Avon Theater

319 S. Michigan Street,
South Bend, IN 46601

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Strand / Avon

I finally found some information on this old theater after extensively searching the web and getting nowhere. By luck, I found mention of this theater while going through the South Bend Civic Theater’s website. It turns out that a downtown development firm called Downtown South Bend, Inc. owns the old Avon building and is either giving it or selling it to the South Bend Civic Theater group.

Sadly, it sounds like the South Bend Civic Theater group is going to raze the Avon Theater and build two new theaters on the spot including a little 100-150 seat theater and a larger 300 seat theater. At least they’re using the land for a theater, though. I emailed the director of the South Bend Civic Theater group and he provided me with this information. I also learned from him that the Avon Theater does have a newer roof and one re-enforced side wall but that the interior is in lousy condition.

He reports that the Avon Theater was built around 1926 and was originally called the Strand Theater. It was originally built as a movie house, was outfitted for sound in 1929, and ceased operations as a theater in the late-1960’s or early-1970’s. It remained vacant until November 2012, when it was demolished. The façade was saved to be used in another building.

Contributed by William Harvey

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

rpatnaude on June 22, 2005 at 5:09 am

This theater has an interesting history. The original name, The Strand, was selected in a contest. It was the first theater in South Bend built purely for films. As such, it hasn’t been too marketable to theatre groups and such in the present day, like many old theaters.
It was first relaunched in 1949 as The Avon. Then, in the 50’s (1959?) as the Avon Art ( showing a lot of French New Wave and “Art films”). It then degenreated in to a Porno Theatre in the 1970’s, when it died a slow death with the rest of the downtown after a bizarre policy by Mayor Allen of
1) jacking up business taxes and driving stores to the malls and neighboring towns
2)putting in a bunch of one-way streets that prevented anyone from easily going to the remaining businesses
3)Paving over main street to make a “walking downtown"
4) Putting up dozens of parking garages where the businesses once stood
Since the mid-to-late 90s, the downtown nightlife in South Bend has revitalized (primarily because of ripping up Main Street and turnign it into a commercial center again) but the Avon has some serious problems inside.

I’ve seen worse, mind you- and the roof is in good condition. There is some water damage from when it wasn’t, however. Not too bad. City Estimates were in the neighborhood of $10,000 for new HVAC system back about 15 years ago. All the seats except for the balcony were ripped out in the mid 90’s to go to the grand old STATE theater down the street when it was brifly revived as a theater (it has since become a nightclub.
The worst feature of the Avon is its electrical system, or systems, I should say. It’s like a museum of electrical systems from 1926-1970. Nothing was ever removed, just added to. It would take quite a bit to get it up to modern code/regulations.

In theory ( I looked into it very seriously) one could turn it into a functioning theatre provided you could transfer a liquor liscence into it, and serve alcohol. On sundays no alcohol in Indiana, so you’d have to do kiddie shows and get families.

The city of South Bend was very helpful in putting together business models and offered to give to purchaser a three-year property tax abatement. There were also many other incentives from the Indiana Historical Society, National Register of Historical Places, and it was in a business “Redevelopment Zone” which carried some tax benefits.

If someone can set up a distirbution deal for /cult/classic/arthouse/revivial (non mainstream) movies there, get an alcohol liscence, some new projector/sound equipment, and the money for an electrical overhaul- you could have a nice, historical movie bar – and the city would be happy to see someone develop the property and help you out.

npmolnar on August 15, 2006 at 5:50 am

A recent photo of the Avon, complete with Wendy Jo Martin’s mural of South Bend, can be seen at the South Bend Area Blog. (Permalink http://www.realst8.com/blog/?p=77 )

Philmagic on October 16, 2008 at 7:35 am

The current plan for the AVON Theatre building is for the South Bend Public Library, in the same block. Will purchase the building and raze it along with surrounding buildings for an expansion and parking garage facility. The plan has been delayed currently due to funding issues within local government tax roles. You can read about some of these plans in the public report…
View link

jimvid on December 10, 2008 at 9:40 am

here are 2 recent photos of the Avon:
View link

Sontaran6 on January 18, 2009 at 4:08 pm

The Avon was an upscale “art” theatre (spelled with a terminal “-re”) while I was an undergraduate at Notre Dame in the 1950s. It mostly showed “foreign films,” not regular movies. It aimed to attract patrons who would not condescend to visit the many other theaters in town — and it largely succeeded, which is why only professors and snobs knew it was open for business. Its regular clientele consisted of folks who liked to imagine they were in New York or Paris. If an ND undergrad’s date was a foreign-language or fine arts major from St. Mary’s College, he might suffer going there too, occasionally. :–)

kevyzim on July 8, 2009 at 4:15 am

Does anyone have any updates about the fate of this theatre. I remember it as a kid growing up in South Bend in the 60’s as being that place that my parents would hurry by for fear I would ask what the movies they were showing were. I seem to have a vague memory of one of them being “I am Curious (Yellow).” Would love to hear any updates!

figaro14 on August 31, 2009 at 4:42 pm

I can say with great certainty that the Avon was still in operation in the early 1970’s. I was a student at IU South Bend and also worked at the neighboring State Theatre from 1970 – 1972. We all had a reciprocal agreement with the other theaters that employees could see any films at any of the South Bend theatres. In the early to mid-1960’s the Avon when through a period where they showed “soft-core” European porno films, not porno by today’s standards by any means, but adult films nonetheless. In the late-1960’s they returned to showing commercial films, but with a focus on independent or smaller art films. I remember seeing I am Curious Yellow there as well as all of Woody Allen’s early films like Take the Money and Run and Bananas.

I’m not certain when it officially closed, but it was still in operation in 1972.

coolate on October 11, 2011 at 7:59 am

rpatnaude, Who were you in contact with about the property? It seems the city still owns it. I think the Library is to broke to make a parking lot right now, but who knows. It is a great location, and I am interested in reopening it.

SouthBend on October 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Update on the Avon: Looks like it is going to be destroyed by the new owners. The St. Joseph County Library bought it and is going to level it for a parking lot. The community has tried to stop them, but I don’t think it will be saved. There is a FB group: Save the Avon Theatre downtown South Bend if you would like to follow.

sam siklas
sam siklas on September 13, 2013 at 7:52 pm

The Avon Theater was demolished in November of 2012. Luckily, the Terra-cotta portion of the from facade were saved for reuse on or in another building.

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