For more than thirty years local arts groups have worked to acquire the Bohm Theatre, but the project was cost prohibitive due to the acquisition costs, combined with necessary renovations. Since the late 1990s, the theatre has struggled, changing ownership several times through various land contracts, and with continued deterioration of the building, in November 2008, the theatre ceased operations, and on March 31, 2010, the property tax reverted to the County.
At that time the Albion Community Foundation and Albion Downtown Development Authority joined forces and formed the Friends of the Bohm Theatre, as an advisory board, to determine how to save this historic landmark and the theatre arts back to downtown Albion. By September 2010 it was evident that there was enough community support to restore and revitalize the historic theatre so the Friends of the Bohm Theatre was incorporated as a Michigan nonprofit corporation. By October 2012 the Friends had received their 501 C3 status, and began efforts to separate from the Foundation so that they could independently operate the theater, once open.
Restoration began in September 2011, immediately after the Friends of the Bohm Theatre acquired the building from the county. Throughout the restoration the Friends partnered with the Albion Community Foundation to provide financial management for the capital campaign, and used its 40 year history and track record to help leverage funds not typically available to start-up organizations. Originally planned to open by Christmas 2014, the Theatre actually opened three months early.
In May 2015, the Bohm Theatre was one of the recipients of the prestigious
Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation.
1929 – 1951
- George Bohm owned the Theatre from the day it first opened, Christmas Day in 1929, until his death in 1951
1951 – 1976
- During this period the theatre was owned first by Albert Bohm, then by George and Jack Ryser (Bohm’s nephews)
- Albert Bohm assumed ownership in 1951
- He was followed by George and Jack Ryser
1976 – 1981
- During this period the Bohm Theatre was owned by Mid-State Theatres
- The Ryser’s sold the Bohm Theatre to Mid-State Theatres in 1976
1981 – 1990
- The Bohm Theatre was purchased by Arnold and David Simmons, from Lake Orion, in 1981
- R-Joy Theatres, Inc. owned by Arnold Simmons, assumed ownership in 1990
1990 – 1994
- Michigan Theaters Inc. of Dearborn took over in 1990
- They closed the Bohm Theatre in December, 1991
1994 – 1995
- David Nelson purchased the Bohm Theatre in 1994
1995 – 1998
- Enter-Plex Entertainment assumed ownership in 1995
1995 – 2010
- Bohm Theatre, LLC purchased the theatre in 1998
- During this period there were several defaulted land contracts
2011 – the present
- The Friends of the Bohm Theatre was formed and purchased the Theatre in 2011 with the goal of restoring it
- The Bohm re-opens three months early in October 2014
- In May 2015, the Bohm Theatre receives the Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation
From the first vaudeville shows and silent films, to the first color movie, Gone With the Wind, to the amazing special effects of Star Wars, the Bohm Theatre has held a special place in the hearts of Albion area theater-goers. What follows are just a few stories that we have collected:
- Dating back to the 1930’s, Katie Masternak remembers that kids could attend for 10 cents; she remembers that her mom would give her the money.
- In 1945, Jim Garrison remembers that he had his birthday party there, though he does not recall the movie.
- Mary Lou Carbonneau (Bearman) recalls that during World War II, if you brought items for the war effort to the theater, your admission would be free. She brought in an old tire, which allowed both her and her cousin to get in free.
- Beverly Robinson remembers that sitting in the balcony in the 1940’s was a lot of fun because you could see better from there. She recalls going to the early show with her father and siblings and taking in two performances.
- Marie Stevens (Miller) went to the Bohm Theatre in the 1950’s. She remembers seeing a movie that scared her so much that she screamed out loud, but she doesn’t remember the name of the movie. She does remember that she was not allowed to see Peyton Place.
- Pat Smith remembers seeing Gone With the Wind and was shocked when Rhett Butler said “damn.”
- Mike Martin remembers that he would get to go to the movies while his parents shopped in town. He saw Tarzan and Ben Hur. Albion College students in the 1960’s remember walking to the Bohm from campus.
- Wendy Fershee said it was very exciting when somebody asked you out to the movie, but you had to be watchful about the time. If you got stopped by the train and were late to get back to the dorm, you were assessed “late minutes” and if female students accumulated too many “late minutes,” they had to be back even earlier the next time.
- Barbara and William Rafaill had their first date at the Bohm Theatre while students; they saw The Night they Raided Minskys, and were married three years later.
- Bob Mahaney remembers that his whole fraternity went to watch Animal House in the mid-70’s.
- Margaret Dever remembers seeing Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. In the middle of Episode 1, a pigeon flew into the theater and across the movie screen.
Please contact us if you have a story to share.
THE PURPLE GANG
It is well-known that two members of the infamous Purple Gang, Sam Bernstein and Louis Fleischer, lived in Albion during Prohibition and afterward. The gangs “west” of Michigan were all capable of brewing their own beer and bathtub gin, but were incapable of making “labeled” liquor. The Purple Gang, based in Detroit, had a corner on that market smuggling “labeled” liquor across the Detroit River and distributing it “for a price”. The western gangs had a choice: they could go to war with the Purple Gang to take over the business, or “do” business with the Purples. In truth, none of them wanted anything to do with going to war—the Purples were that bad!
So why did Sam Bernstein and Louis Fleischer live in Albion? Their principal purpose was to meet with gangsters from Chicago, St. Louis, and all points “west” to negotiate the delivery of smuggled “labeled” liquor from Canada through Detroit. Albion’s location between Chicago and Detroit made it a logical meeting place. During their time in Albion, they ran a scrap metal yard called Riverside Metal which they used a front for their real business, robbery. They had an armor-plated, bulletproof car that they used, and kept hidden in Albion. They would not attempt to “crack the safe” during a robbery. Instead they would take the entire safe to their metal yard where they would torch it open and then melt it into slag metal. Poof, no more safe.
Helen Sharp, the long-time ticket-taker for the Bohm Theatre, was still living when Mary and I moved to Albion in 2004. As I began to learn about the history of Albion and the Purple Gang, she told me the following story:
Western gangs members would take the train from Chicago and stay at the Parker House Inn on Michigan Ave. when they came to Albion to do business with the Purples. Negotiations were conducted Sunday evenings during the evening performance at the Bohm. They would purchase tickets, go up to the balcony, and sit in seats immediately in front of the projection booth, and directly under the projector window. The noise of the movie itself was used to cover their conversation which involved negotiations about delivery dates, volume, brand, and price. Of course the noise of the projector itself also helped to cover their conversation.
I’m truly confident that the story is true, as Helen knew everything there was to know about the Bohm Theatre and the people of the town. She “knew” every kid in town, especially their birthdays, so the day they turned 12, she automatically charged them the higher rate. And, I’m told by people who were those kids that she took no guff from any of them. Behave, or it was the road!
The purple seats in the first row of the balcony are a reminder of the Purple Gang and its history with the Bohm Theatre.
– Dick Lewin, October 2014