The REES Theatre Reopens After Multiphase Renovation Project
Writer / Louis Tomaszewski
Photographer / Tony Straw
For those who live in Plymouth, the REES Theatre has been a part of the downtown landscape and a place of fond memories for generations since the early 20th century. It was beginning to show its age when it closed in 2009. The community stepped up, pitched in and brought the art deco marquee lights to life again. After several years of planning, fundraising and labors of love, a grand reopening was held in October.
“The REES is a cornerstone in the City of Plymouth, not just because it was built on the first lot of the first plat in the 1860s, but through the years it has offered a distraction to problems of the day – an escape, if you will – and a place where one could dream about visiting places they saw in the cinema,” says Donna Pontius, renovation project co-organizer. “It is the oldest building in Plymouth, built in 1865. It needed to be saved.”
And saved it was. While it normally might take seven to 10 years to restore a historic theater, the REES committee pledged to do it in three. That timeline was delayed a little by unexpected challenges, such as COVID-19 and the supply shortages that followed.
Pontius says the grand reopening was originally scheduled for the REES’s 80th anniversary in 2020. While that date was not met, the committee beat the typical restoration time frame, closing the project in five years. The grand reopening took place with a weeklong celebration from October 1 through 8.
“My word for the day was gobsmacked,” Pontius says of the grand reopening. “Even though I knew how many tickets had been sold and how many people we expected, it was indescribable – so many happy, smiling faces. I think the vendors were as happy to be there as we were to have them there. The planning team had high expectations to make this a grand celebration for our community, and reality exceeded all of those expectations.”
The three-story building at the corner of Michigan and LaPorte streets that houses the REES today was purchased in August of 1939 by Stewart “Stewie” Rees and his wife Opal. It was known as the VanVactor Building. Renovations began and were completed seven months later at a cost of $75,000.
Under the guidance of 30-plus project committee members, the required $3.4 million in funding was secured through grants and philanthropic community donations to the nonprofit The REES, Inc. More than 1,000 individuals, organizations, churches, foundations, businesses, media companies and government agencies supported the project, according to a previous press release from the REES. This support included both financial contributions and words of encouragement.
Organized in four phases, renovations started in March of 2019 and the fourth phase was completed in September.
With a new community-chosen logo and years of hard work from so many in the community, the project committee understood that their task was important.
“The attention to detail was there from the start,” Pontius says. “There was great intent and purpose in keeping the art deco decor from the original theater built in 1940, and in a green initiative that is needed now to carry us into the future.”
That green initiative includes a solar panel installed on the building’s roof.
Pontius says there were some surprises found during the renovations.
“The seven kiddie pools in the ceiling were unexpected,” she says. “I’ve heard of folks putting out pots to catch rain from leaks in their house, so I suppose it would make sense that for that size of building, a kiddie pool would be the right size.”
The REES is located at 100 North Michigan Street in Plymouth. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit reestheatre.com or call 574-337-7337. Tickets may also be purchased 30 minutes before any show at the ticket booth. Follow the REES on Instagram and Twitter.