The Brief History of the Elk Rapids Cinema in Northern Michigan
Updated: 2023 — famed single screen operator and local legend Joe Yuchasz has sadly passed away this year. His family is continuing his legacy by running the theatre he loved so much for him now. One of his many admirers was Dustin Heger who made this lovely tribute to Joe, and with his permission we’ve added it here to the history.
On September 20 of 1940, the second cinema in Elk Rapids opened. It stands near the same spot as the original Community Theatre that showcased early motion pictures and live-performances in this idyllic coastal town on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Known as the Elk Rapids State Theatre, it was built and operated by Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Loomis and designed by Louis C. Kingscott of the Stewart-Kingscott Company. It stands today as a beautiful example of the Art-Deco style and a historic single-screen movie house.
The Elk Rapids Cinema is home to the largest black-light mural in the world. Artist Robert Spinner originally sketched the design on graph paper, later transferring it to the ceiling where it was illuminated by ultraviolet light fixtures in the bent sconces on the walls. These sconces were custom-built by the original cinema owner, who created the clear and curved Lucite tubes over the kitchen range in his home. There are six of these unique lamps.
The light-play continued to the fluoresced aisle-carpets where they too shined, brightened by rectangular fixtures in the ceiling.
The original control booth boasted two Brenkert BX 80 Arc Lamp projectors side-by-side. When the cinema played the original 3-D format, both projectors would be running at the same time. Two metal buckets were fixed to the floor where projectionists could toss hot-spent carbon rods from the lamps.
The second owners of the building were Mr. and Mrs. Howard Coddington of Traverse City who became stewards in July of 1960 and officially changed the name, simply, to the Cinema. They expressed interest in showing foreign films along with first-run features.
In those days, a technicolored “Cinema” sign hung outside on the front light fixture and neon lit up the marquee. A truck also ran into the front of the building, but that’s a different story.
Local village President Joe Yuchasz was a high school instructor, a music store proprietor and serving in the Navy in 1973 when Howard Coddington offered to sell him the cinema (and he said yes), becoming the third-owner and running it ever since.
Joe restored and renovated the theatre’s blacklight mural and repaired years of neglect and a leaky roof. He also renamed it the Elk Rapids Cinema.
Yuchasz has managed extensive changes and the motion-picture industry’s switch from Celluloid to Digital — spending almost $80,000 to install a new projector, sound system upgrades, and ventilation.
On any given day, he can be found doing any number of jobs, from popping popcorn to recently hosting a series of independent foreign films for the ArtRapids! Festival. He has stubbornly kept ticket and concessions prices low so families can enjoy the movies and bring their kids. Every cinephile knows he’s not in it for the money. On Mondays, every seat is only $6.
Four decades after taking over, the Elk Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce members recognized Yuchasz for his work when they bestowed upon him the Business of the Year Award.
Today the Elk Rapids Cinema lives on, providing escape and comfort to all who enter it’s holy doors. For showtimes and info, like them on Facebook or check their official site or better yet stop by and see a movie — there’s more than a chance Joe will be in the lobby or the booth making sure you have a great time.
This incomplete but attempted history was sourced directly from many links and comments and photos: Elk Rapids News | Cinema Treasures | Water Winter Wonderland | UpNorthLive | Vicki Wilson’s Pinterest Board | Elk Rapids Cinema