09/19/13 Local downtown business owners Judy and Jim Vinall and Lori and Brian VanDuyne announce they have partnered to purchase the Historic Rees Theater at the corner of Michigan and LaPorte Streets. The theater has been closed for several years and the new owners hope to preserve the building as an essential component and destination for City of Plymouth’s downtown district.
While not originally from Plymouth, Brian VanDuyne said he immediately recognized the Rees as an important historic landmark. Jim Vinall added that they all felt it was necessary to step up and stabilize the rapidly deteriorating building before it was too late. The partners stress they have not decided on plans for the Rees, and invite the community to provide input regarding the best use for the well-known landmark.
The Vinalls and VanDuynes look forward to working with the City to address structural problems that have developed over many years. Brian Vanduyne stated: “The Rees needs to be buttoned-up to prevent further problems while plans are developed.” Jim Vinall added: “I’m confident the City will continue its long tradition of making strategic investments in the historic downtown.” Jim has already been involved in helping the previous owners with the building.
Judy and Jim Vinall are the owners of the City Center at 114 North Michigan St. which houses Opie’s Deli, City News and Books, The Office, and several other businesses. Lori and Brian VanDuyne are the owners of Fernbaugh’s Diamonds and Fine Jewelry, located at 206 North Michigan St.
About the Rees Theater:
The Rees Theater opened in 1939-1940 at its present location. The theater is an Art Deco renovation of an earlier three story building. Seating 400 patrons the Rees was owned and operated for many years by Gwen and John Hosel. The marquee was completely restored in 1997. The Rees is listed as a notable building in Marshall County interim report on historic sites and structures and contributes to the Downtown Plymouth National Register Historic District.
The Rees Cinema, entertaining Plymouth moviegoers for 66 years, is for sale. John and Gwen Hoesel, owners for the last 19 years, are retiring. They’ll leave some special memories behind when they turn over the keys. In 2001, the theater also hosted the national premier of “The Best Man in Grass Creek.” There also was a wedding where the groom and attendants wore usher outfits and the bridesmaids played “Here Comes the Bride” on nose combs. The building itself has a long history. The corner lot — on LaPorte and Michigan streets — was donated to the town in 1836. A.L. Wheeler put up a large wooden structure on the site, later replaced by a multistoried brick building that had the distinction of being the tallest edifice in Plymouth at the time. The building later became Bunnell’s Furniture Store. Because Mr. Bunnell was also an undertaker (and coffin maker, a natural sideline for carpenters), dead folks were taken there for preparation and later returned to their homes for visitation and subsequent burial. It later became the Johnson Brothers Furniture and Undertaking establishment before moving to South Michigan Street, where it is now the Johnson-Danielson Funeral Home. Stewart “Stewie” Rees and his father came to Plymouth in 1925. Stewie had a lot of show-biz experience — he had been involved in silent movies and later talkies for 25 years or more. The men remodeled and operated the Gem Theater on East Garro Street in the Bauer building, where Allen Reese (no kin) now has his Hearing Aid Center. In 1939, the Reeses bought the old Johnson Brothers building, which had become the Van Vactor Building, and hired Alves O’Keefe to redesign it into an elegant movie theater. The Rees — until recently when the J.C. Penney store was renovated — was the only building in the downtown area designed by a Plymouth architect in Tier One of the Community Restoration Project. Alves reworked the Van Vactor building from a four-story commercial structure into an art deco movie house with an added building on the north side. Built by the Badgley Construction Co., it had top-of-the-line sound and projectors. At the head of the stairs was (and still is) a soundproof room where mothers could retire with fretful infants and still see and hear the movie. Plymouth’s first penthouse apartment, once occupied by Stewie and his wife, is still on the top floor with all of the original moldings, hardware and art-deco designs intact. The first movie in the new Rees was “Remember the Night,” starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. It was shown Feb. 1-3, 1940. For the later grand opening, on April 12, the motion picture epic, “Gone With the Wind,” played to a packed theater. Tickets were a buck apiece. Alves O’Keefe came by his talents naturally. His father, Arthur, was a construction engineer who built more than 100 public buildings and dwellings. Together with Arthur W. Thompson, Arthur O’Keefe designed and built the outside structure of St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church. O’Keefe senior built the original Carnegie Public Library in Plymouth, where the present library now stands, as well as the original post office, West High School, the Plymouth Lincoln High School (now the Junior High) and 50 miles of public roads, including Muckshaw Road from Plymouth to Fulton County. Alves, born in 1904, graduated from Lincoln High School in 1922, and received his diploma, cum laude, from the University of Michigan as an architect and engineer. Referred to as an “eccentric artist,” Alves simply wasn’t interested in, nor did he have the time to use his talents to decorate his own spaces. According to Bob Jones, Alves had his business housed in the worst-looking commercial building in town, on the corner of North Walnut and West Jefferson streets, across from the courthouse. People remember the structure as an old house with a sagging porch, leaking roof, peeling paint and an altogether disreputable and dilapidated appearance. Alves didn’t give two hoots about his surroundings. His reputation for excellent work at fair prices spread. He designed buildings in South Bend, Mishawaka, Osceola, Monroe, Indianapolis and Bluffton, Ind. On July 25, 1964, Alves O’Keefe and his wife, Doris Van Vactor, were killed in a head-on automobile accident in Fulton County. Alves O’Keefe was 52 years old.