The PIX Theatre was built by George Smith, who began his “show business” life in a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin at the White Opera House. When the show went on the road, 18 year-old George went with it. Before long the troupe ended up broke in Chicago and George returned to Lapeer. Next, George began playing in theater orchestras in Flint and Saginaw where he met and married Vera, the band’s pianist. In 1914, the Smith’s opened a small movie theater next door to what would become the PIX Theatre. Business was good, with tickets selling for five and ten cents. By 1921, the Smith’s were ready to expand their business, so they built the Lyric Theatre, “the fanciest show house around.” Silent movies reigned supreme, accompanied by Vera on the piano until 1928, when the “talkies” came to town.
Early in 1940, with movies at the peak of popularity, it was rumored that Harry Holboth, owner of the Deluxe Theater in neighboring Imlay City, was planning to build a new theater in Lapeer. George Smith, not to be outdone by the competition, quickly set to work locating a site for a new, modern movie house that he would name The PIX Theatre.
George bought the Wattles Bank property and set to work building a theater that would serve the community for decades to come. The PIX opened one year later on April 9, 1941. Its flashing marquee and porcelain enamel panels were the pride of the community. Prior to the Grand Opening presentation of The Bad Man, starring Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore and Ronald Reagan, George Smith declared that the policy at The PIX would be “strict adherence to just one aim … the finest of entertainment,” and promised never to inflict upon his audiences “such parasitical annoyances as BUNKO NIGHT, BANGO, SCREAMO and – most important of all – never a double bill!”
From 1941 to the mid 1950’s, Smith operated both The PIX and The Lyric theaters, but rarely at the same time. The Lyric was a larger and grander theater, but The PIX had a state-of-the-art cooling system (which in 1941 meant cold water dumped from a well through a series of coils to chill the air before it was blown into the theater). In the 1950’s, with the advent of television, Smith closed the Lyric theatre for good. After years of private ownership, The PIX closed in 1996 and was purchased by the City of Lapeer Downtown Development Authority.
Today, the PIX Theatre still retains its original art deco façade and marquee. Many of the interior elements remain as well following a $325,000 renovation made possible by funds from the Downtown Development Authority, the City of Lapeer and a capital improvement grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Renovations to the PIX Theatre included the installation of the stage and stage lighting system allowing the venue to be used as a live performance venue. The PIX reopened as a live performance venue in 1997 with an inaugural performance by the popular Michigan vocal trio, Three Men and a Tenor. The private non-profit Center for the Arts of Greater Lapeer now manages the PIX Theatre on behalf of the Downtown Development Authority offering approximately fifty live performances per season.