Archived Story

Dear John/Chief Theater

Published 5:11pm Thursday, May 17, 2012

What can you tell us about the Chief Theater?

—   Gary Bailey

Not as much as I’d like, but maybe some older readers can share their memories.

I knew Dowagiac had three moviehouses, the Century, the Chief and the Caruso, although the latter wasn’t called that by the time Richard Phillipson and I stood on our chairs to scream at the screen for “A Hard Day’s Night” like we were at a concert.

I was devastated when it burned while I was in college, but found new life in the ’80s as Scotty’s sub shop.

When you go into Red Raven, or Woolworth’s in my first memories, there is a visible trace of its time as a theater.

The Century was at 201 Front Street, the Chief at 203.

Fifth Third Bank, where I always thought the Chief was, is at 205 Front.

I consulted Steve Arseneau, director of The Museum at Southwestern Michigan College to learn the Chief was relatively short-lived.

It wasn’t there in 1945, appeared by 1948 and vanished by 1954.

Not only was Ralph Newland, manager of the Century, married to Katherine, owner of the Chief, she was the sister of John Larkin, owner of the Century, who, at one time, managed Beckwith Theater.

Steve told me something else I never heard before, that there was only one concession stand, in the Century, that the two shared.

I’m curious why the second theater started — the Century opened in 1922 and would have been well-established — and how they decided what played where.

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