RKO State Theatre

32 E. 4th Street,
Dayton, OH 45403

Unfavorite 2 people favorited this theater

Dayton RKO State Theater Auditorium

The RKO State Theatre has an interesting begining, It was originaly built as a YMCA in 1886. David Sinclair started Sinclair College here. By 1908, the college and YMCA had outgrown the building and it became the Auditorium Theatre. There were actually two screens in the theatre, one theatre on the main floor and another theatre on the second floor called the Annex. This is probably the first example of what we now know as a twin theatre. The main lower auditorium seated 1,040 on a stadium plan, with a raised section at the rear (with no overhanging balcony). The upper auditorium (known as the Annex) became the Hippodrome Theatre in 1913 but closed in 1914 and after remaining empty for a while was converted into the Auditorium Hotel in 1917. The theatre was destroyed by fire in November 1917 and was rebuilt to the plans of architectural firm Preszinger & Musselman.

The theatre was said to be haunted by a young woman that was killed in the sewing room. Strange noises and lights turning on and off by themselves were reported. The theatre also had talkies, before they were even invented! Actors behind the screen would act out the action on the screen.

The Auditorium Theatre was renamed the State Theatre in 1923 when it was managed by B.F. Keiths. It primarly ran B movies and handled the overflow of movies from the Keith’s Theatre. The State Theatre had a personality of its own. The theatre resembled an old castle and was perfect for watching horror movies.

By 1923 the State Theatre was renamed RKO State Theatre. In the 1950’s attendance was dropping off and on October 28, 1964 RKO dropped it lease on the building. The theatre opened the next day under different management and they too closed on January 18, 1965.

A year later, the Dayton Community Theatre moved in and did well. The City of Dayton had other plans. In 1970 the building was demolished and became part of the Dayton Convention Center and Hotel complex.

Contributed by Jon Flynn

Recent comments (view all 5 comments)

Gary Smith
Gary Smith on October 12, 2007 at 2:50 am

The State theatre was built as a YMCA in the late 1800s (The largest in the world at the time). For a time it did have 2 theatres operating inside the building. As the YMCA it had a huge gymnasium on the lower level and that became the hippodrome theatre. The YMCA also had many rooms that the men lived in. After the YMCA moved out, The YMCA auditorium became the Auditrium Theatre, and the residential part became the Auditorium Hotel, the Hippodrome Theatre was on the lower level. There was no balcony, although they called the upper part of the theatre the balcony. It was early stadium seating. You entered the auditorium from the right side of the lobby (the only entrance to the house), that put you in the center of the theatre. You could then go down, closer to the stage or up to a higher seat. I spent many happy hours inside that theatre.
I have a photo of the interior.
I saw an excellent production of South Pacific “Live on Stage” there before it closed for good.
I’m Not sure but I believe Sinclair college was started at the third YMCA building on Monument St. in the late 1920s. The second YMCA building is now the City Municipal building. All 3 of Dayton’s YMCAs were the largest in the world at the time they were built.

ZookieFreddie on February 23, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Gary, you are correct. The city’s municipal building is, indeed, in the former YMCA prior to the one on Monument Avenue. That address is 101 W. Third Street and the swimming pool is still in the cellar area, having been floored over after the city got it. And, yes the third YMCA is actually where Sinclair Community College started in a separate building at the Monument YMCA site, that one being razed in about the late 70s when they moved to the present location.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 20, 2012 at 6:00 pm

The URL of the photo lostmemory linked to in the previous comment has been changed. The photo is now at this link.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 8, 2017 at 10:33 pm

The December 15, 1917, issue of Motography reported that “The Auditorium theater at Dayton was destroyed by fire with a loss of $300,000.” The figure was a bit exaggerated. The next year’s report from the Dayton City Commission said that “The biggest fire during the year was at the Auditorium Theatre on East Fourth Street, with a loss of $70,348.00.”

The report in Motography was probably a bit late as well. The December 6, 1917 issue of Engineering News-Record had this item in its notices of proposed buildings that was probably about the Auditorium:

“Dayton—theater—G. Burrows and Associates plan to rebuild theater recently destroyed by fire. About $250,000. Pretzinger & Musselman, 1155 Reibold St., archts.”

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 22, 2017 at 4:07 pm

Here is a bit of information about the operation of the Auditorium Theatre during the period before the fire that destroyed the house, from the April 1, 1916, issue of The Moving Picture World:

“The New Auditorium is a ‘duplex’ theater. There are two 500 seat auditoriums, one above the other, the operating room of the lower being under the stage of the upper. The lower theater begins the day, and when the first two reels are finished they are sent upstairs and the show is started in the upper auditorium, thereafter the show continues for the day with the lower theater two laps ahead of the upper. There are three operators employed. The projectors are Power’s Six A’s. Projection is in charge of S. Howell, P. Willoughby and W. Stoker.

“The lobby of the New Auditorium is very spacious, is decorated in pale blue and is fitted up with wicker chairs, stand lamps and cozy corners — a beautiful, commodious rest room. The house is owned by the Auditorium Amusement Company, of which that wideawake, pleasant gentleman, Gill Burrows, is manager. We had an extended talk with Neighbor Burrows; also met Mr. Elmer Rauh, president and treasurer of the company.”

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater