Honoring a Legacy of Arts

 Honoring a Legacy of Arts

The Victoria Theatre celebrates 150 years in Dayton

Natasha Baker

A Quick History

According the Victoria Theatre Association website, the theater originally opened on Jan. 1, 1866, as the Turner Opera House and enjoyed three years of success before fire consumed the hall. The job of rebuilding took two years and it reopened in 1871 as Music Hall. The theater changed names several times over the years becoming the Grand Opera House in 1885, the Victoria Opera House in 1899 and, finally, the Victoria Theatre in 1902. The flood of 1913 destroyed the theater, but once again it was quickly rebuilt. Another fire ravaged the theater in 1918, and it was rebuilt and reopened in 1919.

The theater is a staple of arts and culture for many families across the Miami Valley.

“We are a four-generation family of the Victoria,” says Jeanette Patton. “My grandfather played piano in the theater. His first son was treasurer of the Victory in the ’30s. His second son , my dad, was an usher. And I was a volunteer and then was employed there for over 20 years. My son has been a volunteer for some 20 years now.”

An economic decline in the late 1960s and early 1970s left the theater marked for demolition by the city. A huge community effort raised funds and worked to get the building designated on the National Directory of Historic Places saving it from demolition. While the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra had called the Victoria home since the 1930s the Dayton Ballet Company did not take up residence until the late 1970s.

Year after year, theater buffs supported and attended thousands of performances at the Victoria and saw some amazing performers. The most remarkable people of the century played the theater, including Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Buffalo Bill Cody, Oscar Wilde and Lily Langtry. Many were considered the biggest sensations of the day, like Al Jolson, Harry Houdini, W.C. Fields, the Ziegfeld Follies, John Philip Sousa and The Marx Brothers. Even stars like Fred Astaire, Helen Hayes, Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Maya Angelou, Count Basie, Itzhak Perlman, Tom Hanks and The Eagles performed on the Victoria’s stage.

Celebration Worthy

All throughout 2016 the Victoria Theatre Association conducted several celebration events, including historical backstage tours, a spectacular timeline display in the lobby and several anniversary events. The real joy for the staff was hearing from so many Dayton-area patrons with stories about their experiences at the theatre.

“One of my favorites was about a guy who played in a USO band here back in the ’40s and met the girl of his dreams,” says Sue Stevens, vice president of marking and communications with the Victoria Theatre Association.

According to Stephen Carrasas from Kettering he might not be around if it weren’t for the Victoria Theatre. In his note to the staff Carrasas shared the story of his dad—a Navy sailor in WWII and a member of the USS Helena Band that made a stop to play the Victory Theatre on its War Bond Tour. With a few hours to kill his dad went to the local USO club, met a pretty girl in a “WAC” uniform and the rest, as they say, is history.

Keeping the Legend Alive

The final anniversary event will feature the premiere of the documentary Making History: The Victoria Theatre, a joint effort by ThinkTV and the Victoria Theatre Association. The 30-minute film includes interviews and camera footage from events and performances over the years. Following the private premiere it will immediately debut on Think TV. Dayton History will also have a limited number of DVDs for sale in its gift shop.

“The idea of a documentary came to us as we were working on the historic timeline project for the 150th anniversary. There were so many stories to tell, so many fun facts to share—we couldn’t begin to touch on everything in the timeline due to space constraints,” says Stevens. It was her suggestion to produce the documentary.

“We’re grateful to have the support of the Miriam Rosenthal Foundation for the Arts who provided the seed funding for the documentary,” says Stevens. “We also want to thank The Virginia W. Kettering Foundation, The Schiewetz Foundation, and Universal 1 Credit Union for their generous support of all the Victoria Theatre 150th anniversary events and initiatives.”

Victoria Theatre Association chose to partner with ThinkTV due to its expertise with Dayton and Ohio history, the arts and documentaries in general.

“Early on I was inspired to seek out a famous voice for some of the narration in the piece. We approached Martin Sheen because of his roots in the area—and much to my surprise and delight he was happy to do it. In addition, so many key individuals and local artists contributed to the success of this project.”

The Victoria Theatre and the VTA plan to continue the legacy of bringing the performers and sensations of the time to the venue. Some of the most popular series will grow in 2017, like the Universal 1 Credit Union VIC150 Music Series, created as part of the anniversary celebration.

The hugely popular National Geographic Live Series, sponsored by WinSupply and the Win Family of Companies, launches its fifth season in partnership with Five Rivers Metro Parks in 2017. Subscriptions and season tickets to this series have become so popular there was a cut-off this year in order to have some individual tickets to sell for each event.

The Morris Furniture Company Family Series continues with Pinkalicious The Musical on Feb. 25 and The Cat In The Hat on April 8-9. Be sure to check out the event calendar at thedaytonmagazine.com for upcoming events and tickets for all events at the Victoria are available at ticketcenterstage.com.

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