Vogue Theatre

“This project has been a wonderful catalyst for the development of downtown Manistee.” – Tim Ervin

The hub of community entertainment in small towns has often been a theater hosting everything from talent shows and traveling vaudeville to opera productions and movies. The Vogue Theatre, which opened in the pretty riverside town of Manistee in 1938, was one such place. Amid blocks of ornate 19th century Victorian buildings, its Art Deco design and huge size made it a standout. It was ultramodern, luxurious and high tech by 1930s standards, and for decades, it was a busy place. But for lack of a strategy to keep it going, the Vogue closed in 2005 as the economy spiraled downward and businesses moved away.

That might have been the end of this grand building, except for some well-timed cheerleading from Michael Moore, who spearheaded successful efforts to restore the State Theatre in Traverse City, and the enthusiasm of hundreds of local volunteers and donors who wanted this icon to stick around.

The heart of the theatre’s success story is its robust volunteer program — more than 350 volunteers have been involved in all aspects from restoring to running the theater. Funding, too, has been a community-wide effort.

“More than 650 individuals and organizations have given everything from a dollar to $500,000,” says Tim Ervin, board member with the Manistee Community Foundation, the fiduciary agent for the theatre. “Even kids got into the act. They told us they needed a place that was about them, where they could gather. They said, ‘If you could just bring back the Vogue…’ and they raised money for its restoration.”

The community-driven, volunteer-led effort has reestablished the Vogue as a dynamic community resource, a nucleus with something for everyone from first-run movies and art films to live theater and simulcasts of sporting events. Ticket prices and concessions are affordable, with special days for seniors and veterans and 25¢ admission for Saturday morning family features. It is a place where friends gather and local organizations meet.

Beyond its own thriving footprint, the Vogue’s transformation is shoring up existing businesses and attracting new ones, creating new jobs and opportunities. Residents and tourists who come to enjoy its events stay downtown to shop and eat. The Vogue’s success is fostering community pride and helping rebuild a city where people want to live, work and play.