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Ramsdell Theatre


  1. Drinking Water
  2. Meeting Rooms
  3. Public Restrooms
  4. Theater
  5. Universal Accessibility

Thomas J. Ramsdell was Manistee’s first attorney and prominent developer and civic leader.  In private life, Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell married an early Manistee school teacher, Nettie Stanton, and had nine children, several of whom became famous in their own right.  Ramsdell enjoyed almost twenty years of retirement before he passed away at his home on April 22, 1917.  Several tributes were published accounting his early trials, his public interests, and his numerous attainments and endowments being mentioned, but perhaps the final statement of the News Advocate editor said it best, “A simple (funeral) ceremony, but fraught with the deepest significance, was this in which ‘Finis’ was written to the career of Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell, pioneer, patriarch, and distinguished citizen.” Having amassed a considerable fortune in the City, he determined to improve the welfare and culture of its citizens by erecting a theater for the presentation of legitimate stage productions and concerts and to provide space for public meetings and lectures.

A Chicago architect, Solon S. Beman, was hired to prepare plans for the theater and hall.  Construction at the prominent corner of Maple and First Streets located on a hill overlooking downtown Manistee and on the edge of the City’s finest residential neighborhood began in 1902 and was completed the following year.  Mr. Beman was famous for his model industrial towns of Pullman, Illinois (1880-1895) and Ivorydale, Ohio (1883-1888).  He contributed substantially to the first-generation achievement of the Chicago School of Architecture.

Included in Mr. Beman’s credits is the design of the Mines and Mining and Merchant Tailors pavilions for the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.  Afterwards he abandoned his former playful eclecticism and took on the sobriety and unity of the Renaissance and classical styles, which is reminiscent of the Ramsdell Theater’s architectural style.  

The theater and hall were built of a deep red brick in an interesting vernacular mixture of Classical and Italianate design elements. The simple stage house was built of Chicago common brick.  Ramsdell intended the building to be a work of art and an example of the latest and best in theater design.  The formal front entrance features a Doric portico while the face behind it is topped by a boxed pedimented cornice.  The remaining detailing, including a three story tower visually joining the theater and hall, is Italianate in style. 

The interior features a spacious lobby and lounge decorated with painted pastoral Grecian scenes.  The auditorium is elaborately decorated with gilt and lights; a large, light encircled dome in which Ramsdell's son, Frederic, painted a water-color mural of Venus, is the auditoriums's key decorative feature.  The theatre was technically advanced for its tiem and could accomodate any touring show.  It opened in 2903 and was used for stage shows until 1920 when it became a silent movie house.  The City purchased the building in 1943, using the hall as a youth center but nto immeidately employeing the theater.  Since 1951, the theater has been used once again for stage productions by the Manistee Civic Players and other groups.  The Ramsdell Theater is the most intact of the four theaters Mr. Beman designed and the only theater with some blue prints remaining.

The Ramsdell Theatre was constructed in 1903.  Restoration efforts began in the 80’s with window replacement.  Over the last 15 years an elevator has been installed, new theatre seats, restoration of the act curtain, restoration of the theater and lobby, restoration of the ballroom, installation of a caterers kitchen, restoration of Hardy Hall,  New restrooms in the lower level and numerous other improvements.  A new roof was installed this year.

The Ramsdell Theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is located within the City of Manistee Commercial Historic District.

Ramsdell Theatre History Page