There have been changes to some of the theaters I’ve photographed over the years, so it’s time for another update.
The auditorium ceiling at the Fox Theatre in Fullerton, CA has been restored since I first visited it in 2014. New LED ceiling lights were installed at the same time.
The lobby of the Paramount Theatre in Marshall, Texas has been converted into a performance venue by the owners of Musicians Unlimited. Musicians Unlimited operates out of one of the Paramount’s former retail spaces. They also restored the theater’s marquee, and held a relighting ceremony in 2016.
The former Loew’s Theatre Complex (Loew’s Poli Theatre, Loew’s Majestic Theatre and the Savoy Hotel) are slated to be redeveloped over the next few years. First, the Majestic will be renovated and reopened as a performing arts center. Then, the Savoy Hotel will reopen as a 100 room hotel. Last, the Loew’s Poli (Palace) Theatre will become a banquet ballroom, gym, and a “family friendly indoor park.” Construction is slated to begin in 2018.
Work began at the RKO Keith’s Theatre in Queens, NY in late June 2017, 31 years after it closed. However, a stop work order went into effect the same day delaying the start of construction once again. The auditorium is slated to be demolished in the fall of 2017. Portions of the lobby, as well as the original ticket booth are slated to be incorporated into the condo building that will be constructed where the auditorium once stood.
The Embassy Theatre in Port Chester, NY was gutted in the spring of 2017. No plans for the future of the space have been made public. Gutted photo courtesy of Gaby Gusmano.
In late 1925, Sam Warner, of Warner Brothers Pictures, convinced his brothers to spend $1.25 million ($17.1 million when adjusted for inflation) to design and build a theater to showcase their new film sound synchronization technology, Vitaphone. Vitaphone, in which the sound track of a film was printed on phonograph records that would play on a turntable attached to and in time with the projector, was the result of a partnership between Warner Brothers and Western Electric’s Bell Laboratories.
Hollywood was chosen as the location for the theater, and Warner hired San Francisco-based architect G. Albert Lansburgh to design and oversee the construction of the theater. The theater was intended to be ready in time for the premiere of “The Jazz Singer,” since the film had several scenes that used the Vitaphone process. However, Warner Bros realized in late 1927 that the theater would not be ready in time for the premiere, and it was moved to the Warners’ (Piccadilly) Theatre in New York City.
The Hollywood Pacific Theatre opened on April 26, 1928 as the Warner Brothers Theatre. It was designed in the atmospheric style with colonnades in the Italianate Beaux Arts style surrounding the orchestra level walls. However, unlike most atmospheric theaters, the Warner did not have twinkling lights in the ceiling. The 2,700 seat theater was the first theater designed specifically for “talkies” in Hollywood. Promotional articles by Warner Bros proclaimed that the theater has “the most advanced and largest Vitaphone equipment ever installed.”
“Glorious Betsy,” starring Conrad Nagel and Dolores Costello, was the feature presentation at the opening and Al Jolson, the star of “The Jazz Singer,” served as the Master of Ceremonies. A plaque remembering Sam Warner, who died six months before the theater opened, was unveiled in the theater’s lobby. The theater was owned by Warner Brothers Pictures until 1953, when due to the verdict of United States Supreme Court case United States vs. Paramount Pictures, the studio was forced to spin off its theater holdings into a separate company. To accomplish this, Stanley Warner Theatres was formed in 1953, and later merged with the RKO Theatres Corp to become RKO Stanley Warner.
After many years as a first run theater, the Warner was turned into a Cinerama house, a popular widescreen format, on April 29, 1953. The seating had to be reduced to 1,500, and sections of the proscenium were removed due to the new screen being so wide. It was renamed the Warner Cinerama Theatre, and showed “This is Cinerama,” a film designed to take advantage of the new widescreen, for 133 weeks before ending in 1955. A remodel in 1961 saw the Cinerama screen removed and much of the ornate plasterwork in auditorium covered by drapes. This only lasted a year before a new Cinerama screen was installed. RKO-Stanley Warner sold the theater to Pacific Theatres during the 80-week run of “2001, A Space Odyssey,” and the theater was renamed the Hollywood Pacific Theatre.
The theater closed on January 31, 1978 so that the auditorium could be divided into a triple screen theater. Two 550-seat screens were added by separating the balcony level from the orchestra level. It reopened in April of 1978 as the Pacific 1-2-3. Due to structural damage caused by an earthquake in January of 1994 and water damage in the basement from construction of the Red Line subway, the Pacific was forced to close the theater on August 15, 1994. However, in the years after the theater closed an occasional screening took place in the theater on the main level. The balcony screens remained closed due to the structural damage. Beginning in 2002, the Entertainment Technology Center used the theater to test new digital projection technology, ending in 2006. The theater was then taken over by the Ecclesia Hollywood Church, who held services in the downstairs auditorium until July 2013. It is currently unused, with no public plans for its revival.
The Paris Cinema in Worcester, Massachusetts originally opened as the Capitol Theatre on December 11, 1926. It was designed by architect Roger Garland for the Worcester Capitol Company. An atmospheric theater, the 2,500 seat Capitol was designed with a blue dome ceiling and side walls that looked like a Spanish villa. Clouds were projected across the ceiling to complete the illusion that the audience was sitting under the night’s sky. Lou Zoeller, a songwriter, and Janet “the World’s Smallest Prima Donna” Bodwell, two vaudeville performers, played at the theater during the opening week.
On Dec. 13, 1966, the Capitol closed for renovations, and reopened as the Paris Cinema on March 4, 1967. The Paris was divided in two the following year by separating the balcony from the orchestra level. It was billed as “Worcester’s first theater within a theater” when it opened on April 10, 1968. “Bonnie and Clyde” starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway was the first film shown in the former balcony, now known as the Paris Cinema 2, and “Planet of the Apes” starring Charlton Heston was shown at the Paris Cinema 1. During the 70’s the Paris showed exploitation films downstairs, and adult films in the former balcony, now called the “Adult Penthouse” after another name change.
On June 29, 1974, Francis W. Sargent, the Governor of Massachusetts at the time, signed a obscenity legislation into law, which forced the Paris to stop showing adult films. This lead to the theater closing once again in 1977. Cinema 320, a group of cinephiles, rented the theater in the fall of 1980 to show films that weren’t normally shown at larger theater chains. This lasted until April 1, 1982, when the theater’s owner informed the group that he had found a new tenant that was willing to pay more and they had a month to vacate. The final film shown at the Paris by Cinema 320 was “Casablanca.” The Paris reopened as an adult theater in June of 1982.
During the early 2000’s the Paris closed and reopened a few times. Worcester police began to raid the theater due to allegations that sex acts were taking place during the films. The Paris closed for good in January 2006 after 29 people were arrested during one weekend raid. Robert J. Hurwitz, the owner of the Paris Cinema, sold the building in July 2006 to the Mayo Group for $1.15 million. Mayo had begun converting the buildings around the theater into a student village under the name Worcester Commons, LLC, but did not have any immediate plans for the Paris.
In 2016, the Mayo Group sought a waiver to the city’s one year demolition delay ordinance for historic buildings from the Worcester Historical Commission. According to the Mayo Group, it would cost at least $21 million to stabilize the building and bring it up to code, but only $500,000 to completely demolish it. They argued that keeping the building standing another year would pose an economic hardship for them. The Historical Commission voted 4-1 to grant the waiver. Demolition began in the summer of 2017, and they plan on turning the space into a beer garden with an outdoor performance area.
The Logan Theatre in Philadelphia, PA opened on January 24, 1924. It was built by the Stanley Company of America for $1.1 million, or $15.5 million when adjusted for inflation. The 1894-seat theater was designed by the architectural firm of Hoffman and Henon, who also designed the now mostly demolished Boyd Theatre in downtown Philadelphia. Designed in the Adamesque style, the plasterwork in the auditorium featured mythological creatures, and there was a fresco of a sailing ship in the lobby. The building also had a large ballroom on the second floor, known as the “Waltz Studio.”
The Logan was closed in 1972, and in May of 1973 the building was sold by RKO Stanley Warner for $350,000 to the Deliverance Evangelist Church (DEC), one of the largest congregations in the area at the time. DEC made some alterations to the theater, including adding a closed circuit television system, as the theater was often filled to capacity. This allowed people to watch the three-hour-long services from the former Waltz Studio ballroom. DEC moved out of the Logan in 1992, and the theater was abandoned. Soon after, the roof began to leak, causing major water damage.
Dr. Owen Williamson purchased the Logan in 2005, and began to restore it as a memorial to his late wife, Claretilda. Since purchasing the building he has repaired the roof, repainted the interior and updated some of the wiring. Dr. Williamson plans to reopen the theater as a live music venue with a restaurant named “Claretildaville,” However, the building remains closed to this day.
The Pantheon Theatre in Vincennes, Indiana opened on May 15, 1921. John Bayard, a local architect designed the theater for owners Louis A. Wilkerson and A.M. Lyons. It cost $225,000 to build, or roughly $3.2 million when adjusted for inflation. The 1,500 seat theater had a Typhoon air cooling and ventilating system, a precursor to air conditioning, which was powered by three very large fans in the ceiling. The opening of the theater was originally supposed to take place on March 15, 1921, but it was delayed two months due to some plaster falling from the underside of the balcony.
In 1923, Wilkerson-Lyons Enterprises sold the Pantheon Theatre to the Consolidated Realty and Theatres Company (CRTC), which owned and operated theaters in several cities in Indiana, for $225,000. However, CRTC could not afford to pay, and it reverted back to the original owners two months after it was sold. Red Skelton, an American entertainer and Vincennes native who performed at the Pantheon in his youth later unsuccessfully tried to purchase the theater. The Marx Brothers, Spike Jones and Duke Ellington, Will Rogers, Roy Rogers, Hank Williams and Gene Autry also performed at the theater.
In 1961, the Pantheon closed and was converted to retail space. The orchestra level was leveled with concrete and a suspended ceiling was added to close off the balcony. A Sears department store was the first to move into the newly created space. In 2006, the building was purchased by Travis Tarrants, who planned on reopening the theater as a performing arts center. Tarrants formed a non-profit organization, the Pantheon Theatre Company (PTC), and began work on the theater. The suspended ceiling was removed, and the auditorium floor was de-leveled. However, PTC relied on donations to fund the restoration of the Pantheon, and those dried up due to the recession of 2008. PTC was unable to pay the thousands of dollars in back taxes owed, and the theater was sold at a tax auction in October 2012.
The Vincennes Business and Arts Initiative (INVin), purchased the theater in December 2014. INVin made repairs to the theater, including replacing the roof, to minimize damage to the theater during the winter. In March 2016, they announced plans for the theater to become a shared work space, which would allow business owners and entrepreneurs a place to network and share resources. Steve Miller, INVin’s founder, envisions the space including training and conference facilities.
The Carolina Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina opened on March 7, 1927. It was designed by R.E. Hall as a pseudo-atmospheric theater. The interior design was made to resemble a Spanish patio, but unlike a typical atmospheric theatre with its dome ceiling painted like the night’s sky, the Carolina has a coffered ceiling with murals on the side walls depicting a Mediterranean sky. The 1,800 seat theater was part of the Publix Theatres Corporation, which later became Paramount. Publix’s motto was “One of The Publix Theatres,” meaning that each of their theaters were held to a very high standard. It was built for $600,000, or around $8,276,000 when adjusted for inflation.
In 1938 the theater was updated with new projectors, sound equipment and larger seats. As part of the renovation the original murals were replaced with new ones on acoustic tiles. The new acoustic tiles helped with film sound clarity, since the theater was built before “talkies” were the norm. It underwent another renovation in December 1961 when it became a Cinerama Theatre. Cinerama was a widescreen projection system that involved using three synchronized 35mm projectors on a very wide, curved screen. Films shown in Cinerama Theaters had programs, assigned seating, and encouraged people to dress up to see the show.
The Carolina closed on November 27, 1978 after a showing of “The Fist of Fury,” starring Bruce Lee. Almost two years later on November 13, 1980 a fire was started in the stage area. Luckily, the fire curtain was still intact and saved the auditorium from being damaged. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission designated the Carolina a historic landmark in September 1982. During the years the theater was dormant there were a few restoration proposals. One such plan was City Fair, a project that would have converted the theater into a performing arts center with conference space in between shows. The City Fair project was announced in May 1987, and work began on the theater a few months later. The developers petitioned the city to delist the theater from the national historic register because the steel beams for the restaurant portion of the complex would not fit through the lobby, so they needed it to be demolished. The city agreed and the lobby was demolished in 1988. A few months later the project came to a halt when the developers ran out of money.
In April 2013, the city of Charlotte sold the theater to the Foundation for the Carolinas for $1. The Foundation for the Carolinas (FFTC), a charitable foundation located in North Carolina whose headquarters is located adjacent to the theater, intends to renovate the theater and use it as a performing arts center. In October 2014 the Belk Family gave FFTC an $8 million dollar gift to go to the restoration of the theater. In honor of that gift the complex will named Belk Place and the theater will be known as the Carolina Theatre at Belk Place. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2017 with the theater currently slated to reopen in late 2018.