Since 1866, the “Magnificent Edifice” at First and Main Streets has provided entertainment in Dayton in many names and forms, but one thing has remained constant – a tradition of celebrating and enriching life through the performing arts.
It originally opened on January 1, 1866 as the Turner Opera House and enjoyed three years of success before fire consumed the hall. The job of rebuilding took two years, and it reopened in 1871 as the Music Hall. The next 40 years were prosperous ones for the performance theatre.
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Some of America’s most prestigious stars, including Edwin Forrest, Lillie Langtry, Harry Houdini, Sarah Bernhardt and Mark Twain, were featured in productions during this period. The theatre changed names several times during this period as well, becoming the Grand Opera House in 1885, the Victoria Opera House in 1899, and, finally, the Victoria Theatre in 1902.
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The flood of 1913 took its toll on the city and the theatre. However, both survived the disaster, and the Victoria was quickly rebuilt. Another fire ravaged the theatre in 1918, and it was rebuilt and reopened in 1919. The name changed once again, to the Victory Theatre, and it entered a period of successful ventures. Fred Bickel, who went on to national fame as Fredric March, was one of the many talented performers featured in productions by the resident theatre company, the Wright Players, from 1927-1930. The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra was born at the Victory in the 1930s. In the 1940s the theatre enjoyed the film industry’s boom period as a showcase for Warner Brothers Studios, with continued success in the 1950s as the Miami Valley headquarters for Disney films.
By 1967, declining economic conditions threatened the theatre’s existence, and it was marked for demolition in 1972. Through widespread community support it gained a listing on the National Register of Historic Places and narrowly escaped the wrecking ball in 1975. Victory Theatre Association was incorporated in 1976, and volunteers began restoration work. In 1977 the Dayton Ballet Company found a home at the Victory, and a new annual season of professional theatre was initiated. Victory Theatre Association purchased the building in 1978, and much of the ornate plaster work was restored, new carpeting was installed and the roof replaced.
In 1988 the Arts Center Foundation acquired the Victory Theatre from Victory Theatre Association and began a $17.5 million renovation project. A year and a half later, the project was completed and the completely renovated theatre was rechristened the Victoria Theatre.
Today, the Victoria Theatre provides a variety of compelling Dayton entertainment options and is home to performances by many of Dayton’s arts organizations, including Dayton Ballet and Muse Machine. In addition, Victoria Theatre Association presents the Premier Health Broadway Series, Star Attractions, the Morris Family Series, the Cool Films Series, and The Frank M. Tait Foundation Discovery Series at the Victoria Theatre.