Glad to see the Majestic Theatre reopened in Streator last weekend. The 102-year-old theater closed at the end of March after struggling financially since reopening in May 2007.
People from Pennsylvania are now operating the landmark theater, and I wish them luck. But I wonder how much more successful they can be than Kyle and Cindy Mitchell, who metaphorically poured their blood, sweat and tears into the Majestic during the two years they ran it. I think they did a great job promoting the theater through contests and other special events, and Kyle in particular was more visibly involved in the community than many other downtown business owners.
Unfortunately, the Majestic Theatre is no stranger to being closed for business. The Majestic has been shut down at least six times since first opening in 1907, and the city condemned the building in the 1950s. Yet it has cheated death again, and I hope the community supports it even more now that it is reopened.
The Majestic Theatre has a storied past, one that I enjoyed researching for a newspaper article as the building’s centennial approached. Before it became a movie house, the Majestic hosted music, comedy and vaudeville acts such as Jack Benny and Groucho Marx.
My favorite Majestic story is that of a couple who married onstage — accompanied by a pride of lions! Here’s how I described it in the aforementioned newspaper article:
An Aug. 5, 1907, story in the Streator Daily Free Press told of Majestic Manager F.H. Cox’s desire to find a couple to marry onstage in a den of African lions. The story concluded with the following quote, essentially daring someone to take Cox up on his offer.
“It requires some nerve to get married and agree to support a woman for life. Where is there a man in Streator or vicinity who will agree to do this with a half dozen lions glaring at him?”
On Saturday, Aug. 17, 1907, Ernest Payne and Kate Thomas were married in a lion cage in front of more than 1,000 guests at the Majestic. The Rev. E.A. Cantrell, minister of the Church of Good Will, officiated and delivered a 10-minute sermon about “marriage in the lions’ den.”
Inside the cage, the trained lions were not more than a dozen feet away from the couple. The couple stood at the back of the cage facing the audience, and the minister faced the bride and groom. Cardona, a French lion tamer armed with a whip, stood between the lions and the others. The minister invoked God’s blessing on the couple, then on the lions.
To read the entire newspaper article, click here.