The Neon turns the big 3-0, what you need to know about its 4 births

Times flies when you are watching movies, drinking beer and eating popcorn at  The Neon, right?

The charming little theater at 130 E Fifth St. in downtown Dayton brings some of the hottest independent movies around to our fair city.

There is a lot to learn. 

Jonathan McNeal,the Neon’s manager,  says people often are confused about exactly how old the Neon is anyway.

Some people he’s spoken to can swear that it is relatively brand new.

“Then there are people who think it’s been there for 80 years,” McNeal said.

The theater is actually 30 years old this year and has been reborn and reborn again.


Citywide Development Corp. and the City of Dayton paid much of the $480,000 for what was then called the Dayton Movies and opened  Aug. 22, 1986, according to the "Cincinnati Enquirer" and "Dayton History Books Online."

Citywide provided a $324,000 loan and the city a $109,000 capital-improvement grant. Developer Bill Chronis ponied up $50,000 for the theater that opened with "Gone with the Wind."

The owners of The Movies Repertory Cinema at 719 Race St. in downtown Cincinnati operated the 300-seat theater until 1988.

McNeal said the revival house (repertory cinema) concept that included film classics didn’t work in Dayton even though the theater also showed independent and foreign films.

The Movies Repertory closed itself in 1991.

Larry Thomas, co-owner of the theater, said Monday that "the theater just ran out of everything: time, money, luck," according to a" Dayton Daily News" article.


adddddA collage of images from several of 2015's Oscar-nominated films (including “Foxcatcher,” “The Imitation Game” and “Wild”) were on view at the Neon Movies (JONATHAN MCNEAL/CONTRIBUTED)

The theater closed on April 27, 1988, but Chronis reopened it the very next day as The Neon Movies, according to reports by Dayton Books History Online and Dayton Daily News.

Chronis later gave the building back to CityWide in forgiving the $475,000 outstanding mortgage.

In 1993, he gave control of the Neon to CityWide, the Living City Project and former general manager Larry Smith.


With Smith as its president, Variety Cinemas started operating the New Neon on Jan. 1, 1993.

Smith left in 1998, but the theater has continued under new management.   

The Neon was reborn again in 2001, the year McNeal came on board.


The Neon Cinema Cafe Inc. owned by Citywide was created in 2001. That year the theater was closed for a short time for renovations and split into two theaters.

He said the scrappy theater is not a nonprofit, but doesn’t exactly make money hand over fist.

“All that profit stays here for upgrades,” he said.

The theater reopens Friday, Sept.23 with new seats thanks to a fundraising campaign that raised $35,000.

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