When Emagine Theatre opens its doors to Saline March 18, it will be the first theater to serve the community since 1952. That means there are life-long Saline residents who collect social security and never enjoyed a hometown movie theater.
(Click here to read more about Emagine Entertainment's theater in Saline)
Information about the history of Saline’s movie houses is sketchy. Local historian Bob Lane published an article detailing the history on the Saline Area Historical Society’s website. Lane’s article is a good jumping-off point.
According to Lane, Saline’s first movie theater was the Liberty, which was owned by a man named Zimmerman. Other articles in the Saline Observer list the owner’s name as Fred C. Zimmerman. An article in the Jan. 2, 1919 edition says Zimmer was putting the final touches on his theater.
Articles and ads about Liberty Theatre do not provide an address. A brief 1988 article in the Saline Reporter suggested the theater was located at 111 W. Michigan Ave., which was later hope to The Saline Theatre and is now known as Benny’s Bakeries..
Liberty showed silent films published by Paramount and Artcraft.
According to the Observer, the first movie was The Antics of Ann, starring Ann Pennington.
In the same issue announcing the opening of the Liberty Theater was a letter from Capt. Edgar Learned to Mrs. John Lutz, detailing the death of her son, William B. Lutz. He had died July 30 year and Learned’s letter to Lutz was lost. Lutz was killed near the town of Fismes in Northern France. Today, the American Legion Post in Saline is named for Lutz.
According to Lane, the theater began operating at a loss in 1929 and Zimmerman closed the theater in 1930.
The Saline Theatre was dedicated July 1, 1938, at 111 W. Michigan Ave. It was opened by Wesley Gilpin and Lewis Lash, two men who worked as educators in Dearborn.
Here’s how Lane described the theater.
On that day the heavy canvas, which had hung over the front during remodeling, was taken down. As it fell, a chorus of ohs and ahs was heard and the new theater smiled in all the glory of its fresh paint and new entrance.
The front was Masonite painted in a deep cream or buff color with a trim of Dutch Blue. The words "Saline Theatre" in streamlined letters flowed across the front. Double swing doors on the east side led to the foyer from which one entered the theatre proper. Here was found a large center aisle with comfortable seats on either side to accommodate 270 persons. The screen was the newest sound type, as was used in large cities at that time.
On opening day, The Saline Theatre showed Northwest Passage. Tickets were 10 cents for children and 25 cents for adults.
Gilson and Lash didn’t own the theater long. According to the Observer, they sold the theater to Saline resident Leonard Hutzel in 1939.
At some point, Hutzel sold the theater to Stanley Januszyk. In 1950, they sold the theater to Mr. and Mrs. Gunnar Olafson, who deeded their home in Laingsburg, Mich., to the Januszyk family to help pay the $6,500 price for the theater. The Olafsons lived over a store in downtown Saline.
By April, the Olafsons hired former Michigan Governor Kim Sigler to sue Januszyk and Pietrzak. They said the previous owners claimed the theatre had a net income of $800 a month, but they found income was much lower. Within the next two years, Stanton Clark took over.
The weekly ads in the Saline Observer were smaller and smaller. Soon, the theater stopped offering Sunday matinees.
In the May 22 1952 edition, the Saline Observer reported Clark planned to close the theater on May 31.
One of the last movies to show at the theater was Sailor Beware, starring Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.
In 1952, 545 children were enrolled in Saline Area Schools. Orville Finkbeiner, Ralph Uphaus, Jack Winkle and Bill Hartman were the Friday Night Bowling League Champs. The baseball team, which included Doug Elfring and Ron Finkbeiner, defeated Milan 4-2 to win its first baseball game in two years. Lefty Steve MacArthur earned the win with a five-hitter.