Last in a 2-part series

For 75 years the Times movie theatre, on the west side of Main Street south of the alley between Sixth and Seventh Streets, has been a fixture in the cultural life of Rochester.

Its history is inextricably linked with the Krieghbaum brothers, Charles and Lisle. The former founded it and the latter operated it for many years. Its heyday was just before and during the Great Depression when it was known by the singular name Char-Bell. There our citizens found continual refuge from gloomy hard times.

The Char-Bell/Times weathered the Depression but later faced a more serious threat: home television. The theatre was close to extinction when a local physician stepped in and saved it. Although indifferent to movies as a pastime, Dr. Kenneth Hoff did not want the community to lose this prized asset. And because of his benevolent intervention, the Times has been rejuvenated and today offers the latest of Hollywood's films seven nights a week.

Charles Krieghbaum was a cashier at the Leiters Ford Bank when he came to Rochester in 1922. Here he bought the Paramount theatre on the west side of the 800 block of Main Street, located at the north half of today's B&B Store. Silent movies had been growing steadily in local popularity for 15 years. Krieghbaum sensed an opportunity to cash in on the mood with a larger auditorium and equipment capable of keeping pace with the rapid improvements in projection then taking place in Hollywood.

The Paramount was too small to satisfy his ambition so in 1923 Chuck, as he was known, looked north and at 616-622 Main Street bought a building that housed the auto agency and garage of Charles Robbins. Coincidentally, an open-air movie had operated on that site four years before.

Krieghbaum converted the garage into a theatre with an 800-seat auditorium, a 28x36 foot stage for vaudeville shows and a state-of-the-art $8,000 pipe organ. He then asked the public to name it. Char-Bell won, being formed by abbreviating the first names of Krieghbaum and his wife, Belle. Mrs. Ray Brown of Rochester received the $25 first prize. There were 1,223 names submitted by 194 persons. The judges were attracted to the bizarre: second place went to Amusu, third to E-Z-C.

Meanwhile, Lisle Krieghbaum, having just graduated from Indiana University, accepted elder brother Charles's invitation to join him as a partner.

The Char-Bell opened on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1924. (I was present only if my mother attended; that day happened to be exactly six months before my birth.) A standing-room-only crowd saw "The Bad Man," starring Holbrook Blinn. The showing was preceded by remarks from ex-mayor Omar Smith, a lecture on the educational value of the movies, two violin solos, and an audience sing-along to words flashed on the screen. In July the south front room of the building was occupied by the Northern Indiana Power Company, the north room by the J.H. Shultz Pharmacy.

The big screen hit of 1924, "The Covered Wagon," came to town on September 2 and attracted another standing-room crowd with 300 more waiting outside. Popcorn and peanuts went on sale in the lobby in November.

On another November, in 1929, talkies came to town with the showing of "Salute," starring Randolph Scott, John Wayne and Ward Bond. Capacity crowds were continuing to fill the auditorium, so movies were scheduled every evening.

The Depression years made people cautious about their spending and so the Krieghbaums tried many inducements to attract patrons. There were Bank Nights when ticket stubs were drawn for in cash prizes, $100 tops. Potato nights, with a potato as admission that were later given to the needy. Thanksgiving Day events when admission was by canned goods or other food, given to children invited to the show from the orphanage at Mexico. A beauty contest to choose a Miss Rochester, who turned out to be Maxine Craig. Home talent stage shows. Take-A-Chance Nights when admission was only a dime but the movie title not revealed in advance.

Lisle Krieghbaum bought brother Charlie's interest in 1934 and with his promotional abilities successfully ran the Char-Bell as sole owner for eight years. A tall man of commanding presence, he could be intimidating if youngsters in his audiences became unruly. When that occurred, he would stride down the center aisle, in a booming voice command silence, then stand menacingly at the front to be sure his message was honored. It was, without exception.

The Char-Bell became the Times in 1942, a year after Krieghbaum sold the business but remained for a time as manager (he died in 1968). A succession of theatre chains then operated the Times with diminishing success until the last one went into bankruptcy. The Times was closed in June, 1973. A Michigan City couple, Bob and Edna Murphy, appeared on the scene and reopened it in early 1974 after remodeling.

In 1977 the Murphys hired Jeff Housouer of Plymouth as manager. In 1979 he bought it and separated the auditorium into the two screens it has today.

Housouer, aspiring to the office of mayor, was defeated in the election of 1983 and a year later announced he would not continue operation of the theatre. Its closure seemed certain. Dr. Hoff stepped up to become its owner, only to have a fire damage the lobby two years later. Undaunted, he installed new seats and removed side aisles in both auditoriums. Since then he has redecorated the premises and replaced projectors and furnace.

Susie Hilton has managed the Times competently in the 15 years of Hoff's ownership, first for an Ohio theatre chain, then for Hoff and his wife, Karen, and since 1993 under lease for herself. She lives in the second floor apartment.

The Char-Bell/Times has not always enjoyed exclusive access to local moviegoers. In 1934, the year Lisle Krieghbaum became sole owner, a competitor appeared, the Rex theatre. It was located on the east side of Main Street at 709, the northern portion of today's Stage department store.The Rex opened December 9, 1934 and lasted almost 10 years. It was sold in June, 1944, to the Times's owner, Alliance Theatre Corporation, which promptly closed it.

Local proprietors of the Rex included Lyman Brackett in whose building it was located. Its auditorium was narrow, much smaller than the Char-Bell's and, as I recall, was not nearly as well ventilated or as comfortable.

Published Sept. 21, 1999