168-170 Water Street,
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In 1913, A.W. Newman operated a jewellery store on Chenango Street. That summer there were four theatres featuring vaudeville and motion picture entertainment in Binghamton, and Newman saw a need for a new, more intimate venue. He decided to close his shop and have the theatre built – a place where people could gather for evenings of fun and entertainment. It would be called the People’s Theatre.
Albert Willey was contracted to build a five story building to house Newman’s 400 seat theatre. Technically, it would be known as the Willey Block, but this was definitely the people’s building. The theatre was located on the ground floor and the upper floors were used by a lighting manufacturer. Built of reinforced concrete it was promoted as an ‘absolutely fireproof photoplay house’ and ‘on of the most modern structures of its character in the country’. Ground was broken on September 13, 1913, and the People’s Theatre opened to a packed house on July 6, 1914.
The People’s Theatre closed Saturday, September 27, 1930, with owner Jesse C. Hilman announcing plans in the press to replace the theatre with a miniature golf course (!). The press reported that ‘the front and the rear of the present theatre will be removed as well as the seats, furniture and fixtures used for movie purposes’. The ambitious undertaking was scheduled to be completed by October 15.
Perhaps not surprisingly, by 1933 the theatre had found new life as a night club called “Peoples”. This also appears to have a been a short-lived venture.
The impressive building still stands in good condition and is still in use. The ornate trim on the first two stories is a subtle reminder of its gaudier days as a movie theatre.
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