TRAVERSE CITY — Movie nirvana descended upon northern Michigan last week as the 15th Traverse City Film Festival got underway. Before the festival is over, more than 150 films will be shown across eight Traverse City venues.
During the rest of the year, the area boasts one multiplex — the Cherry Blossom 14 — and two downtown theaters, the Film Fest’s State Theatre and Bijou by the Bay. So it might be argued that the early 2000s are Traverse City’s golden age of movies.
But two other eras also can lay claim to that title. In the early 1900s, and again in the 1940s and ‘50s, three downtown movie theaters competed to attract the movie-going public.
The names of the earliest trio of theaters stretching along Front Street were alluring: The Dreamland, the Palace Amusement Company, and the Star Electric Theater. All three were up and running in 1909.
At that time Front Street was one of the few paved roads in Traverse City. Citizens coming from the west moved along a smooth ribbon of road as they approached the first theater, the Palace Amusement Company.
It sat at 128 East Front. Crossing Cass Street, travelers would be beckoned by The Dreamland at 210 East Front Street.
“Dreamland was pretty handy to the old Lion Saloon, being right next door, and some of the theater trade, not smelling very good, originated there ... ,” noted a 1948 Record-Eagle retrospective. “Between shows [owner] G. Lote, always the showman, made announcements about future pictures and acts and he always ended up with the line famous around here for years: ‘And the price will remain the same, five and ten cents.’”
Just a bit further, on the left, sat the Star Electric Theater at 213 East Front Street. The 1948 retrospective recalled of the Star that “Bert Daehn used to sing the illustrated songs and many of the pictures were taken from the cow-catcher of a locomotive showing scenery in Panama, Brazil and other foreign countries. Of course, they had the Keystone Comedies.”
In 1916, Julius Steinberg opened the