By Pat Maurer
It may even be next week! The Ideal Theater is getting ready to reopen.
The exterior is nearly finished and work is wrapping up on the renovation of the interior of Clare’s vintage Ideal Theater. The face of the historic building, which was hidden for weeks, was unveiled recently.
Co-owner Lisa Benic posted on Facebook Tuesday, “Coming Soon! We’re putting the finishing touches on the theater with plans to open in a couple of weeks! Watch for a soft opening from March 19 to the 23rd for a sneak peek of the Ideal. You’ll be able to take in a fan-favorite retro movie for $2 while we test our equipment and train our staff.”
She continued, “Our grand re-opening will feature the new film, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” starting March 24th. So many surprises await! We can’t wait to see you!”
Lisa added, “The official ribbon cutting celebrating the Grand Re-opening of the Ideal theater will be April 3rd at 4 pm in front of the marquee.
City Manager Jeremy Howard said, “The City of Clare is thrilled to see the upcoming Grand Reopening of the Ideal Theater. It will be exciting to have this historic downtown landmark open once again. The City Commission was able to tour the facility to get a sneak peek recently, [Monday evening] and it truly strikes a perfect blend of modernizing the facility while still keeping the charm of a small-town movie theater.”
“It’s beautiful,” he added.
Clare’s Ideal Theater, which has been closed since the beginning of the pandemic, is getting new life with the renovation, now finishing up, and the eminent reopening by sisters and new owners Sandy Wright and Lisa Benic with the help of another sister, Designer Sue Leverence.
The sisters all grew up in Clare, the daughters of Polly and Don Collum and, like other generations from Clare County, enjoyed movies and events at the theater throughout their growing up years.
The Ideal Theater, which first opened August 6, 1930, has a unique history. It was run by James Olson. A new beautiful marqueee was added in late 1937. The theater was run next by by John Alxine until his death in 1963 and then by his wife until her death in 1967. In October, 1968, after being closed for a year, the theater was purchased by Willard Koch, Carl Stephenson, and E.C. (Doc) Shurlow; and reopened with the classic movies – the “Sound of Music,” followed the next week by “The Jungle Book.”
Shurlow and Stephenson sold out to Bill and Ruby Koch, who owned and operated the theater for the next 50 years. Ownership was transferred in 1995 to their son, Tom Koch, who operated it until about March, 2020 when it was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was sold in June, 2021, to Wright and Benic.
Although all three sisters grew up here, only Lisa still lives in Clare. Sandra is an attorney who has owned Prime Properties Management Company in Macomb County for the past 30 years and Sue lives in Florida, where she works in architectural design primarily in the restaurant industry and construction, but all three sisters have fond memories of the Ideal Theater.
Lisa said in an interview last year, “All three of us feel strongly that this isn’t about us, it’s about the community. This theater is such an important part of Clare’s history, and we want to keep it going to bring the same joy to future generations that it has brought to us.”
She added, “When Covid hit, the theater was closed for so long. Nothing can replace a small-town theater.”
Since the 2021 purchase, the sisters have been renovating and updating Clare’s old theater.
The project got some financial help with the announcement last September by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation that the Michigan Strategic Fund approved $83.8 million in grant funding for 22 projects across Michigan, including a Real Estate Rehabilitation [RAP] grant of $988,045 for the restoration of the historic old Ideal Theater in Clare.
The renovations include an expanded lobby and concessions; larger wheelchair accessible restrooms; wheelchair seating; accommodations for hearing and visually impaired; updated seating, updated ticketing including online and by credit card; new heating and cooling, plus plumbing and electrical systems; a new roof; a restored marquee; an updated sound system; updated projection technology; new fire and security systems; and updated decor (paint flooring and lighting); new screen and curtains; new lighted poster displays; and exterior renovation – brickwork, windows and doors; removal of the chimney in “Shamrock Alley;” and renovating the 5th Street alley behind the theater.
A recent Facebook post said, “We’re getting closer! If you haven’t driven through downtown Clare lately, you should.”
It continued, “We’ve unveiled the entrance to the theater! It needs a bit more work, but you can see the beautifully restored brickwork and new windows and doors. “It’s kind of like a Christmas present…you can see the package under the tree, but you can’t see inside yet!”
Lisa said, “We are planning to open it soon.”
From that point on it has been a labor of love for the three sisters, who during the renovations discovered some artifacts in the building.
“They explained, “Our favorite was a small statue of St. Joseph was found in the ceiling at the very beginning of the project. [As the] Patron saint of workers, we know he’s been watching over us. [A] shipping label found in an electrical panel is from June, 21, 1930 – just a few weeks before the Ideal opened for its first movie.” They said, “We love these reminders of the theater’s past as we work hard to ensure the Ideal will be here for another 93 years!”
4 Replies to “Renovated Ideal Theater to reopen”
What a wonderful project I’m sure it’ll turn out just beautiful it’s such a nice addition to our town to keep it going my children are all grown now and they have good memories of when we used to go there keep going forward nice project
I worked there for 5 years as the popcorn girl and also lived in the apartment for a year. I wonder if they kept the apartment? Great memories.
Can’t wait to see it opened back up and hopefully it won’t cost a fortune to watch a movie there like at other places.
Wonderful time growing up there in the 60s.