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Downtown Hillsdale con­sists of blocks of buildings such as the City Hall, the Dawn Theatre, and the Keefer Hotel which are well over 100 years old and have endured as tes­ta­ments to their builders’ skills.

Jeffrey Horton, the owner of many prop­erties in the Hillsdale area, is part of a group which has restored the Dawn Theatre to its 1930’s appearance. The theatre was orig­i­nally build in 1919 as a vaude­ville theatre with a curved stage and sten­ciled plaster walls. These walls were later covered with homasote when the theatre was rebuilt in the 1930s to accom­modate “talkies,” said Horton. Homasote is a durable material man­u­fac­tured by com­pressing recycled paper and glue at high tem­per­a­tures.

The original man­u­fac­turer of homasote was still in business; as a result, Horton was able to restore the theatre walls to their 1930s appearance.

In the restoration process, several posters from 1930s films were dis­covered pasted on wooden walls in the basement. One poster adver­tises the Clara Bow film “No Limit” released in 1931. Another poster is missing its title but based on the pho­to­graph and the name of the leading actor, Charles Rogers, it appears that it adver­tised the 1931 film “Working Girls”. The third poster is that of the 1930 film “The Vir­tuous Sin” with Walter Huston.

The basement of the Dawn Theatre bears many signs of its colored past; the walls in one corner are visibly darker than the other walls. Horton believes that this was where coal was piled to feed the building’s two boilers.

“The side facing Broad Street is the only side of the building that allowed for coal to be delivered, the alley was too narrow,” Horton said.

He pointed out a square hole in the side of the basement which had been filled in with con­crete blocks where the coal chute had been located.

Horton also owns the Keefer Hotel whichhe is in the process of ren­o­vating. The Keefer Hotel is located on the next block over from the Dawn Theatre. Its large windows overlook Howell Street giving the lobby a bright, open feeling. The lobby floor con­sists of square inch tiles in Central American style designs iden­tical to those in City Hall, likely a result of Mexican laborers who were working in the area at the time of the hotel’s con­struction, Horton said.

The Keefer Hotel was built in 1885, suf­fered from a fire, and was rebuilt around 1911,Horton said. The hotel opened with 54 rooms on two floors with the main floor occupied by the lobby, dining room, and the kitchen.

The original wainscot pattern in the lobby and dining room is iden­tical to that of the state capitol, and Horton believes that the same skilled laborers who worked on that building also fin­ished the hotel. Since much of the original wain­scoting was beyond repair, Horton had it care­fully covered over by an exact duplicate of the pattern thus pre­serving the original wall as wellas the rooms’ aes­thetics.

The ceiling in the lobby was sten­ciled plaster similar to the walls of the Dawn Theatre, but it was covered with stamped tin plates during the rebuilding of 1911, pre­serving the original ceiling behind.

Jilly Beans also residesin a his­torical building which was orig­i­nally the Smith Hotel. The third story burned in the 1980s and was never rebuilt.

A familiar haunt for stu­dents of Hillsdale College, some of whom are familiar with the garden to the rear of the coffee shop which offers patrons a delightful atmos­phere in which to enjoy their drinks and chat with friends. A wis­teria tree in the center of the courtyard pro­vides shade and lends itself well to the peaceful setting.

“This [the courtyard] was where they kept the coal, orso I’ve been told,” Jilly Beans’ owner Jill Nichols said.

The Dawn Theatre, Keefer Hotel, the Smith Hotel and all the other buildings in downtown Hillsdale from that period are brick, high­lighting the builders’ attention to the longevity of the buildings.

“Fires were not an uncommon thing at that time,” Horton said.

A com­parison of the downtown area in past decades as seen in pho­tographs com­pared to the present-day con­firms this.

For more infor­mation about his­torical buildings in Hillsdale and the sur­rounding area as well as pho­tographs, look up “Van­ished Hillsdale” on Facebook.

  • jeanne sanford

    Have lived in Hillsdale 77 years; and find this very inter­esting. I am 87. Jeanne