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Res­i­dents and vis­itors cel­e­brated the cen­tennial of the Dawn Theater on Sept. 4. Col­legian | Julia Mullins

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.