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The Smith Blog

SMITH HISTORY BLOG: Geneva Theatre Trio

by Austin Jennings

Tonight's amusements found in the Geneva Daily Times.

Tonight’s amusements found in the Geneva Daily Times.

The year is 1920. Biting winds move across Seneca Lake beneath the dull, February sky. You feel a sinking feeling in your whole body when you realize that today is a Monday. The colorless, dingy streets downtown reflect your somber attitude towards the slog of a day ahead of you. As you flip through today’s Geneva Daily Times, however, a spark of joy appears before your eyes. Amongst the reports of fires, hopes for peace between nations, and ordinary happenings at William Smith College, is a column labeled AMUSEMENTS. Perfect! Something fun, something engaging, something inside away from the brisk air. There are three choices. Do you go to the Smith Opera House, the Regent Theatre, or the Temple Theatre?

If you would rather see a live performance, tonight at the Smith Opera House on Seneca Street is Hello Oscar produced by the Bob Ott Musical Comedy Company. The oldest of the three downtown Geneva theatres, the Smith opened in 1894 (“Smith Opera House Opening”). If you choose this performance, you will be treated to its original interior. Such an experience will be lost in 1931 when Schine Enterprises reopens the Smith as Schine’s Geneva Theatre (McNally 4). Managed by Gerald Fowler, Schine’s will have a brand new interior design that will last into the 21st Century.

The Regent Theatre, courtesy of the Geneva Historical Society (Fowler 64-65).

The Regent Theatre, courtesy of the Geneva Historical Society (Fowler 64-65).

Or you could go see a movie at the Regent Theatre on Exchange Street. One of the newer theatres in town purpose-built for motion pictures, it opened within the decade before 1920 (Fowler 64; Crawford and Stearns 10). Starting in 1927, Gerald Fowler will be the Chief Projectionist at the Regent, working hard to keep the theatre in perfect working order. This is not much of a coincidence since Schine Enterprises owns this theatre as well (McNally 66). Many years later, the building will be repurposed to house a church congregation, for a while it will have the KidVenture Dome play-space downstairs with the Jones Theatre upstairs, and then it will be the Twisted Rail Brewing Company (“KidVenture;” “Twisted Rail”). Tonight’s silent film, Paid in Full, starring Pauline Frederick, is an adaptation of the play by Eugene Walter. Even though this amusement will not make you laugh like the others, the dramatic story contains the intrigue of embezzlement, false accusations, and attempted murder (“Paid in Full (1919)”)!

The Temple Theatre, courtesy of the Geneva Historical Society (Fowler 64-65).

The Temple Theatre, courtesy of the Geneva Historical Society (Fowler 64-65).

On Exchange Street at the Temple is the motion picture farce Fair and Warmer, based upon the “hilarious stage success” (“Amusements”). Also opening within the decade before 1920, the Temple often has vaudville shows (Fowler 65; Crawford and Stearns 10). It also screens silent films, though, like tonight’s spectacle. Eventually this theatre will have to close its doors when the Great Depression hits. Schine Enterprises will reopen the Temple for a short time in the 1940s as a movie theatre, but by the 1950s it will close once more. Fowler will recall that “during the 1960s it was used as a teen dance club but the roof collapsed in the 1970s and it was torn down in 1976” (Fowler 65). As for tonight’s amusement, not only will this film raise your spirits, but you will also be treated to the “added attraction” of Alice Teddy, “the roller skating and wrestling bear” (“Amusements”).

In summary, there is a live musical comedy at the opera house with its original interior intact, a dramatic film at the theatre that will survive into the 21st century by adapting to changing times, and a comedic film at the theatre that will only ever exist within the 20th Century. Well, which one do you choose to brighten the end of your day?


Works Cited

“Amusements.”Geneva Daily Times, 23 Feb 1920. Rochester Regional Library Council. NYS Historic Newspapers.

Crawford and Stearns Architects and Preservation Planners. “Historic Structure Report: Smith Opera House.” Syracuse NY, Jan 1990.

Fowler, Gerald L. “Memories.” Edited by Lynda Fowler Bailey. Geneva Historical Society.

McNally, Charles. The Revels in Hand: The First Century of the Smith Opera House October 1894 – October 1994. Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council, 1995.

“Paid in Full (1919).” American Film Institute, “AFI Catalog of Feature Films”,

“Smith Opera House Opening.” Geneva Advertiser, 30 Oct 1894. Rochester Regional Library Council. NYS Historic Newspapers.

Tulis, Spencer. “KidVenture Dome Closes.” Finger Lakes Times, 19 Jan 2016,

“Twisted Rail Opens in Historic Downtown Geneva Theatre.” Twisted Rail Brewing Company, “Twisted News,” 3 Jan 2018,