HISTORY OF THE VICKERS THEATRE, THREE OAKS, MI
The first moving pictures to be shown in Three Oaks were at the Acorn Opera House, located where the parking lot now exists next to the present Vickers Theatre. In the spring of 1909, Melvin Smith of Three Rivers pitched a tent in the business district of Three Oaks showing movies and vaudeville acts. The venture met with immediate success. In the next two years, twoother “movie houses” opened in Three Oaks. These three theaters bore the enchanting names of The Princess, The Idle Hour, and The Fairyland (which eventually became the Vickers).
The Fairyland Theatre was originally owned by Frank Lee and Clarence Perham. Lee soon purchased his partner’s interest in the business and the theatre became known as the“Lee Theatre”.Members of the Lee family were intimately involved in running the theatre. Before the talkies, Bea McGrath (Lee’s daughter) ran the box office and played in the orchestra; son Eldon Lee played the coronet; and Mrs. Lee (Ada) played the drums and occasionally a player piano. Les Lee (Grandson), remembered tearing tickets at the theatre as an 11 year old boy.
The first “sound” movie to play the theatre was THE PAGAN, starring Ramon Navarro. The sound was not quite synchronized sound, but a series of special records, which played along with the movie, a stop-gap solution for small town theaters,
Lee’s Theatre moved to its present site at 6 N. Elm St. in 1939. The first movie to be shown at the new location was AT THE CIRCUS starring the Marx Brothers. The building was originally built sometime before 1880 as a livery and feed store, known as Fishers. For over 50 years, different generations of the Lee family operated the Lee Theatre.
During this period, the theatre changed hands several times. It finally closed in 1990 and lay vacant until 1994.
The theatre was purchased by Jon & Jennifer Vickers. After 2 1/2 years of painstaking restoration, in June 1996, the theatre opened as the Vickers Theatre. The theatre’s opening movie was CITZEN KANE. The Vickers Theatre’s Outdoor Film Event, the “Sound of Silents Film Festival” was an annual treat for local residents and theatre patrons. Since re-opening, the theatre has also been an art gallery for local artists who exhibit their work each month for theatre patrons viewing and for purchase.
Judy & Joe Scully purchased the Vickers Theatre in June 2010. Bill Lindblom ably manages the theatre and greets audiences with his well-researched trivia on the movie playing that week.
2010 to present
The old film projector was replaced with a digital projector in November of 2012, a necessary upgrade to continue screening new film releases. The first digital film screened at the Vickers was BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.
2012 was also the beginning of the film and discussion series,First Tuesdays. The Vickers Theatre partnered with Harbor Country Progress to present free admission community films, a monthly documentary film and discussion forum. Film Professor Judd Chesler also led film discussion groups on chosen movies showing at the Vickers during this time.In addition to film, the theatre offers other art forms including live music and theatre. The Three Oaks Theatre Festival presented alive staged reading of Larry Kramer’s THE NORMAL HEART at The Vickers, as part of their second season offering. The original Chicago cast from the TimeLine Theatre Group performed the play. In its third season the festival presented CHAPATTI,starring Penny Slusher and John Mahoney.The Vickers Theatre hosts many Q&As with actors, directors,producers, and editors, as well as premiering films with local connections. The Vickers has also been a venue for annual festivals including the Coastline Children’s Film Festival, the Fernwood Environmental Festival, and the much loved Manhattan Short Film Festival, which is a sellout each year.In 2019. The Vickers Theatre obtained a liquor license for wine &beer, adding to the enjoyment of its’ patrons.In its 108 year history the Vickers Theatre has had five names -The Fairyland, Lee’s Theatre, and for short periods, The Family Theater, The Oak Theater and finally The Vickers Theatre.
See Q&A’s in About Us for more information
See Film Archives for a list of past movies