Varsity Theatre – Evanston, IL

View from the side of the balcony.
View from the side of the balcony.

The Varsity Theater in Evanston, IL opened on Christmas Eve in 1926. It was designed by Chicago architect John E. O. Pridmore, who is also known for the nearby Vic Theatre. Clyde Elliot, an Evanston native who had worked in Hollywood before returning to his hometown to open the theater, commissioned it. Upon opening the 2,500 seat Varsity was one of the largest neighborhood theatres in the Chicago area, and the largest in Evanston beating the nearby Coronet, Hoyburn, New Campus, and Valencia Theatres.

The mezzanine level of the lobby.
The mezzanine level of the lobby.

An Atmospheric theatre, the Varsity was designed to give the illusion that you were sitting in a courtyard under the night sky and in the case of the Varsity it was the courtyard of a French Royal Chateau. The side walls featured marble imported from Italy, and the stage area resembled a lowered drawbridge. As with other atmospheric theatres, it also featured small twinkling lights in the ceiling to give the appearance of stars, with clouds projected across the ceiling from projectors located on both sides of the auditorium.

600 of the 2500 seats were located on the balcony level.
600 of the 2500 seats were located on the balcony level.

The Varsity opened with with a short serial “The Collegians” and the feature “Man of the Forest” which starred Jack Holt and Georgia Hale. In the early 1930’s the theater became part of the Balaban & Katz theatre chain, which was controlled by the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, a forerunner of Paramount Pictures. A Geneva organ was installed in the theater when it opened, and the console was painted to resemble a cottage with roof tiles made of terra cotta. As with many of its contemporaries the organ did not see much use later in the theater’s life and was eventually removed. It was acquired by Karl Werner, who installed it in his home. Werner later moved to Arizona and took the organ with him, but when he passed away his family disposed of the organ.

A drop ceiling is all the separates the retail space on the orchestra level from the remains of the balcony.
A drop ceiling is all the separates the retail space on the orchestra level from the remains of the balcony.

In the 1980’s the nearby Evanston Theater, originally known as the Stadium Theatre, was purchased by the Loews Corporation, and enlarged from a single screen to a five-screen theater. As multiplex theatres became to be the norm, single screen theaters like the Varsity struggled to stay open.  The Coronet Theatre, another Evanston single screen, closed because of this in 1984, and the Varsity followed in 1988.

A close-up of some of the whitewashed plasterwork on the balcony.
A close-up of some of the whitewashed plasterwork on the balcony.

Almost immediately after the theater closed, the main level and lobby were gutted and turned into retail space, which is currently occupied by a Gap clothing store. In 2010, the City of Evanston received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowments for the Arts to conduct a feasibility study on reopening the Varsity as a performing arts center. In July 2011, the study concluded that given that the first floor of the theater was currently occupied by a retail store, and not available for redevelopment, that the performing arts needs of Evanston are greater than the Varsity Theatre could accommodate alone. They recommended developing a number of performing arts spaces in downtown Evanston, instead of just one central location.

A close up of the proscenium arch.
A close up of the proscenium arch.
Much of the floor in both the balcony, and the lobby mezzanine is covered with insulation.
Much of the floor in both the balcony, and the lobby mezzanine is covered with insulation.
Two projectors remain in the projection booth.
Two projectors remain in the projection booth.

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Large castle turrets located on each side of the stage were removed when the orchestra level was converted into a retail space.
Large castle turrets located on each side of the stage were removed when the orchestra level was converted into a retail space.

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Colonial Theatre

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.
View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

The Colonial Theatre in Augusta, Maine opened in 1913 and was designed by architect Harry S. Coombs, who was known for designing many local libraries.  In 1926 the theater was damaged by a fire, and much of the auditorium had to be rebuilt. The owners took advantage of this and expanded the size of the theater. Originally the 1,240 seat theater showed silent films, and had an orchestra pit directly in front of the stage so music could accompany the films, but this was covered over as silent films gave way to “talkies” or motion pictures with sound.  

Since this photograph was taken the lobby has been cleaned up and used for live events.
Since this photograph was taken the lobby has been cleaned up and used for live events.

During World War II, bond drives were held at theaters across the country where you could only gain admission by purchasing a war bond, which were certificates issued by the government to help finance military expenses, and the Colonial Theatre was no exception. At one bond drive held at the Colonial, actress and singer Dorothy Lamour made a appearance to help drive bond sales.

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The theater closed in the late 1960s due to declining ticket sales. Mothballed and only used for storage, the building’s roof began to deteriorate. Without regular maintenance, water began to leak into the building and eventually causing three large holes in the wooden auditorium floor.

While the theater was closed water leaked in from the roof and caused the wooden auditorium floor to rot.
While the theater was closed water leaked in from the roof and caused the wooden auditorium floor to rot.

 

Colonial Theatre, Inc. was founded in 1995 with the purpose of buying and restoring the building. A number of developers expressed an interest in rehabilitating the theater, but no plan worked out and the building continued to deteriorate. In 2009, Colonial Theatre, Inc. began the process of getting the theater listed on the National Register of Historic Places as that status would offer some protection and tax breaks if the theater was restored. Five years later, they succeeded and the theater was listed in the summer of 2014. The theater is open for tours on Saturday mornings during the spring, summer and fall months.

In 1929 a DeForest Phonofilm system was installed which allowed the theater to show “talkies” or motion pictures with sound.
In 1929 a DeForest Phonofilm system was installed which allowed the theater to show “talkies” or motion pictures with sound.

In June 2015, an art installation and screening of “A Home for Women,” a documentary by Caroline Losneck, Betsy Caron and Kate Kaminski, was held in the lobby of the Colonial, which was the first movie shown at the theater in almost 50 years. More information about the theater is available at https://www.facebook.com/ColonialTheater and http://www.augustacolonialtheater.org/

 

The exterior of the Colonial Theatre in Augusta, ME
The exterior of the Colonial Theatre in Augusta, ME
View of the side of the balcony
View of the side of the balcony.

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One of the surviving auditorium light fixtures.
One of the surviving auditorium light fixtures.

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Studebaker Theatre

View of the auditorium from the mezzanine.
View of the auditorium from the mezzanine.

*Sorry for the delay. There was a slight error when this was supposed to post earlier.

Located in the Fine Arts Building in the Historic Michigan Boulevard District of Chicago, the Studebaker Theatre as it is today opened in September 1917. Built between 1885 and 1887, the building was commissioned by the Studebaker Company and designed by architect Solon S. Beman. The part of the building that would eventually become the theater was used as a showroom from 1887 until 1898 when the Studebaker Company moved to a new building on South Wabash Street.

View from the side of the balcony.
View from the side of the balcony.

Renamed the Fine Arts Building, it eventually became known as the first art colony in Chicago. Three new stories were added to the building for artist studios and offices. In 1898 the showroom was converted into two music halls; Studebaker Hall which could seat 1500 people and the smaller University Hall which could seat 700. The upper floors attracted some notable tenants during this time including; Frank Lloyd Wright, L. Frank Baum and organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Chicago Women’s Club.

Mezzanine, Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL
Mezzanine, Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL

For the first twenty years Studebaker Hall was used for plays, opera and musical acts. Klaw & Erlanger, the theatrical production company that was responsible for the Iroquois Theatre fire of 1903, ran the hall for a time beginning in August of 1913. Four years later the Shubert Organization took over the hall, and together with Klaw & Erlanger, converted it into an actual theater. The only part that was untouched during the conversion was the ceiling. Samuel Insull, a British-born American businessman, took over the theater in 1927, but was forced to give it up two years later when the stock market crash caused the collapse of his business empire.

 
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The theater went through many different uses over the years including a Church from 1944 to 1950, and a studio for NBC from Feb 1950 – 1955. DuMont Television Network’s Cavalcade of Stars, one of the first live television shows, was filmed at theater during that time. The Studebaker returned to its theatrical roots in 1956, but was only used occasionally until it closed in 1982.

The ceiling is the only part of the auditorium that was not touched during the conversion to a theater.
The ceiling is the only part of the auditorium that was not touched during the conversion to a theater.

In December 1982, the M&R Amusement Company converted the Studebaker and the former University Hall, now known as the World Playhouse into a multiplex. The Studebaker auditorium became the 1200 seat Theatre 1 and the Studebaker stage was closed off to create the 240 seat Theatre 3. The Playhouse auditorium became the 550 seat Theatre 2, and its stage became the 158 seat Theatre 4. At first the new multiplex mainly showed art and independent films, but M&R sold their theater chain to Loews in 1988 it switched to playing mostly Hollywood films.

The second screen that was on the stage has been removed in preparation for the theater's reopening as a performing arts center.
The second screen that was on the stage has been removed in preparation for the theater’s reopening as a performing arts center.

Loews closed the theater on Sunday November 26, 2000 citing that the small size of the size of the theaters as well as the competition from other cinemas in the area made it no longer economical for them to continue operating it. The final films shown at the four screen theater were “Red Planet”, “Cleopatra’s Second Husband,” “Billy Elliott,” and “Dancer in the Dark.”

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Both the Studebaker and the Playhouse were restored in 2015 and are scheduled to reopen in October 2015. More information can be found at: http://www.studebakertheater.com/

If you look closely you can see the old hat racks on the bottom of the seats.
If you look closely you can see the old hat racks on the bottom of the seats.

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View of the auditorium from the stage.
View of the auditorium from the stage.

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View from the upper box seats.
View from the upper box seats.

Fox Theatre Inglewood, CA

The Fox was the first theater in Inglewood to have air conditioning.
The Fox was the first theater in Inglewood to have air conditioning.

The Fox Theatre in Inglewood, CA opened on March 31, 1949. It was built on the site of the Granada Theatre which had been destroyed by a fire five years earlier. Fox West Coast Theatres (FWCT) purchased the site for $376,375.45 soon after the fire. Charles Skouras, the president of FWCT, requested that the theater be designed in a neo-baroque style instead of the more modern style which was typical of the late 1940s. To achieve they hired architect S. Charles Lee to design the building and Carl G. Moeller to design the interior. Newly low cost aluminium sheeting was used to create ornamentation that would have been much more expensive and harder to mass produce if created with plaster. Moeller went on to redesign a number of Fox’s pre-war theaters this way, which came to be known as “Skouras Style.

View of the auditorium from the screen.
View of the auditorium from the screen.

The 1008 seat Fox was the last theater to be constructed by 20th Century Fox before the Supreme Court Case the United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. The case, also known as the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948, decreed that movie studios were no longer allowed to own theaters and hold exclusive rights on where the films they produced were shown. Even though they no longer owned the theater, 20th Century Fox often held sneak previews of upcoming films at the Fox so they could observe people’s reactions to the movies. The Fox also had a soundproof room dubbed the “cry room” so that people could bring babies to the movies without disturbing the other patrons.

Much of the projection equipment was left behind when the theater closed.
Much of the projection equipment was left behind when the theater closed.

Mr. Belvedere Goes to College” starring Clifton Webb and Shirley Temple was the first film shown at the Fox. Webb and Temple both made appearances at the premiere along with an estimated 10,000 people crowding the streets around the building. The Fox changed hands and formats a few times, switching to exploitation, and finally spanish language films before closing in 1988.

The Fox lobby and concession stand.
The Fox lobby and concession stand.

In 2009, the Inglewood Fox Theatre Alliance was formed to raise awareness and gain support for restoring the theater. Through their efforts the theater was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in January 2013. It was the second location in Inglewood to be added to the NRHP after the Centinela Adobe. The building is currently for sale.

A close up of one of the original light fixtures in the lobby.
A close up of one of the original light fixtures in the lobby.
The original ticket booth has been protected from the elements by a plywood wall.
The original ticket booth has been protected from the elements by a plywood wall.
The interior of the Fox Theatre ticket booth.
The interior of the Fox Theatre ticket booth.
View from the back of the auditorium.
View from the back of the auditorium.
The marquee is also partially protected by a plywood barrier.
The marquee is also partially protected by a plywood barrier.
The concession stand has a gilt shell overhang.
The concession stand has a gilt shell overhang.

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Summer Print Sale

Loew's Palace Theatre Bridgeport, CT
Loew’s Palace Theatre Bridgeport, CT

I’m getting married this October so I’m having a print sale to help us go on our honeymoon! Use the code “HONEYMOONSALE” at http://www.afterthefinalcurtainprints.com/ when checking out to get 25% off your order. I’ve added some images from upcoming blog posts as well as new photographs from old favorites (including some shots of the renovated Kings Theatre) to the prints page.

If you have any questions please e-mail me and I’ll be happy to answer them for you.

Kodak Professional Supra Endura Luster paper is used for all print sizes.

Kings Theatre Brooklyn, NY
Kings Theatre Brooklyn, NY
Ceiling, Paramount Theatre Newark, NJ
Ceiling, Paramount Theatre Newark, NJ
Mezzanine, Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL
Mezzanine, Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL
Fox Theatre Inglewood, CA
Fox Theatre Inglewood, CA

 

Prospect Theatre

View of the remains of the Prospect Theatre.
View of the remains of the Prospect Theatre.

B.F Keith’s Prospect Theatre opened on September 7, 1914 in the Prospect Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. The 2,381 seat theater was constructed on the site of a synagogue and three apartment buildings. It was designed by architect William McElfatrick for the Keith Vaudeville Company. The Prospect was dubbed “the woodless and postless theater” while it was being built due to the fact that no wood was used in its construction and there were no posts helping to support the balcony. Woodwork was left out of the building so that the theater would be much safer if a fire broke out. The balcony was supported by a 65 ton steel beam, which eliminated the need for support beams that could have obstructed views during performances. Opening advertisements boasted that the balcony was strong enough to support the world’s ten heaviest locomotives.

Continue reading “Prospect Theatre”

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Prospect Theatre, Brooklyn, NY
Prospect Theatre, Brooklyn, NY

 

Is this thing on? I’m happy to announce that the hiatus is over! I’ve reached a point with the book (more on that soon, I promise) where I can start making regular updates to the site once again. The first post goes live tomorrow and will be familiar to those of you who follow AtFC on Facebook – The Prospect Theatre in Brooklyn, NY.