PORTAGE PATHWAYS:Short-lived Victory Theatre was Ravenna's first film palace

By Roger J. Di Paolo | Record-Courier Editor Published:

The Victory Theatre was the talk of the town when it opened in Ravenna a century ago.

The 570-seat "temple of entertainment," located on North Meridian Street near Cedar Avenue, was "spacious, sanitary and safe ... as good as any in Cleveland," the Ravenna Republican reported after a capacity crowd turned out for opening night on Feb. 14, 1914.

Fred C. Carroll, the manager of the new theater, was "known over the country as 'The Moving Picture King,'" with a singular claim to fame: He was said to have opened the first moving picture show in Chicago, in 1897.

Within less than a month, however, Carroll was out of a job and the Victory had a new name and new owners following an unexpected turn of events that included the arrest of the theater manager and his wife and the sale of the new entertainment venue.

The Victory was one of a number of movie houses that opened in downtown Ravenna during the early years of the 20th Century. The first motion picture theaters were located in rented storefronts, where nickelodeon shows were projected on bedsheets for audiences seated in folding chairs.

The Victory, though, was a true movie palace -- a taste of big city entertainment for a community that had achieved city status just a few years earlier.

Frank Traves, a local businessman, spared no expense on the theater he built 100 years ago.

The auditorium featured comfortable seats as well as ample lighting, two bubbling drinking fonts and a modern heating system. "Warm, pure air is forced into the auditorium each minute and the unhealthful and nauseating conditions of the ordinary room thus entirely avoided," the Republican reported.

"There is nothing to be desired in point of safety, comfort and entertainment of patrons of this modern place of amusement which adds much to the privileges of the city and is a monument to the enterprise of its builder," it noted.

Manager Carroll was hailed by the Republican as "an authority on the history and literature of the moving picture world." He managed theaters in Chicago, Cleveland and North Carolina before coming to Ravenna, and also had worked as a cameraman.

The Republican said Carroll planned "to give a demonstration at a later date, showing how moving pictures and their wonderful features are produced."

It's doubtful that he ever got the chance.

Just three weeks after the Victory Theatre opened, Carroll's wife, Carrie, was arrested in Akron and pleaded guilty to shoplifting at the Yeager and O'Neil department stores. When Carroll came to the police station seeking his wife, he also was arrested and charged with intoxication.

The episode cost Carroll his job in Ravenna.

On March 7, three days after Carroll's arrest, the Victory was sold by Frank Traves for $17,000 -- close to $400,000 today.

The buyer was Arthur F. Lee, who along with his brother, Van C. Lee, had operated moving picture shows at several locations in Ravenna since 1903.

Lee's Theatre, formerly the Victory, opened on Meridian Street on March 9, 1914 -- the Lees had opened all of their theaters on the ninth day of the month -- and Frank Traves retired from the movie business to devote himself to his truck manufacturing plant in Ravenna. His final weekend as owner of the Victory was a profitable one; 1,650 tickets were sold for Saturday performances.

The Lees, the Republican reported, "have catered to the tastes of their townspeople for the last eight years and raised the quality of their shows to criterion standards. ... Their connection with leading film companies will enable them to develop the new house to its fullest capacity."

Arthur Lee died in 1919, and his brother sold the motion picture house two years later. It eventually became known as the Ohio Theatre and passed into the hands of the Schine chain, which operated it as a "second-run" movie venue; first-run films were shown at the Ravenna Theatre on South Chestnut Street, also owned by the Schine chain.

The Ohio Theatre -- formerly Lee's Theatre and, for less than a month a century ago, the Victory Theatre -- was razed in 1960.

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