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16000 E. Michigan Ave., Albion 49224

The Bohm Theatre, Albion’s Movie Palace


Built between the 1910s and 1940s, movie palaces are any of the large, elaborately decorated movie theatres found across the country. The late 1920s saw the peak of the movie palace, with hundreds opening every year between 1925 and 1930.

I recently came across this documentary film by April Wright on the importance of the movie palace. Check out the movie trailer below.   

These ornate movie palaces played an essential role in creating and sustaining the “Golden Age of Hollywood.” Many say movie palaces had their apex in 1939 with Gone With the Wind and the Wizard of Oz – two classic films shown earlier this year at the historic Bohm Theatre.

Albion’s Own Movie Palace

During this time, George Bohm from small-town Albion, Michigan, was living the dream. He lived a very troubadour existence, traveling the country as a clarinet player with the famous John Philip Sousa Band. His love of music expanded to other arts. He fell in love with silent films and the ornate movie houses that showed them to the world. 

As a gift to his beloved community, he opened the Bohm Theatre on Christmas Day, 1929. George operated the theatre until his death 30 years later. 

Like many theatres in small-town America, the Bohm was a center of the community. It was a place for families and friends to gather, have fun and enjoy entertainment. 

The Bohm Theatre has a colorful past. The infamous Purple Gang used the balcony as a secret place to meet and plan their next moves while a lookout stood watch at the front of the theatre. The Purple Gang was a group of young thugs who terrorized the local citizenry in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Their capers included several robberies in the area and shootouts with the local police. Mainly, their business was the control of bootlegging and other organized crime activities in Detroit and throughout eastern and central Michigan during prohibition. However, Albion was the midpoint that they used during their travels between the two cities of Detroit and Chicago, where they had dealings with Al Capone, another gangster of that era.

But after George’s death, and a revolving door of new owners, the cherished theatre closed its doors in 1991. For more than thirty years, local arts groups had been working to acquire the Bohm Theatre. Still, the project was cost prohibitive due to the acquisition costs, combined with necessary renovations. Since the late 1990s, the theatre struggled, changing ownership several times through various land contracts. With the continued deterioration of the building, in November 2008, the theatre ceased operations. On March 31, 2010, the property reverted to the Calhoun County Land Bank. 

Bringing Back Albion’s Movie Palace

In 2010 the Albion Community Foundation and Albion Downtown Development Authority joined forces and formed the Friends of the Bohm Theatre. The purpose of Friends of the Bohm was to be an advisory board and determine how to save this historic landmark. By September, it was evident that there was enough community support to restore and revitalize the historic theatre. From there, Friends of the Bohm Theatre was incorporated as a Michigan nonprofit corporation. By October 2012 the Friends of the Bohm received their 501c(3) status and began efforts to separate from the Foundation. This separation was necessary so that they could independently operate the theater, once open.

Restoration began in September 2010, immediately after the Friends of the Bohm Theatre acquired the building from the county. Throughout the restoration the Friends of the Bohm Theater partnered with the Albion Community Foundation, then lead by Elizabeth Schultheiss. This partnership was created to provide financial management for the capital campaign and use the foundation’s 50-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 opened three months early in October 2014. 

The mission of the Friends of the Bohm Theatre is to create a dynamic venue for performing arts, film, and arts education activities to meet the needs of Albion, Michigan and the surrounding area. 

The vision of the Friends of the Bohm Theatre is to operate a premiere film and performing arts facility for the greater Albion Community, offering diverse artistic, cultural, and educational programming and to be Albion’s community gathering space.

Since opening in October 2014, the Bohm has been a cultural and economic driver for downtown Albion, a presenter of artistic excellence and a historic community treasure. The Bohm’s success has created a sense of place. It serves as an anchor institution that has helped attract the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, Stirling Books & Brew, Albion Malleable Brewing, and the Foundry Bakehouse and Deli. It has impacted the community’s positive perception of the downtown as a whole, and local businesses and restaurants have seen a 20-30% increase in business on weekends

In May 2015, the Bohm received the prestigious Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation.

 

In January 2017, the Bohm expanded by adding a second 40-seat boutique screen, Bohm II. 

  • The Bohm Theatre has welcomed over 100,000 patrons through our doors.
  • Screened over 550 movies.
  • Branded a live music jam – Blues at the Bohm – supporting over 200 talented local musicians.
  • Presented over 60 live concerts.
  • Popped over 18,000 pounds of popcorn.
  • Hosted over 150 FREE Community events, partnerships and gatherings.
  • Hosted over 200 FREE tours to groups and individuals of all ages.

Meet you at the Bohm, Albion’s Movie Palace!

About the Author

Nancy Doyal is the Executive Director of the Friends of the Bohm Theater and manages the programming at the Albion's Bohm Theater. Nancy is an avid supporter of theater, music and the arts in downtown Albion.

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