The LeRoy Princess Theatre
Marcus West, son of Simeon West, built the Princess Theater in 1916. Architect Arthur L. Pillsbury designed the brick theater with limestone accents. The first movie was "Tennessee's Partner" on November 21, 1916. The original theater was a silent movie house with piano accompaniment, as "talkies" did not make their debut in LeRoy until 1931. A grandson of Marcus West recounts that West's daughter, while in high school, substituted as piano player when the regular player was unable to accompany the film.
Records list the manager in 1928 as Harry W. Vanatta, and in 1932 as R.A. Isaacs. John Frieburg later operated the theater for several decades. One of Frieburg's granddaughters stated that Frieburg "took such care and pride in the theatre and keeping it in tiptop shape. He used lots of duct tape…and much love in keeping the place up". (See additional Frieburg history below.)
Karen Edwards operated the theater during the 1970s. John Graham purchased the Princess during 1977; Graham e-mailed "I noticed on the Princess website that you are displaying the old MotioGraph projector in the lobby. I rebuilt that thing one time (the intermittent movement). Quite a thing." After three years,in 1980, Graham sold the Princess to Maurice Schiff of Urbana. In 1984, Scott Graham, no relation to John Graham, bought the theatre from Mr. Schiff. With his experience from owning two other theatres, Mr. Graham had big plans to renovate the Princess by using a medieval/tudor type look, even including a wrought iron chandelier in the main lobby. His renovations began and even got him electrocuted, but unforeseen circumstances led to Mr. Graham having to sell the theatre.
In October of 2003, the Princess was purchased by David A. Kraft and Kris and Susan Spaulding. After 10 months of renovation and remodel, the theater re-opened on August 6, 2004 with Disney's "Around the World in 80 Days". The Princess was awarded a Heritage Award from the Preservation And Conservation Association for the renovation. With both families living outside of LeRoy, the commute proved to be too much and the theatre closed in November 2006 only to be reopened less than a month later.
Michael E. Hanafin purchased the theatre from Kraft and Spaulding in December 2006. He and his family regularly attended movies there and did not want to see the theatre close down again because it was such a huge asset to the community . Hanafin finished renovating the exterior of the building and finished some minor remodeling on the interior of the building. Ben Slotky, former owner of the Castle Theatre in Bloomington, IL, was hired to manage the theatre for Hanafin until Septemer of 2007 when the Hanafin family decided to run the theatre on their own.
Mike's whole family takes part in the operation of the facility with his wife Gail running the ticket booth and tending to the birthday parties and free movies. His three daughters, Christie Mash, Dawn Hanafin and Heather Wilkins all serve as the projectionists, film bookers, concession managers and event planners, all dealing with the general operations of the theatre. Hanafin has four grandchildren, Abbi, Mikey, Morgan and Hunter, who all have their specific duties to perform at the end of each showing. They plan to have the theatre in the family for a very long time.
In 1937 Mr. & Mrs. John L. Frieburg, Sr. purchased the Princess Theatre
from a Mr. Woods and began remodeling. They put in 329 new seats, wall coverings and new projection equipment with the very
latest sound system. The lobby was repainted, new flooring and large frames for the advertising posters were added. The outside
marquee with The Princess Theatre was hung.