By Erin Crowell
Click, click, pop!
Travis Alden flips the breakers and lets the warm glow of lights fill the
cold, dank basement of the Vogue Theatre. He follows a garden hose lying
on the cement floor to the boiler room in back.
They used the hose to drain water from the roof into here, he says as he
sweeps the light from his flashlight over a hole in the floor, filled with
two feet of sitting water. Last week, the water covered this whole
Upstairs, he walks down the aisle of the cavernous theatre and looks up at
the washed out hole in the ceiling, exposing insulation and pipes.
This is the real problem here, he says of the sloping roof, So, we put
in that pipe to help redirect the water.
He lets the beam from his flashlight fall down the water-stained wall,
settling on a row of moldy, brown theatre seats. Theyre wet.
Shoot, he sighs, looking at the fresh puddle of water on the floor. A
joint must be leaking.
Alden, director of the Manistee Main Street & Downtown Development
Authority, has a laundry list of items when it comes to the Vogue Theatre,
and a leaky ceiling is just one of them.
The DDA recently purchased the 73-year-old theatre for $60,000 in hopes to
restore and re-open it, a similar project to the State Theatre in downtown
The project will cost approximately $1 million according to a press
release by the Alliance for Economic Success (AES), which is spearheading
the Vogue Theatre Restoration Fund.
TEARING OFF THE BRAKE
But before you can run, the first step must be taken.
Weve already taken the first baby step, which is actually two, said
Cyndy Fuller, executive director of the AES.
Fuller said The AES has been working on developing a volunteer base for
the non-profit theatre that will do everything from fundraising and
helping with construction projects to running the theatre once its open.
The second step is bringing on a lead architect and lead construction
Restoring the Vogue since its closure in 2005 has always been on the table
for discussion, says Alden. But it was never put into action until the
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant program provided the
opportunity for a feasibility study that would determine two things: If
the building was salvageable and whether a movie theatre business would be
The one-year study concluded yes for both.
With a promising future, plans were set forth to bring the historic
theatre back to working order. However, the final push to get the project
going came when award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore visited the Vogue in
early February and wrote a check for $10,000 announcing he would serve
as the theatres program director for the first two years.
FLOOD OF DONATIONS
Moore, president of the State Theatre who also served as the catalyst for
its restoration, not only kicked the Vogue Theatre Restoration Project
into high gear he tore the brake off completely.
Within the first week of (Moores) announcement, we had over 85 families
come forward with donations and countless individuals and companies
offering their services, Alden said. We had been courting several
potential businesses to move into downtown only to decline. Now, after
Moores announcement, those same businesses are coming to us.
Its amazing what putting your name on a project can do. We have someone
with real experience, with a true model of what can be done.
The Vogue Theatre is part of Moores non-profit statewide theatre
I was passing through Manistee on my way to Muskegon for a benefit at the
Harbor Theater; and I made that turn on to River Street and saw this
beautiful theater marquee, said Moore. Later, I learned theres no
single theatre in the entire (Manistee) county. Its just wrong.
While his contribution has served as a major push, Moore says it is up to
the residents of Manistee County to make sure the restoration of the Vogue
Theatre is successful.
Its success or failure is completely dependent on whether the community
is behind the project, Moore said. The people will have to roll up their
The Butterfield Company opened the Vogue Theatre in 1938, when a gallon of
gas cost 10 cents, house rent was around $27 per month, and a new car
would set you back just over $700.
While the cost of living has changed over the years, the Vogue Theatre,
itself, has not. The lobby, with its original red, brown and white tiling,
still carries the faint smell of age a mix of dust, popcorn and varnish.
It was romantic, really, all the way up to its closing when movie-goers
were welcomed by the plucking sounds of exploding kernels and the feel of
maroon carpeting over hardwood that gave under foot.
There were other words for the theater.
Dilapidated. Drafty. Old.
People used to bring blankets into the theater because it was so cold,
said Mark Fetter, curator of the Manistee History Museum.
The Vogue is home to two screens and can seat over 900 people before
1985, the upper level theatre didnt exist. It served as a balcony.
Fetter vaguely remembers watching The Return of the Jedi from that balcony.
It was just so far away from the main screen, he recalls.
Fetter worked 12 years at the Vogue, starting his career in seventh grade
cleaning the facilities and eventually working his way up to concessions,
ticket sales and, finally, projectionist.
Most of my memories can be traced back to what movies were showing at the
Vogue at the time, said Fetter.
His first day on the reels, Fetter said he was a nervous wreck. It was
Fourth of July weekend, and the Vogue was showing the blockbuster
I kept checking the equipment every three or four minutes to make sure
everything was in working order, he said.
Another time, Fetter and his brother had to haul the awkwardly heavy reels
of Titanic (a three hour movie that requires twice as much film) up the
rickety metal ladder to the top projection room.
Then there were the quiet Friday evenings in September and October when
county-wide football games would literally leave the theatre empty, except
for the one or two employees on the clock.
As the only movie theater in Manistee Countyall 2,000 square miles of
itthe Vogue served as a prime hangout for teens, the place to take a
dateif you could find two seats next to each other that werent broken,
laughs Fetterand it was a way to access the world of Hollywood beyond the
farm communities of neighboring Onekama, Kaleva, Bear Lake, Freesoil and
Wellston, among others.
Before you think Manistee has a disconnection to the performing arts,
consider what occupies the city today. Just a few blocks south of the
Vogue is the Ramsdell, a Victorian era stage theater where actor James
Earl Jones made his theatrical debut as Othello and to this day, the
theatre plays host to several performances.
To the east is 10 West Studios, an independent film production company
that owns seven sound stages along with Hollywood-quality film equipment.
The connection was already made in the feasibility study on the Ramsdell
and 10 West Studios being here and their proximity to downtown, said
Fuller. It somewhat creates a triangle system of arts, if you would. Wed
be fortunate to do something like our own film festival. It will be a
great synergy between the Vogue and Ramsdell and the talent thats at 10
West Studios. I think weve got some really great opportunities.
Bringing the Vogue Theatre back to working order may seem like a marathon,
but for the people of Manistee and its outlying communities, its a long
journey that has a finish line. And the starting gun just went off.