Oodles of popcorn, two-dollar movie tickets and a detailed historical legacy are just a few of the reasons why the Grand Ledge Sun Theatre is significant to residents of Grand Ledge.
Much like the community around it, the Sun Theatre has been altered, expanded and changed throughout time. The movie venue opened in 1931, only a few years after sound was first introduced into film. Since then, ownership of the Sun Theatre has changed hands multiple times.
Chuck Pantera reminisces about his time with the Sun Theatre
Current owner of the Sun Theatre, Chuck Pantera, can recall the day when he first bought it back in 1989.
“I went home and told my wife, ‘Oh hey, by the way, I bought a theatre,’” Pantera said. “She said ‘What?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I bought a theatre.’”
Pantera said that despite her initial surprise at the news, his wife Sandy has been with him all the way when it comes to owning the theatre.
“She’s been on board with it right from the very beginning, actually,” Pantera said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
2018 marks 10 years since Pantera bought the theatre for a second time, in 2008. He reminisced about a number of the memories he’s made in his years of owning and operating the theatre.
“My daughter and her friend were working the concessions stand and three little boys came out to get a refill, and the refill costs a quarter,” Pantera said. “And the one boy got a refill and gave a quarter, and the next boy gave a quarter and got a refill.”
Pantera’s favorite part of the moment was his daughter’s interaction with the last little boy waiting to get a popcorn refill.
“The next boy has a couple of pennies, and a nickel, and a button or something,” Pantera said. My daughter said ‘Well, let’s see what you got,’ and she said, ‘Well, that’s just perfect!’ And he got a refill.”
Another of Pantera’s favorite memories dealt with an incentive he offered to elementary-school children who tried hard to perform well in school.
“Originally, I gave all elementary school kids who got an “A” or equivalent a free movie if they brought their report card in,” Pantera said. “I remember one time these kids were all up there, and they were slamming their report cards down. Then there were four boys, and the fourth boy just kind of put his head down and gave me two dollars.”
Pantera said that wasn’t the end of it, however.
“About three months later these four boys came up again and they all put their report card up there and slid it through,” Pantera said. “Then the fourth boy … I just looked at him and he put his report card and slid it through. So he got a good grade, and a free movie.”
Grand Ledge community members talk about their favorite times at the Sun Theatre
Members of the community shared their own memories of the Sun Theatre.
One resident, Katherine Strassburg, described in detail the time that she went to see the film “Frozen” on her birthday.
“I made my sister go with me because she hated that song,” Strassburg said. “But we went down that night and watched the movie.”
The movie itself, Strassburg said, was nothing in comparison to the experience she had by just simply watching members of the film’s audience.
“We watched the children, and it was just amazing to see the little girls that were there in their little outfits dressed up like Elsa and Anna,” Strassburg said. “They were actually speaking the words along with the movie. It was just amazing. It was like the whole town was full of little princesses and ice maidens. It was just a joyous time, seeing the community come together.”
Lise Mitchell, director of the Grand Ledge Area District Library, said that over the years she’s felt the Sun Theatre has been a safe go-to for entertaining folks.
“We moved here about five years ago and always felt very comfortable being able to send our kids there for afternoon or weekend movies,” Mitchell said. “It’s a very nice environment to have a theatre in your community.”
It’s not just current residents of Grand Ledge who hold the Sun Theatre in high regard, either. Actor and Michigan native Jeff Daniels, who in August 2014 performed to aid the Sun Theatre in its conversion to digital film format, said via email that the theatre acts as a place to draw in members of the community.
“Places like the Sun Theatre act as a gathering place for those who want a little illumination in their lives,” Daniels said in a statement. “That’s what Art does. In my opinion, any place that makes room for the Arts is better for it.”
According to residents, Pantera and the Sun Theatre foster a sense of community
It’s not difficult for residents of Grand Ledge to come up with instances of all that Pantera has done for the community himself. A post in the Grand Ledge Community Facebook group asking for memories of made at the Sun Theatre garnered a buzz of activity. In it, residents wrote of how they grew up going to the theatre, movies that have since grown old, how much popcorn they ate and how the theatre’s changed throughout the years.
But many also talked of Pantera himself and how the theatre has operated under him. Folks described instances where he’d set up special showings of films – for Girl Scouts, for children on a snow day, for those with special needs.
“We certainly are very enthused to have the Sun Theatre in our community,” Mitchell said. “They’re a great partner. They help promote events, they are one of the supporters of our summer reading program, and they help advertise. They’re very community and civic-minded.”
“It becomes like a community outreach,” Strassburg said. “He’s always trying to do something to help the community. It’s not just the movie theater,” Strassburg said.
“Chuck is always working on ways to make things family and community-friendly,” Mitchell added.
In the midst of the praise he’s gotten for how he’s continuing to impact the community both by himself and through his theatre, Pantera says that he’d like to think others would do the same.
“I don’t think that I’m any more special than anybody else,” Pantera said. “I just happen to be the guy that owns the theatre. I’d like to think that every other theatre owner would do the same thing.”