Michigan Historic Building
The Ramsdell Theatre in Manistee, Michigan has been an architectural landmark since it first opened in 1903. It is a Michigan Historic Building, whose architect, Solon Beman, also designed Pullman, IL. It still serves as a cultural center for western Michigan and as a destination for tourists interested in historic buildings.
After years of use and some benign neglect, the building needed major attention. In the 1990s, as the city began to emphasize its Victorian heritage, a group was formed to guide a major restoration of the theatre and the ballroom-side of the building. Over the years private donors, businesses, social and service organizations and patrons have helped match grants to bring this treasure back to its original beauty. Close to 4 million dollars has been raised. There were also several major in-kind gifts of repairing and restoring woodwork and lighting fixtures. James Earl Jones, who began his career on our stage, has returned twice to help raise funds.
The preservation architects were Quinn Evans, who designed the master plan, and Conrad Schmidt Studios, who did much of the decorative wall and ceiling work. The 1903 act curtain that was designed by Walter Burridge is the only existent theatre drop of his. It was restored by Bradley Vandermoere, as were the dome painting and the lunettes in the lobby. The theatre seats were replaced by American Seating Company, who made the original seats. The original wooden armrests were restored and reused. All 465 seats were donated as memorials or honorariums. An elevator has been added to provide comfortable access to all. The theatre and attached exhibit hall and ballroom have been restored as well and are now used year-round for:
- Art exhibits
- Ballet performances
- Business events
- Civic Theatre productions
- Symphony concerts
- Traveling performances
An endowment fund to maintain and preserve the restoration has been established. Under the guidance of a Governing Board, the future of this historic treasure is being assured.