Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lake County Mini-Profiles - Painesville's Robert Manchester and the Utopia Theater

As personalities and institutions go, Robert Manchester (Bobby) was as pronounced as they could come.  In Lake County and Painesville specifically the name resonates today.  Aaron Mills was born in New York in 1853.  His widowed mom moved the family to Painesville to open a glove store.  Aaron may have initially been best remembered for his Fourth of July fireworks spectaculars, just east of his Cemetery Hill home.  The valley along State and Bank Street would be lined with residents awaiting his efforts.  However, it was his gift of music that consumed his entire lifetime. 

At the age of nine he joined a theatrical company.  Billed as 'Little Bobby Manchester' Aaron performed song and dance.  By the age of 19 he was touring the country.  In time he bought into the Columbus Amusement Company, a company whose holdings numbered 36 theaters throughout the U.S.  Bobby owned and managed three shows, Masqueraders, Vanity Fair and The Crackerjacks.  His main and for  most of the time his only business was 'The Crackerjacks.'  The show was a traveling burlesque troupe which performed in downtown Cleveland at the Star Theater on Euclid Avenue and Ninth.  His annual visit to Cleveland was widely anticipated by his Painesville neighbors.  Bobby obliged and left seats on a block basis for them.  He even secured special cars on the C.P. & E. to transport his friends downtown.

Bobby's affinity for his hometown reached its zenith when he constructed the Utopia Theater in Painesville.  Its scale and scope were unsurpassed in the county.  Opened in 1914, it cost nearly $75, 000.  Bobby Manchester  appeared regularly and his theater thrived and survived until the Lake Theater replaced it decades later.

Source: The Historical Society Quarterly, May 1969 & LCHS newsletter 2013.

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