Ramsdell Theatre Preservation Fund

Organization Endowment

The Ramsdell Theatre Preservation Fund was originally established by the Ramsdell Theatre Restoration Project in 2005 (now known as the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts) to provide for the future maintenance and preservation of the interior of the Ramsdell.

The Ramsdell Theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was built between 1902 and 1903 by Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell -- pioneer lawyer, state legislator, and civic leader.  Public spirited citizens saved the landmark from demolition in the early 1920s.  It was acquired by the City of Manistee in 1943.  The Manistee Civic Players have helped to preserve its architecture and interior decor.  

Through the years 1903 to 1909, there were over 100 plays presented by traveling theater companies that brought many theater stars to Manistee.  Due to WWI and the decline of the lumber industry, the theater went dark in 1918.  In 1925 a group of Rotarians purchased the building for $25,000 to save it from demolition.  Until 1929 movies and high school plays were shown at the theater.  In 1930 the Butterfield movie company leased the building and kept it dark until 1937 to eliminate competition. Starting in 1937 the local Kiwanis club put on shows that led to the formation of the Manistee Civic Players (MCP) in 1939.  In 1941 the City leased the building from the Rotarians under terms that would result in city ownership after twelve years. 

From 1942 to 1982 the Manistee Recreation Association used the non-theater side of the building for youth activities.  In 1949 a group of local women formed the Civic Betterment Committee that evolved into the Manistee Drama Festival, Inc. which started an eight week summer stock season in 1951 that lasted 13 years. In the 1990s, as the city began to emphasize its Victorian heritage, a group was formed to guide a major restoration of the theatre, and the ballroom side of the building.

Over the years private donors, businesses, social and service organizations and patrons have helped match grant monies to bring this treasure back to its original beauty. In this spirit, the Ramsdell Theatre Preservation Fund was established to maintain this historic landmark. To learn more about the history of the Ramsdell Theatre, and for schedule and ticket information, visit their website at www.RamsdellTheatre.org.


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