- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) - Its name has changed, its purpose has varied, but one thing has stood the test of time: It’s an integral place at the heart of the performing arts in Muskegon.

The Frauenthal Theater, now part of the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts, has been a vocal point of Muskegon’s downtown since it opened as the Michigan Theater on Sept. 17, 1930.

Tom Harryman, who served as the theater’s general manager for 13 years, said the theater is key in preserving downtown Muskegon’s “historical and emotional roots.”

“So many people in Muskegon had their first theatrical experience in the Frauenthal,” he told The Muskegon Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1GvQHd9 ). “I think it really cements that facility as a very strong community center. So much of downtown Muskegon has been torn down but the Frauenthal building remains. I think it’s a monumental structure in downtown Muskegon, that’s why its preservation has been so key to reforming the downtown.”

The theater was advertised as “one of extraordinary beauty and grace” and Muskegon’s first “100 percent talkies” motion picture house, upon its opening.

“With the opening of the new Michigan Theater, Muskegon can boast the best (theater) in Michigan, outside of Detroit, and second to none in the United States for towns of our size,” Paul J. Schlossman, who developed a series of Muskegon theaters, said in a Muskegon Chronicle article published in 1930.

Harryman has fond memories of watching films at the elaborate movie house.

“When I was a kid it was just normal to me,” he said. “That was norm. Once the newer cinemas - the shoe box style and the multiplexes was alien …We used to congregate at The Michigan, it was a place you could go to hang out.”

The theater was once one of 17 theaters located downtown. Today, it is the only one that still stands, but only because it was saved by a group of preservationists and the newly founded Muskegon County Community Foundation in the 1970s.

The building was renamed the Frauenthal in the 1970s after A. Harold Frauenthal, a local industrialist who provided a $1.5 million gift to the community foundation. The building has undergone several renovations throughout its illustrious history:

In 1958, the interior was repainted, the box office was moved to the theater lobby, a modern concession stand was built, new seating and carpet was installed and an open wall between the foyer and the auditorium was sealed shut.

In 1984, The Beardsley Theater, Bettye Clark Cannon Gallery, rehearsal, meeting, convention and support places all opened as part of the Hilt Building located adjacent to the Frauenthal.

On New Year’s Eve of 1998, the latest renovations began on the historic building. The auditorium, lobbies, foyer and systems received complete restoration and renovation.

A restaurant on Western Avenue was converted into the theater’s new lobby. Original carpet was replicated and reinstalled and seating was installed on the main floor in the style of the original Michigan Theater.

State-of-the-art lighting, sound, projection, rigging and electrical and mechanical systems were also installed. The new-and-improved theater reopened in June 1998.

“The health of the Frauenthal will be reflective of the health of community,” Harryman said. “As the downtown repopulates, more and more businesses move downtown and more people, bars and restaurants open it will be a great thing for the center.”

Today, the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts remains the center of Muskegon County’s arts scene. Each year, it hosts a wide variety of performers, the Muskegon Civic Theater, The West Michigan Symphony, The Mona Shores Singing Christmas Tree and the Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant, just to name a few.

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Information from: The Muskegon Chronicle, https://www.mlive.com/muskegon

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