These days, we can watch a movie on our phone while we sit in the dentist’s office.  Entertainment is literally everywhere.   Not so long ago, before TV, we didn’t have that many choices, and entrepreneurs in small towns built movie theaters.  Many didn’t last long, as TV’s appeared in living rooms in the 50’s, and then multi-screen theaters and the VCR did in most of the rest.  But we’re left with great memories, and some of those buildings are still around.

Keith Martin is helping to preserve that history.  The retired Galesburg-Augusta elementary school teacher collects local history for the Galesburg Historical Museum.  Martin is going to talk about some small town movie theaters on Saturday March 16th at the Battle Creek Regional History Museum.  He’ll also be a guest on Friday’s 95.3 WBCK Morning Show with me, Tim Collins.

Park Theater-TSM Photo

His talk will feature stories about the Park Theater in Augusta and the Gale Theater in Galesburg.  Both of the ‘Art Moderne’ style movie theaters were built in the 1940’s by Eli Frank. “The Gale” eventually featured a snack bar and a second floor bowling alley, making it a one-stop entertainment center.  Martin will display some theater memorabilia donated by the Frank Family.

Gale Theater Location-Google Street View

Small towns are always trying to find new uses for the old downtown theaters. Plainwell’s Sun Theater, where I once worked as a projectionist, closed in 1993 and was converted into offices.  The theater in Athens was a furniture store for a while.  Now it’s the Quonset Hut Theater and has now been renovated for community theater.

Photo by Tim Collins/WBCK

A few, like the Riviera in Three Rivers have been renovated and are still used for movies and other functions.

Riviera Theater-TSM Photo


The Strand in Paw Paw is still going, as is the Bogar in Marshall. Albion’s Bohm Theater has also been saved and features a popular blues night.

At one time, there were nearly a dozen theaters in downtown Battle Creek. I don’t think there is a trace left of any of them.

I’m sure we missed a few in the area.  Let us know, and if you have pictures, send them our way.

Saturday’s program at the Battle Creek Regional History Museum is offered at no charge for admission, but donations are appreciated. Light snacks will be served before and after the lecture. The museum is located at 307 West Jackson Street.