The Strand Theatre (151 East Main Street) was opened in October of 1915 by the Phoenix Amusement Company. The building was designed by the Louisville firm of Joseph and Joseph and originally housed 1,600 seats. While the Strand had a balcony, it was a “white-only” theater and did not accept African-American patrons. The Strand was the first large-scale theater venue built and operated to show film in Lexington, with none of its schedule dedicated to live entertainment. Michael Switow, president of Phoenix Amusement Company, owned and operated a number of movie theaters in Louisville and Southern Indiana, but the Strand was his first move into the Lexington market. Phoenix Amusement Company’s board of directors included Garret D. Wilson, owner of the property on which the theater was built, and Desha Breckinridge, owner of one of the local newspapers, the Lexington Herald.
In July of 1916, Michael Switow sold his share of Phoenix Amusement Company stock to John Elliott, then president of the Colonial Amusement Company (owner/operators of the Colonial (1911-1917) and Star (1910-1916) theaters in Lexington and a string of other movie houses in nearby cities.) John Elliott was named general manager and then elected president of the Phoenix Amusement Company. The Colonial and Star were closed, and all of Elliott’s theater business was conducted under the Phoenix name. In early 1920, the Phoenix Amusement Company bought the Ben Ali Theatre and the Lexington Opera House from the Berryman Realty Co. With the exception of the Ada Meade and the Orpheum theaters, the Phoenix Amusement Company held a monopoly on movie-going in the Lexington until the opening of the Kentucky Theatre in 1922 by Michael Switow and the Lafayette Amusement Company. The two movie theater companies entered a period of intense competition that carried through to the advent of sound films in the late 1920s.
The Strand was renovated, redecorated, and up-graded to sound projection equipment in December of 1928. The Ben Ali sound up-grade was matched by the opening of the State Theatre by the Lafayette Amusement Company in 1929. With the closure of the Orpheum in 1930 and the reversion of the Lexington Opera House to live theater, the Phoenix and Lafayette Companies now had the Lexington market divided evenly between them. The competition between the companies increased during this time and finally ended in Michael Switow pulling out of the Lexington market in order to concentrate on his Louisville theater holds. Lafayette Amusement Company signed an agreement with John Elliot’s Phoenix Amusement Company to manage day-to-day operations and booking functions for the Kentucky, State, and Ada Meade theaters.
Phoenix Amusement Company operated a theater monopoly in Lexington until 1936, when it sold the Strand and the Ben Ali, and transferred its interest in the Kentucky, State, and Ada Meade to the Schine Theatre Corporation. Schine operated all five theaters until a Federal Anti-trust lawsuit broke up the company in 1958, forcing them to sell off all four theaters. M. Switow and Sons, still owners of the Kentucky and State, stepped to operate all four remaining downtown theaters.
The Strand was renovated again in 1958, and decorating touches such as new carpets and murals were added. Faced with the loss of downtown foot traffic and the rise of suburban movie theaters, the Strand closed in 1973. The Strand had the distinction of having the same projectionist the entire time it was in operation. Bob Erd started when he was just 15 years old, and died shortly after the theater closed. In 1979, despite some effort to designate the building a historical landmark, the Strand was demolished.