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Fenton Studio (Great Lakes) Our Theater

737 Leonard St NW Grand Rapids (Opened 1928 as a movie theater and closed in 1966)

Then moved recording studio to Sparta Theater 203 E Division St. Sparta, Michigan.

Dave Kalmbach had a pipe organ and recording studio set up in his parent’s basement before moving to Our Theater on Leonard N.W. It is likely that at least one of the Dave and the Shadows 45’s and their “Christmas” LP was recorded there. According to the Cinema Treasures site (http://cinematreasures. org/theater/13416/), Our Theater had a seating capacity of 1122 and closed in 1966.Kalmbach operated at Our Theater on W. Leonard St. from c. 1961, then moved to Sparta Theater at 203 E. Division in the mid-sixties. Both of these theaters operated as movie houses and recording studios while Kalmbach owned them. Owners were Dave Kalmbach (Dave and the Shadows) and Bruce Smith,  with Mick Noonan (Dave and the Shadows) as a silent partner. Bryce Robertson served as an engineer in Sparta. The Sparta recording studio was closed in 1970 when Kalmbach went to Detroit to work for Artie Fields Studios with Arlen Smith, Bruce’s brother. The Sparta Theater was built in the 1930s and was renovated, including the leveling of the theater floor, into a rental hall called the “Bee Hive,” soon after Kalmbach moved to Detroit.

The Civic Theater was in that theater for a while, in The mid to late 60’s  There might be some photos from that period in the Civic archives.

Our Theater on Leonard St.

Interior of Fenton Studios during a recording of “Tonto and the Renagades”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Theater newspaper ad from 1961. Dave Kalmbach would hire bands to play between the movies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

c. 1961-2?

Courtesy of Bruce Snoap;  Kingtones Scrapbook # 1

Gorgo is a 1961 British Giant monster movie. Directed by Eugène Lourié, it tells the story of an underwater monster’s capture off the coast of Ireland. The monster is taken to London to be featured as a circus attraction.

Key Witness (1960)

         

Directed by Phil Karlson. Starring Pat Crowley, Dennis Hopper, Corey Allen. An average Los Angeles citizen witnesses a gang murder when he stops to use a telephone

 

Fenton Records was an independent record label founded by Dave Kalmbach in the early 1960s. The label was based in Sparta, Michigan 203 E Division St, though is often regarded as a Grand Rapids, Michigan garage rock label.

It is known for releasing albums by Michigan garage bands such as The Plagues, The Barons, The Aardvarks, The Assortment, The Ones, Tonto & The Renegades, among others.

Over a six-year span, the label would release at least 100 45rpm records and a handful of LPs.

The Record Label

The Fenton Records label was started in the village of Sparta (near Grand Rapids) in the early 1960s by Dave Kalmbach, with help from business partner Bruce Smith.

Many bands that recorded with the label were from Grand Rapids, however bands from other Michigan cities like Lansing, Cedar Springs, Bay City, and Grand Ledge would travel to Sparta to record at the studio.

The label and studio (Great Lakes Recording Studio) was operated out of a movie theater and was one of only three studios in the Grand Rapids area. The company was a “pay as you go” label, meaning the label offered bands recording, mastering services and vinyl pressing for a fee.

The vinyl was originally produced out of state, though later Fenton vinyl was pressed at American Record Pressing in Owosso, Michigan, which also made records for Motown. Story on American Record Pressing Co. Click Here.

Fenton subsidiaries

Fenton Records was what is known as a “vanity” label, meaning bands paid for recording time and some vinyl records. Rumor has it that if Kalmbach thought the song lacked quality, he wouldn’t release it on Fenton, instead it would be tagged with a sub-label, such as 4 Count or Buyit Records. Other times band members would be allowed to pick (or create) which label-name they wanted to be under, such as Sound of the Sceen and Vark.

Discography:

  • Dave and The Shadows Faith/Palyboy Fenton 942
  • J.D. and the Dynamics Dragonfly/Mozart Mash (D. Kalmbach) Fenton 943
  • Rhythm Rockers Three Strikes/Surf Around Fenton 944
  • Renegades IV Greensleeves/ Autumn Night Fenton 945
  • Sue and the Dynamics Go Tell It on the Mountain/Loving Eyes Fenton 948
  • Sheffields Nothing I Can Do/ My Only Wish Fenton 980
  • Renegades V Wine Wine Wine/ Love and Fury Duboney 982
  • Barons Try A Love With Me/ Don’t Come Back No More Jafes 985
  • Scavengers Oasis/Curfew Fenton 987
  • Penetrators What Went Wrong/ Cross the River of Love Fenton 992
  • Pepettes Rock/ Flashing Lights Fenton 995
  • Lloids of Lon-Den You Will Go Fenton/ Girls Can Really Dance Fenton 1000
  • Kick Litscher Passing of the Backhouse/ Hermit of the Shark Tooth Shoals Fenton 1002
  • Kick Litscher Fenton 1002
  • Ju Jus You Treat Me Bad/ Hey Little Girl Fenton 1004
  • Young-Uns Walkin’ Down the Line/ Make Me a Grave / Let’s Go a-Sailin’/ Let Me Go Fenton 2008
  • Chevrons V I Lost You Today/ Niat Pat Lavram Nook 2010
  • Ram Rods You Know I Love You/ I Remember Fenton 2014
  • Saharas I’m Free/ This Mornin’ Fenton 2016
  • The Plagues Why Can’t You Be True/ Through This World Quarantined 2020
  • Bennie Carew Kansas City/ Bye Bye Fenton 2022
  • Bobby Charles Quartet Oh! Lonesome me/ Saturday Night Fenton 2024
  • Quests Scream Loud/ Psychic Fenton 2032
  • Lyn and the Invaders Boy Is Gone/ Secretly Fenton 2040
  • Peter and the Prophets Johnny Of Dreams/ Don’t Need Your Lovin’ Fenton 2050
  • Jack Wood Born To Wander/ So Sad Lawrence 2052
  • Aardvarks I’m Higher Than I’m Down/ That’s Your Way Vark 2058
  • Don Hanke and the Echo Men Put a Tiger in My Tank/ You Are the One Fenton 2064
  • The Chancellors One In A Million/ Journey Fenton 2066
  • The Plagues I’ve Been Through It Before/ Tears From My Eyes Fenton 2070
  • The Chancellors Dear John/ 5 Minus 3 Fenton 2072
  • Fugitives I’ll Hang Around/ You Can’t Blame That On Me Fenton 2075
  • Fugitives You Can’t Blame That On Me Fenton 2075
  • Me and Dem Guys Black Cloud/ Come On Little Sweetheart Coral Gables 2082
  • Pentagons Try And Find/ Before I Go Pent 2084
  • Quests Shadows In The Night/ I’m Tempted Fenton 2086
  • Tribe Fickle Little Girl/ Try Try Try Fenton 2088
  • Aardvarks I Don’t Believe/ I Don’t Need You Fenton 2090
  • Chevrons What Everyone Wants/ Hey Little Teaser Fenton 2092
  • Pedestrians Think Twice/ Snyder’s Swamp Fenton 2102
  • Pedestrians It’s Too Late/ My Little Girl Fenton 2116
  • Sheffields Blowin’ In The Wind/ Fool Minus a Heart Fenton 2118
  • Chentelles Time/ Be My Queen Fenton 2132
  • Jades Confined Congregation/ Please Come Back Fenton 2134
  • 9th Street Market I’m A Baby/ You’re Gone Fenton 2136
  • David and the Diversified Sound Little Boy Blue/ I Dig Fenton 2142
  • Beaux Jens She Was Mine/Trouble Baby Sound of the Sceen 2162
  • Quests What Can I Do?/ Shadows in the Night Fenton 2174
  • Tonto and the Renegades Anytime You Want Some Lovin’/ The Easy Way Out Sound of the Sceen 2178
  • Ray Hummel III Fine Day/ Gentle Rain Fenton 2188
  • Ken Rank Twin City Saucer/ Ken’s Thing (By The Jades) Fenton 2194
  • Blues Company Love Machine/ B.C. Boogie Pear 2203
  • Jades Surface World Fenton 2208
  • Jades We’ve Got Something Going Fenton 2208
  • John Brown Trio Walking Through the Night Fenton 2210
  • John Brown Trio It’s Not Unusual Fenton 2210
  • Tonto and the Renegades I Knew This Thing Would Happen Sound of the Sceen 2212
  • Tonto and the Renegades Little Boy Blue Sound of the Sceen 2212
  • Mussies Louie Go Home Fenton 2216
  • Mussies 12 O’clock July Fenton 2216
  • Counts of Coventry Somewhere (Someone is Waiting) 4 Count 2222
  • Counts of Coventry Happy Day 4 Count 2222
  • Assortment First I Look at the Purse Sound Spot 2224
  • Assortment Bless Our Hippy Home Sound Spot 2224
  • Pedestrians You Aren’t Going to Say You Know Fenton 2226
  • Pedestrians The Unpredictable Miss Kinsey Fenton 2226
  • Cambridge I’m Coming Back Go-T 2244
  • Cambridge Lonely Lisa Go-T 2244
  • Pam Busscher Why Is There War Fenton 2502
  • Pam Busscher Why Can’t He Love Me Fenton 2502
  • Black Watch Left Behind Fenton 2508
  • Black Watch I Wish I Had The Nerve Fenton 2508
  • Legends I’m Just A Guy Fenton 2512
  • Legends I’ll Come Again Fenton 2512
  • The Ones You Haven’t Seen My Love Fenton 2514
  • The Ones Happy Day Fenton 2514
  • Country Ramblers Rambler’s Bounce Northland 2516
  • Country Ramblers A Million […?] Northland 2516
  • Headhunters Times We Share Fenton 2518
  • Headhunters Think What You’ve Done Fenton 2518
  • 4U and Him Backdoor Man Fenton 2522
  • 4U and Him Travelin’ Light Fenton 2522
  • Poor Boy’s Pride The Place Swade 2524
  • Poor Boy’s Pride Fall Of A Town Swade 2524
  • Fyrebirds Can’t Get No Ride Great Lakes 2528
  • Fyrebirds I’m Alive Great Lakes 2528
  • Soulbenders Hey Joe Phantasm 2530
  • Soulbenders I Can’t Believe In Love Phantasm 2530
  • New Era Won’t You Please Be My Friend Great Lakes 2532
  • New Era We Ain’t Got Time Great Lakes 2532
  • Blokes All American Girl Dante 2545
  • Blokes Slander’s Child Dante 2545
  • Pedestrians Think Twice Buyit 2556
  • Pedestrians It’s Too Late Buyit 2556
  • Soulbenders Petals Phantasm 2568
  • Soulbenders 7 And 7 Is Phantasm 2568
  • Bed of Roses Quiet Tea 2577
  • Bed of Roses I Gotta Fight Tea 2577
  • Blues Company Experiment In Color Great Lakes 3002
  • Blues Company She’s Gone Great Lakes 3002
  • Merrie Motor Company Walking Down This Road Scott 3050
  • Merrie Motor Company Dream of You Scott 3050
  • Poor Boy Pride But Yes Who Cares Fenton 3060
  • Poor Boy Pride I’m Here Fenton 3060
  • Dick Rabbit Love Great Lakes GL-103
  • Dick Rabbit Trip Great Lakes GL-103
  • Deborah and Lee Little Boxes Fenton GL942
  • Deborah and Lee No Place To Go Fenton GL942
  • Our Generation Baby Boy (written by Dick Wagner) Fenton GL970
  • Our Generation Chicago Blues Fenton GL970

 

 

Hyatt the new owners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Our Theatre opened in 1928 seating 1122. It remained in operation as a motion picture theatre until 1966 when it closed. It was also used by Great Lakes Recording Studio in the early 60s. A little later it was reopened as the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre until the 70’s when the Civic Theatre moved into the old Majestic Theatre. It is now home to the Hyatt Theatrical Lighting and Supply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Theater Vintage

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Theatre Vintage
Our Theatre Vintage
Storm took down the Our Theatre Sign 2011
Storm took down the Our Theatre Sign 2011
Our Theater this is a photo of the exterior east wall of the theater.
Our Theater this is a photo of the exterior east wall of the theater.
Our Theater private seating area in the balcony
Our Theater private seating area in the balcony
Our Theater original (cove) cornice work that was part of the (rear) west wall of the auditorium.
Our Theater original (cove) cornice work that was part of the (rear) west wall of the auditorium.
Our Theater It is also a hallway that leads to where dentist offices once were
Our Theater It is also a hallway that leads to where dentist offices once were
Our Theater Hallway
Our Theater Hallway
Our Theater Front Lobby
Our Theater Front Lobby
Our Theater Balcony
Our Theater Balcony
IMG_6494
IMG_6494
Our Theater Ticket Booth/Office Now.JPG
Our Theater Ticket Booth/Office Now.JPG
Sparta Theater

Sparta Theater – 203 E Division St. Sparta, Michigan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

737 Leonard N.W.
The Our Theater was built in 1928 by Herbert Boshoven, Sr. It featured carpeting, aisle lights, a domed ceiling, and 725 upholstered seats, along with six offices and two stores, with a basement. It was a completely new concept for a neighborhood theater.
Situated on a lot 85.5’ x 100’, the depth of the property did not allow the theater to be positioned in the usual way. Instead, patrons entered on Leonard, went up several stairs and down a corridor, where they turned to the right to enter the auditorium, which stretched all the way to McReynolds Avenue. The theater was air conditioned, and had both concrete and wooden floors. The hot water heating system was fueled by gas.
 
It was in the early 60’s until the Theater was sold that it was used as a theater and recording studio in the same period. Dave Kalmbach would hire bands to play between the movies. Kingtones and Eschelons were two of those bands.
 
Willer & Boshoven, Inc., sold the theater to the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre on March 4, 1964. The Civic Theatre reduced the seating to 450, adapting the auditorium for stage plays. The building was sold to Hyatt Productions on April 25, 1979, and is now used for commercial photography.
(Photo: GRPL 287, February 6, 1964, C 1765.)

 

Interview with Craig Clarke from the Jades who worked at Great Lakes Recording Studio in Sparta for Dave Kalmbach: Craig Clarke Interview from the Jades

 

3 Responses to Fenton Studio (Great Lakes) Our Theater

  1. Doug says:

    Hello Im researching the tubular bells from the organ in the studio. Is there anyone who remembers them ?

  2. Peter Carlberg says:

    I bought the “OUR” theater from the Civic group around 1979 and sold it to Hyatt around 1984. I had the original blueprints of the place as built, and although the Civic enlarged the stage substantially, subtracting a number of rows of seats in the front, it never had anywhere near 1122 seats, maybe around half of that at most.

  3. Farah says:

    I was the manager for a band out of G.R.(The Ramrods)in 1967. We recorded a tune in the Sparta studio in August of that year. A-side “The Girl I Love”, B-side “Firewater”. We had to come back two more times in an attempt for the engineer to get the instruments sounding right. We took the vinyl to WLAV studios and Ray Hosier played aired it. He received several calls afterwards inquiring who the band was. None of us could afford to have thousands, or even hundreds of copies pressed, so it ended there, but Ray said in his opinion, it would make WLAV’s Favorite 40 if released in W. MI. The result of the first session was you could barely hear Al’s drums (the best in the group), or Rich’s bass. It got a little better after the second visit to the studio, but not perfect even after the third time. Mr. Hosier said he didn’t think it was recorded properly by Fenton the studio.

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