RKO State Theatre

32 East Fourth Street,
Dayton, OH 45403

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Dayton RKO State Theatre

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The RKO State 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 Theater. There were actually two screens in the theater, one on the main floor and another on the second floor called the Annex. This is probaly the first example of what we now know as a twin theater. 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 theater 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 theater also had talkies, before they were even invented! Actors behind the screen would act out the action on the screen.

The Auditorium was renamed the State Theater 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 Theater. The State had a personality of its own. The theater resembled an old castle and was perfect for watching horror movies.

By 1923 the Theater was renamed RKO State. In the 50’s attendance was dropping off and on October 28, 1964 RKO dropped it lease on the building. The theater 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 3 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.

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