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Columns

December 8, 2012

Walton Theater emerged from aftermath of 1912 fire

(Continued)

Gone with the block were the memories of entertainment in the town hall upstairs, the actual opera house, with a seating capacity of 800. As soon as it was safe to do so, the work of clearing the charred remains began. Village offices and the fire department quickly found temporary quarters, but steps were taken at once to erect a new building. 

The Reporter had a headline in its Jan. 18, 1913, edition asking readers, “What Does Town Want?” The question was whether to make this new building strictly for municipal purposes, or to include the town hall, as it had been before the fire.

A special election was held on Tuesday, Jan. 28, for residents to decide.

“The proposition to bond for $20,000 for the new village hall was carried Tuesday by the largest special election ever held in Walton,” it was reported on Feb. 1. “396 votes were cast, of which 269 were for and 121 against,” with the other ballots spoiled. 

“Eighty four women voted, and though it was the first time that many of them had ever been inside a polling place, they had not the slightest difficulty in registering their vote.” Of the 84, 66 voted in favor of the hall. Planing and construction were soon under way.

Construction progressed quickly, and on April 24, 1914, “Within the Law,” a professional/amateur production, opened to a standing-room-only crowd of about 1,500 in the new Walton Theater. That’s a lot of people standing, considering the current seating capacity is 400.

The theater went through many phases over the years, hosting professional troupes of Vaudeville players and personalities, such as Tom Mix. Live productions alternated with movies, which were shown beginning in September 1914. Movies thrived under the direction of theater mogul William Smalley, who leased the space in 1923, for many years.

The theater was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, but had fallen into disrepair. The Walton Restoration Committee was formed in 1986 to restore the hall to its former glory. It is known today as the Walton Theater Preservation Association. While successful in restoration over the years, two major floods since 2006 have been major obstacles to overcome — which the Association and community have triumphantly completed. 

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