The History of the Lake Theatre

The Lake Theatre is interesting as it was built as one of the very few privately funded projects in Barberton during the Great Depression. The Lake Theatre, or simply The Lake as it was called, was constructed and opened in 1938 in the then new, Art Moderne style of architecture. The complex was built by downtown Barberton business men Frank Gaethke and Harold Makinson.

The Lake Theatre building was unique, as it was built not only as a theatre but also as an entertainment and retail center. In addition to the theatre the building housed a downstairs bowling alley and billiard parlor as well as a restaurant, peanut vendor, and barbershop on the first floor.

The original Lake Theatre marquee was done in gold and blue neon with over 300 flashing light bulbs lighting up the front of the theatre. The glass blocks above the marquee were illuminated from the inside with revolving color wheels giving the exterior of the theatre a rainbow of continually changing colors. Another interesting original feature on the inside of the theatre was the painting of eight large murals each executed by noted Barberton artist Wilson Heller, who had graduated from the Cleveland School of Art.

The flashy new Lake Theatre, with its original seating for 1000 persons, premiered by invitation only on May 6, 1938 with the showing of “Sergeant Murphy” staring Ronald Regan and Mary Maguire. An entire series of photos of the new theatre was commissioned by the theatre owners showing every feature of the new modern theatre on opening night.

From the 1940’s into the 1970’s many boys and girls from Barberton remember the Lake Theatre fondly, as free Saturday passes were made available by the theatre’s owners to the Barberton AAA. These passes which were good at the Park Theatre or the Lake Theatre were distributed by the Barberton AAA to our local elementary schools as rewards for participation in the School Safety Patrol program. Although each free pass was to be exchanged for a free ticket at the ticket booth, if you were lucky enough when gaining admission, the ticket seller sometimes “conveniently forgot” to collect your free pass and you could reuse the same pass the next week.

The Lake Theatre would remain open and a viable part of downtown Barberton until April of 1980. The last movie playing on the big screen was, “And Justice for All” starring Al Pacino, Jack Warden, and John Forsythe. This would have seemed to have been the end of the road for the Lake Theatre which would remain closed for over fourteen years. However in the early 1990’s the Lake Theatre was restored, modernized and expanded reopening as the Lake Cinema 8, on May 11, 1994.

Today the “Lake 8 Movies” remains a lynchpin of downtown Barberton’s redevelopment efforts, proving the viability of adaptive reuse of historic architecture in Barberton.
Information furnished by the Barberton Historical Society

Additonal Resources:  Cinema Treasures