt confident that the two towns would indeed merge. A few years after the opening of the Fairborn Theatre, Chakeres Incorporated closed the other movie theater in the area, the Vernard. The Vernard Theater was located in the town formerly known as Osborn.

When it originally opened, the Fairborn Theatre offered one movie screen in a large auditorium. In 1973, the Fairborn Theatre became the Fairborn Twin Cinemas, when its owners built a large wall down the center of the auditorium. The action enabled the Fairborn Theatre to compete with other twinned theaters, as cinemagoers began to expect an option in their movie selections. Chakeres Incorporated operated the Fairborn Twin Cinemas until April of 2002. The theater was then transferred to the current owners, the Fairborn Performing Arts and Cultural Association.

Fairborn's roadside development along Rte 444 reflected a nationwide trend in commercial development. According to historian Kenneth T. Jackson, between 1950 and 1980, when the American population increased by 50 percent, the number of their automobiles increased by 200 percent. Entrepreneurs in the automobile corridors outside of the historic downtown commercial districts utilized the architecture of their buildings to advertise their businesses. The Fairborn Theatre provides an excellent example of this blending of architecture and advertising. The front facade is illuminated with a marquee containing hundreds of light bulbs and flashing comedy and tragedy masks that advertise to the passing motorists' the concept of entertainment, the product that the theater is selling. William J. Rueff Signs of Louisville, Kentucky created and installed the marquee, neon sign, and interior lighting for the Fairborn Theatre.

Though a generous sidewalk is present in front of the theater, most customers would have arrived at the theater by automobile and approached the front of the building from the parking lot to the side of the southern elevation. A small, illuminated parking sign in the shape of an arrow directed customers to the parking. This sign is located on the southern edge of the parking lot.

Today, the Fairborn Theatre is located less than one mile from the eastern boundary of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The base was critical to the growth of the Fairborn area and people settled in the area during the years surrounding World War II. The commercial corridor along Rte.444 or Broad Street still reflects this era in population growth and also the close connection that this area has with the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The Fairborn Theatre further cements this relationship with its United States Air Force mural featuring a 1940s-era military airplane, the soldier and WAC (Women's Army Corps). Featured prominently in the second foyer and at the entrance of the auditorium, the mural is further emphasized by lights and is set back into the wall. The mural was painted by Vincent Chalmer, of Detroit, Michigan. Theater owner, Mr. Phil Chakeres desired that recognition be given to the Armed Forces and their worldwide activities and asked that the soldier and WAC be included in the foreground.

Building Description

The Fairborn Theatre located at 34 S. Broad St. (Rte 444) in Fairborn, Ohio was constructed in 1948 in a commercial version of the Art Moderne style. Roadside motels and businesses along Rte. 444 such as the Command Motel and the Falcon Motel characterize this busy commercial corridor that is largely made up of roadside architecture from the 1940s-1960s. The Fairborn Theatre is located over 1/2 a mile from downtown Fairborn and less than 1/2 mile east of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The two-story theater exhibits characteristics of the Art Moderne style, with an undulating wall treatment, use of decorative metal, large marquee and sign tower. The interior spaces contain decorative elements of the Art Moderne style with a circular, formal lobby and curved and recessed ceiling motifs in the foyers and lobby. The theater is located among a mix of commercial uses on Rte. 444 and a residential neighborhood is present at the rear of the building. The theater is presently vacant and has experienced some decay. The Fairborn Theatre is constructed with a steel frame and the walls consist of yellow bricks. The bricks are common bond in both the front and rear portions of the building. The theater sits on a concrete foundation. Landscaping is minimal around the theater and no other buildings or structures are located on the property.

The facade of the theater is defined by the marquee that extends over the front entry and serves as an awning. The underside of the marquee is lighted with small, bare bulbs. Light bulbs are also presented on the front of the marquee, outlining the rectangular signs on each side. The middle of the marquee is defined by an image that resembles the comedy and tragedy masks. The masks alternate with change of the lights. The front entry has four sets of double glass doors framed with aluminum. A band of corrugated decorative metal is located on top of the door frames and ticket booth, thus presenting a streamlined appearance to the entrance. The original ticket booth under the marquee remains and is defined by a rounded glass window and a terrazzo base. Flanking the ticket booth are two original showcase windows that feature inverted glass. Fluted terrazzo is located on both sides of each of the showcase windows and also serves as a decorative element on the front of the ticket booth. Also defining the facade is a large sign tower. The tower extends another story above the building and is characterized by sharp and flat lines on the north elevation and is rounded on the south side of the building. The tower contains one electric sign on the north elevation that features the word "Fairborn" vertically. A curved roofline extends across the front of the primary elevation and features a large undulating wall with cement blocks.

The south elevation contains four openings on the first floor and three on the second floor, and lacks any significant architectural details. The asphalt roof on the front portion of the building is flat and the rear of the building features a curved barrel-shaped roof, also asphalt. A rectangular-shaped asphalt parking lot is located to the south of the theater. A small neon sign in the shape of an arrow advertises "free theatre parking." The rear elevation has two double doors on either end. A grassy lot is present at the rear of the building. The north elevation contains three second-story glass block windows and two first-floor openings. The northwest portion of the north elevation features a decorative vertical wall that consists of terrazzo with a narrow vertical glass block window. A small curved yellow brick wall with a door links the marquee side and the terrazzo wall. The exterior elevations of the building appear to be in good condition.

Inside the theater, Art Moderne design elements dominate the foyer and lobby areas. In the lobby, a large three-tiered and rounded recessed ceiling is accented by an ornate chandelier. A wide decorative band encircles the rounded lobby. The concession stand located on the south wall of the lobby is covered with white and red formica and is not original. Four double doors made of wood in the lobby lead into a second foyer that features two mosaic-tile drinking fountains that flank the cinema entrances. In the center of the cinema entrances is a large mural depicting WWII-era airplanes flying above a pastoral scene. A soldier and WAC (Women's Army Corps) are present in the foreground of the painting. The mural is set into the wall with a bench in front. Four spotlights emphasize the mural and the hardware for a curtain over the mural exists behind a scalloped wooden border.

The lady's powder room is present on the north side of the second foyer with a rounded waiting area that features Formica countertops and a curved and lighted mirror area. A men's restroom is present on the south side of the second foyer. Both restrooms feature braided black and white tile. The auditorium was divided into two cinemas in 1973 by the placement of a large wall in the center of the auditorium. No changes occurred to the second foyer due to this division. Also, the rounded ceiling remained intact. The auditoriums feature modern screens and the original walls are covered with heavy fabric that is not original. Behind the two movie screens is a stage area. The seating areas in both cinemas gently slope downward toward the screens.

Stairs are present in the front foyer and lead to a room with lockers and an employee restroom. Also present upstairs is the projection room, characterized by small windows and a boiler room that is located on the south side of the building. The exterior and interior of the theater are largely intact. They retain many of the original details and materials of construction. The area that has experienced the most change is the auditorium, with the addition of a center wall to create two cinemas (c. 1973). The concession stand represents another change. Several interior locations have experienced ceiling and wall plaster damage. Some leakage from the roof is also evident.