CADILLAC — Richard Shults, the manager of the Cadillac 4, has published a book that uncovers the lost history of opera houses, nickelodeons, and movie theaters in Cadillac.
“The Theaters and Opera Houses of Cadillac, Michigan‘ is “a history of the buildings and people who entertained the town from the 1870s to today.‘
Packed with stories, anecdotes, vintage photos, and new facts about entertainment at the turn of the century, the book has filled a gap in local history that was previously unknown.
“He did an amazing job with his research and details,‘ said Pam Welliver, a former president of the Wexford County Historical Society. “He found almost a dozen theaters. And he found the locations of four opera houses. We never had a history of these entertainment venues and locations.‘
Shults’s interest in the subject was piqued in 2018 during the 100-year anniversary of the Lyric Theater, now the Cadillac 4.
“The anniversary really set it off,‘ he said. “People would talk to me about when they came here as kids. I started researching and found out there were all these other theaters and it became an obsession. I had to find them. What were they like? Why did they die out? What did our grandparents watch? All that came together in one glorious project.‘
After a year digging through archives at the University of Michigan and the Cadillac News plus old theater journals and internet sources, Shults found answers to most of his questions.
He learned that Cadillac had five opera houses in the early 1900s. The first four were auditoriums for vaudeville shows, plays and civic events. The final opera house, The Cadillac, opened in 1901 and was an opulent facility designed by a Chicago architect. The Cadillac was famous for its stage shows and for hosting early silent films. But after the Lyric Theatre opened in 1919 with a sophisticated lavish interior, a larger stage and more seating, the last opera house fell into disrepair.
Shults also learned that in the early 1900s, downtown Cadillac had multiple movie houses or Nickelodeons that showed a series of short, silent films that were repeated hourly throughout the day and evening.
“He went at this full force,‘ Welliver said. “It all started with his love of movies and he took it from there. He went so far as to track down the original pipe organ in the Lyric.‘
The silent films had no sound tracks, so the Lyric hired a woman to provide background music on an extravagant pipe organ. Shults found the original Lyric organ and interviewed David Reiser, the son of Marie Rozelle, the organist who played it and “basically worked as a one-person orchestra.‘
“The Theaters and Opera Houses of Cadillac, MI‘
The book also chronicles the amazing talent that poured through Cadillac. And there are local anecdotes that bring a past era alive through personal stories.
“We are so lucky to have Richard as our docent at the museum,‘ said Wexford County Historical Society President Amy Schmid. “He is an asset to the society and the museum. He’s our first speaker in our series this fall.‘
From his office in the lobby of the Cadillac 4, Shults appears reserved in a suit and tie. But get him talking about movies and theater history and his demeanor completely changes.
“I never imagined myself as an author and it still shocks me,‘ he said. “But it’s real. It actually happened. It was a dream. It was worth it to me to contribute to Cadillac history. All of these theaters were family-owned enterprises so it makes me sad that these stories disappeared into the dust bin. It’s fascinating to me that everyone has forgotten about these theaters, most people knew of two or three but I pulled out a dozen. I was shocked.‘