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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hi Everyone – Just wanted to let you all know that I’m taking a short hiatus from posting while I finish my book on the Loew’s Kings Theatre. Don’t worry though – the site isn’t going anywhere. I have a backlog of 16 theaters that I haven’t posted yet and plans to photograph many more. For updates during the hiatus check out the After the Final Curtain Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/Afterthefinalcurtain
Here’s a quick look at some of the upcoming theaters that will be featured on AFtC later this year:
The Loew’s Canal Theatre opened in September of 1927 in New York, New York. The Loew’s Corporation contracted with Thomas W. Lamb, one of the foremost theater architects of the 20th century, to design a theater on Canal Street in Manhattan. The 2,314 seat theater was the second largest motion picture theater in the city when it opened. Even though it was a larger theater, it mostly showed “B” movies and serials. Loew’s sold the theater to the Greater M&S Circuit a little over a year after it opened, and bought it back when they went bankrupt in 1929.
On the morning of September 10, 1932, an explosion rocked the front of the Loew’s Canal, throwing the ticket booth into the street and shattering windows on a number of neighboring buildings. No one was injured in the blast, but Edward Brown, the theater’s night watchman, was thrown down a flight of stairs by it. A similar explosion destroyed the entrance of the Loew’s 46th Street Theatre an hour earlier. Both bombings were thought to be connected to the Motion Picture Operators’ Union Local 306, who were on strike at the time and protesting in front of both theaters, but nothing was ever proven.
According to an article in the New York Post, Comedian Jerry Stiller grew up going to the theater. Stiller says, “we used to go on Saturday morning at the Loew’s Canal. At nine in the morning, they’d show things like the “Fitzpatrick Traveltalk,” cartoons and serials like “Flash Gordon.” By the time you got to 10:30, they’d get to the double-header, two pictures in a row. What happened was, your mother or father would drop you off at nine, and they didn’t have to pick you up until three. That’s where we got our education.”
Eddie Cantor, who also grew up in the Lower East Side, had the world premiere of his film, “Forty Little Mothers” at the Loew’s Canal in April of 1940. The theater closed in the late 1950s, and by the early 1960s the lobby was converted to retail space, while the auditorium was used as a warehouse. The last occupant of the lobby space was an appliance store and repair shop that closed in the late 2000s.
The terracotta façade of the theater was designated a New York City Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Committee in 2010. Later that year, the Committee to Revitalize and Enrich the Arts and Tomorrow’s Economy (CREATE) teamed up with the building’s owners to conduct a feasibility study to convert the space into a performing arts center. They received a $150,000 grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., but ultimately the project never came to fruition. The building’s owners planned on converting the space into an 11-story condo complex, but the plan was rejected by the NYC Department of Buildings. Currently, the former auditorium is still used as a warehouse, while the lobby space is empty.
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The Adams Theatre in Newark, New Jersey originally opened on January 12, 1912 as the Shubert Theatre. It was designed in the Beaux-Arts style by architect William E. Lehman, who also designed the Proctor’s Palace Theatre in Yonkers, NY. The 2,037 seat theater was originally used for theatrical productions, Broadway tryouts and revivals.
The Fox Theatre in Fullerton, CA opened in 1925. Designed by Raymond M. Kennedy, it was a sister theater to the Egyptian, and Chinese Theatres. The Fox closed in 1987, and was scheduled for demolition until a campaign to restore the building was launched in 2000.
Hi Everyone – I’m on another road trip to photograph America’s abandoned theaters. This time I’m traveling up the west coast of the United States. Keep checking back over the next week for more updates!
The UC Theatre originally opened in 1917 in Berkeley, California. It closed in March 2001, and was designated a landmark the following year. Plans are underway to turn the theater in to a live music venue. For more information check out their website and facebook pages.