Built in 1911 at 86 East 8th Street, the Knickerbocker, which translates to “best in life,” has hosted a great number of events—from vaudeville acts in the 1920s and 1930s to rock concerts in the 1980s. In the early days, dancers, orchestras, elephants, magicians and Chatauqua plays all graced its stage. While serving as Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt even gave a speech there.
The Knickerbocker, as it was named and carved upon its face to this day was built by local businessmen Tierman Slagh and Arend Smith. The three-story building, made of brick and stone, replaced one that had burned years before at an unknown location. On its scheduled opening night, March 1, 1911, tragedy struck the Holland community. Before the opening date, co-owner Tierman Slagh was killed while hanging the electric sign of the newly completed theatre. The theatre remained dark, and unopened, until September of that same year. The theatre was finally opened in November of that year, under new management.
The Knickerbocker has undergone several changes in ownership in its history, with the highest concentration of ownership turnover in its first twenty years. The theatre was acquired by Hope College in 1988 from Goodrich Theaters, and has since played a major role in Hope College’s cultural offerings through lectures, art films, concerts, musical and stage performances , and assemblies for students, faculty and staff.