Downtown Hillsdale’s historic Dawn Theatre celebrated its centennial on Sept. 4. The city held a ceremony outside of City Hall, across the street from the Dawn, to celebrate the start of construction.
The Dawn Theatre opened in 1919 as a vaudeville and silent movie house. Since then it has functioned as a theatre, an event venue, and a nightclub. Long-time residents of Hillsdale remember the Dawn as the place of their first movies, first dates, senior proms, and friend’s weddings.
During the celebration, Hillsdale Mayor Adam Stockford spoke followed by Michigan State Sen. Mike Shirkey and Rep. Eric Leutheuser (R‑58). Paula Holtz, a member of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation Community Assistant Team, presented Stockford with a check of $1.4 million from MEDC.
Mary Wolfram, former consultant for the city and Economic Advisor for Tax Increment Finance Authority was heavily involved in the Dawn project.
“It’s been a long-time coming,” she said. “It took two and a half years to work through the [MEDC’s] system. The first proposal was a million dollars too high. There were architectural problems. There were so many opportunities for it to fall apart, but everyone hung in there.”
The Dawn was bought by TIFA in 2016 in conjunction with the Keefer property for restorations and renovations.
Stockford said he hopes the project “will be a catalyst for investment downtown”. TIFA chair Chris Sumnar said he hopes the project “will bring more economic development and prevent urban decay of the district.”
Stockford said he remembers 20 or 30 years ago when downtown was vibrant.
“You could come down here on a Friday or Saturday night and see a few dozen people walking around. Any given night, you could see young families and kids around here. There’s not much of that anymore, so, hopefully, this will change that,” Stockford said.
Leuthauser’s first memory of the Dawn was watching a movie there when he was a small child. He went to watch a double-feature on Halloween: a Don Knotts comedy, and “Black Zoo,” which filled the theatre with crying children.
The Dawn will be used as an event space for the Keefer Hotel, and it will be available for community events and for rentals.