Strand Theatre – Boston, MA

I originally posted this post on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in October 2021. For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content, you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

The Strand Theatre in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, originally opened on November 11, 1918, the same day that the news of the Armistice, ending World War I, reached Boston. The Boston-based architectural firm of Funk & Wilcox, the same firm that designed the nearby Franklin Park Theatre and the Cabot Theatre in Beverly, MA, designed it. It was one of the first theaters in Massachusetts designed with motion pictures in mind. The Strand also had a $75,000 Hope-Jones Theatre Organ, one of the first of its kind in Massachusetts.

A portion of the lobby was restored to show what the theater could look like after a full restoration.

Early advertisements for the Strand called it “New England’s Most Beautiful Theatre” and “Dorchester’s New Million Dollar Photoplay Palace.” The 2,200 seat Strand opened with a silent film double feature of “Queen of the Sea” starring Annette Kellerman and“Out of a Clear Sky” starring Marguerite Clark. There was also a performance by “Songstress DeLuxe” Emile Earle. Hundreds of people showed up to the Strand’s opening celebration in part to celebrate the theater but also the signing of the armistice. Many celebrities performed at the Strand over the years, including Fred Allen, Fanny Brice, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, Duke Ellington, and Alfred Hitchcock.

Like many single-screen theaters of its day, the Strand’s audience declined, and the theater closed in 1969. In 1979, the City of Boston took ownership of the theater, and the Strand reopened. It was managed by the M. Harriet McCormack Center for the Arts (MHMCA), who signed a 25-year lease for $1 a year. During this time, some big names performed at the theater – Joe Perry, B.B. King, Tracy Chapman, Public Enemy, Phish, and LL Cool J, just to name a few. MHMCA operated the theater until 2003, when the City declined to renew their lease because of allegations of mismanagement.

The right organ chamber and box seats were given a sample restoration as well.

The City of Boston is currently searching for a new operator of the Strand.

 

 

Palace Theatre – Norwalk, CT

View from the side of the balcony.

The 1,149 seat Palace Theatre originally opened on December 21, 1914, in Norwalk, CT. It was known as “the theater you play before you play the Palace in New York.” Many famous vaudeville acts performed at the Palace over the years, such as Harry Houdini, W.C Fields, Mae West, and Enrico Caruso. It’s rumored to have been one of the final places Houdini played before his death in 1926.

A close up of the theater’s proscenium arch.

The Palace closed as a movie theater for the last time on August 28, 1966. It stayed closed until Russell Fratto purchased it in 1975. Fratto intended on turning the theater into a performing arts center and home for the ballet company he founded. Fratto could reopen it for the 1980-81 season but because of a recession, it closed again after that season.

The lobby is currently used as receptionist area for the building.

It was leased to the Palace Production Center (PPC) in 1983. PPC updated the electrical and HVAC systems and turned the auditorium into a sound stage. PPC purchased the building in 1985 and has operated the building ever since. It’s used for photoshoots, video shoots, and feature film productions.

Orpheum Theatre – St. Louis, Missouri

View of the auditorium from the mezzanine.

The Orpheum Theatre in St. Louis, Missouri opened on September 3, 1917. The Southern Real Estate and Financial Company hired G. Albert Lansberg to design the building. Lansberg designed many theaters for the San Francisco-based Orpheum Theatre Circuit. The 2,300-seat Beaux arts theater cost $500,000 ($9.6 million with inflation) to build. Unlike many other theaters, the Orpheum did not have a formal opening with special guests and speeches. Opening day was a straight vaudeville ticket with two strongmen, a contortionist, two comedians, and a singer.

The lobby of the Orpheum.

Many famous vaudeville acts performed at the Orpheum over the years, including Sophie Tucker, Eddie Foy, Fannie Ward, and Lee Morse. Harry Houdini, the famous illusionist and escape artist, performed at the Orpheum for a week on three separate occasions: the first began on February 13, 1922; the second on January 14, 1923; and the last on December 22, 1923. When vaudeville declined in the late 1920s, the theater switched formats and became a playhouse. It opened on Christmas Day 1929 with a production of David Belasco’s The Bachelor Father.
Warner Bros took the Orpheum over in 1934 and changed formats again, this time to motion pictures. A new screen, projectors, and a W.W. Kimball 2 manual organ were installed in the theater. It reopened on September 15, 1934, with a showing of “British Agent” starring Kay Francis and Leslie Howard. Warner Bros operated the theater until 1941, when the theater closed. It reopened two years later, as the Loew’s Orpheum Theatre on January 28, 1943, with a war bond event and a screening of “The War Against Mrs. Hadley” starring Edward Arnold and Fay Bainter.
On February 28, 1960, Loew’s Theatres Inc. announced that they wanted to move their operations to the nearby American Theater (a playhouse) since they could not easily install a 70mm screen at the Orpheum because of its balconies. They could convert the American Theatre at a much lower cost. Both theaters were owned by Southern Real Estate and Financial Company, which were in favor of the switch. However, because of the ruling of the landmark antitrust case, United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., which said that movie studios could no longer own the theaters in which their films played; Loew’s needed the permission of the Department of Justice to sign a new lease; the Department of Justice signed in March 1960. After a $300,000 renovation, the Orpheum reopened as the American Theatre on October 10, 1960, with a performance of The Music Man.
Local entrepreneurs Steve and Michael Roberts purchased the theater for $1.5 million in 2003. It underwent a two-year renovation and upgrade before reopening on April 10, 2005, as the Roberts Orpheum Theater. The first musical act to perform at the reopened theater was the Backstreet Boys. In 2012, Steve and Michael Roberts went bankrupt and were forced to close the theater. Jubilee World Inc., a music-oriented Christian ministry, bought the theater in late 2016, intending to reopen it as a performing arts center. However, no reopening date has been announced.

View of the auditorium from the box seats.

The auditorium chandelier and procenium arch.

View of the auditorium from the upper balcony.

Exhibition at The Kerlin Gallery in York, PA

The Kerlin Gallery, one of the Creative York galleries in York, PA is currently exhibiting 16 pieces of my work.  They range from 30×20 prints on aluminum to smaller framed prints.

The exhibition runs from Thursday, January 27 to Thursday, February 17, 2022. The opening reception is Thursday, January 27 from 6 to 8pm.

I will be at Creative York on Thursday, February 17 at 5pm for the closing reception. Following this reception, I’ll be speaking at the nearby Capitol Theatre at 7pm.

Hope to see some of you there!

The Library Opera House – Marathon, NY (Lucky Number 200!)

I knew I wanted to do something a little different for the 200th theater I photographed. I was speaking with a friend who went to school in upstate (real upstate, not just slightly north of NYC) and he asked “have you been to the one above the library in Marathon?” I hadn’t heard of it and was immediately intrigued. I found a few recent photos online and knew this would be perfect. Plus, it’s now the oldest theater I’ve photographed in the United States. As with most of my posts – it was originally posted on Patreon in August 2021.  For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

In January 1891, Mersena Peck, a native of Marathon, New York died. She left $20,000 ($584,217 when adjusted for inflation) in trust for the creation of a public library in Marathon and named three town residents as trustees. They began working to carry out her wishes and were well underway by 1893. However, before construction could start, a group of 125 citizens petitioned that the building include a space for public entertainment. Architect Miles F. Howe adjusted the blueprints to add a 600 seat opera house on the second floor of the building.

The Marathon Library and Opera House opened on January 1, 1896. It began as a live performance space, hosting traveling performers before transitioning over to films in the early 1930s. The Library Opera House was renamed the Park Theatre and lasted as a movie theater until 1953. The auditorium is currently only used a few times a year to host a used book fair.

The exterior of the Marathon Library/Opera House.

In early 2020, the Marathon Public Library announced that the building needs close to $1 million in renovations. They’ve received $50,000 through their capital campaign but far from enough to be able to make the renovations needed to reopen the opera house.

The orchestra level of the auditorium is used as a book fair.

The Restoration of the Colonial Theatre in Laconia, NH

This post was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in September 2021.  For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

View from the balcony before restoration.

Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

View from the balcony after restoration.

I’ve been photographing theaters for long enough that many have been completely restored and reopened since I first visited them. The Colonial Theatre in Laconia, NH, is one of those I have documented before, during, and after restoration.

The lobby when I first visited the theater in early 2019.

Here’s the same shot that was taken in May 2021. I was told that these are close to the original colors of the theater.

Work began in March 2016, when the partitions divided the auditorium into four screens were removed. Fortunately, those who did this work left much of the original plasterwork intact behind the new walls. Belknap EDC brought in Evergreene Architectural Arts to restore the plasterwork and recreate some of the details that had been destroyed or deteriorated over the years. For example, the original fire curtain remains intact but needs some work before it can be used.

Orchestra Level (with my favorite fire curtain of all time) from early 2019.

A similar shot of the auditorium from May 2021.

The total restoration cost was $14.4 million, and the finished theater will seat 750 people, with 450 in the orchestra and 300 on the balcony. Spectacle Management of Lexington, Massachusetts, has been contracted to manage the theater. The official grand opening and ribbon cutting took place on August 27, 2021. In addition to bookings from Spectacle, the Colonial will be open to weddings, dance groups, meetings, and community productions.

Ticket Booth, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

The ticket booth in early 2019.

Ticket booth post-restoration.

The Colonial Theatre Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2020. Tickets to upcoming shows can be purchased at https://coloniallaconia.com/

 

Robins Theatre – Warren, Ohio

This post was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in June 2021.  For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

View of the auditorium from the balcony before restoration.

A similar view of the auditorium during the renovation.

The Robins Theatre opened on January 9, 1923, in Warren, Ohio. It was the crown jewel of the Robins Amusement Company (RAC). Architect C. Howard Crane designed the theater in the Adamesque style with an Italian Renaissance exterior. Construction of the 1,500-seat theater was handled by the Charles Shutrump and Sons Company of nearby Youngstown, Ohio; it cost $300,000, equating to $4.5 million when adjusted for inflation.

Looking back from the stage pre renovation.

 

The Robins was designed so that the theater could be converted from a movie theater to a live performance theater in only 24 hours. According to an account in the Warren Tribune, “Workmen could begin building a stage while motion picture performances continued in the theater proper.” Then when the theater closed at 11pm, a temporary intervening wall of lumber could be torn down, the connections to the front of the stage constructed and the stage playhouse ready for opening the following night.” The Robins opened with a silent film double feature — “The Speeder” starring Lloyd Hamilton, and “Quincy Adams Sawyer” starring Jon Bowers — and the Robins Orchestra performed the overture of Oberon by Carl Maria von Weber.

Some of the painted details on the wall in the balcony.

Vitaphone, an early form of talking motion pictures, was installed at the Robins in 1927. The first film shown with Vitaphone was “Don Juan” starring John Barrymore. RAC sold the Robins and the Daniel Theaters to R.M.P Realty Co. in August 1966 for around $500,000 ($3.9 million with inflation). The theater closed in 1974, and various plans were put together over the years to restore and reopen it. A feasibility study was done in 2005 that estimated it would cost $12 million to restore and reopen the theater. However, it wasn’t until it was sold to Downtown Development Group LLC in December 2017 that work would begin. The seats were removed in early March 2018, and the plaster repair began soon after. It reopened as a performing arts center on January 20, 2020.

The entryway to the theater was redesigned in the 1960s.

The Projection booth was cleaned out prior to the theater’s restoration in 2018.

Drake Theatre – Oil City, PA

This post was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in May 2021.  For early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

A look at Oil City PA's Drake Theatre from the Balcony

View of the Auditorium from the balcony.

The Drake Theatre in Oil City, Pennsylvania opened on August 27, 1928, as the Colonel Drake Theatre. The date was chosen because it was the sixty-ninth anniversary of the completion of the first oil well drilled by Col. Edwin L. Drake, the first man to drill oil in the United States, and the theater’s namesake. The Vemark Corporation formed the Drake Theatre Realty Company (DTRC) to finance the construction, and $500,000 in bonds were sold, which was around half of the building’s appraised value. On January 7, 1928, DTRC invited the public to view the laying of the Drake’s cornerstone.

The ceiling of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA

Much of the interior décor items, including the glass from the light in the center of the ceiling, were donated to local museums.

The 2,000-seat theater and 50,000 sq. ft office building was designed by architect William H. Lee, who is known for designing many theaters in eastern Pennsylvania. It was designed in the Art Deco style, and there are two murals depicting the petroleum industry on the auditorium walls. Music was important at the Drake; the Colonial Drake Symphony Orchestra, led by William Lantz, alternated performances with the Wurlitzer Co. Opus 1870 organ. Clark Piers, an organist from Scranton, PA, was hired as the theater’s organist.

The view of the Drake Theatre auditorium from the stage.

The view from the stage reveals how much water damage there is in the auditorium.

Many businesses took out ads in the Oil City Derrick, the local newspaper, to congratulate the theater on its grand opening. The theater’s motto “Always a Good Show” appeared in early advertisements. The opening day celebration began with a street parade headed by a marching band. Many of the theater’s new ushers marched in the parade wearing their green and gold uniforms. Dr. Thomas Farmer, an Oil City businessman, gave the opening address, followed by George H. Torrey of the Oil City Historical Society, who told the history of the oil industry in the United States.

The proscenium arch of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA was damaged due to a leak in the roof.

A closer look at the water-damaged proscenium arch.

In the 1950s, one of the lobby staircases was removed so that a concessions stand could be installed. Due to competition from a local multiplex, the Drake closed in July 1986 after a showing of the film “Club Paradise” starring Robin Williams and Peter O’Toole. The Oil City Playhouse briefly reopened the theater in the mid-1990s as a performing arts center, but it closed again after a year. The building was put up for judicial tax sale in 1995 due to $221,000 in back taxes. It was purchased for $70,500 by Bruce Taylor, who owned Penn Aire Aviation, Inc. Taylor outbid a group that intended on restoring and reopening the Drake.

A mural on the auditorium wall of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA

One of the two murals depicting the petroleum industry on the auditorium walls.

Penn Aire sold the building to Webco, a local manufacturing company, in early 2018. Webco intends to demolish the auditorium and build a facility to house manufacturing equipment. However, the lobby, façade, and office building will remain. Ellen Gierlach, president of Penn Aire, removed two murals, exit signs, light fixtures, and more before the sale. Gierlach has donated many of them to museums and historical societies, including the Drake Well Museum and the Theatre Historical Society of America.

The lobby of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA.

The concession stand in the lobby was added in the 1950s and replaced one of the staircases to the balcony.

The auditorium of the Drake Theatre in Oil City from the orchestra level.

California Theatre – San Diego, CA

This post was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in April 2021. You can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

Balcony of the California Theatre in San Diego

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

Once billed as “the cathedral of motion pictures” and “an enduring contribution to the artistic beauty of the entire Southland,” The California Theatre in San Diego, CA will be demolished. It could be said its destruction has been ongoing in the last 30 years due to inadequate maintenance. Southern California does not have harsh winters, but it gets rain, and when water comes into a building, it can do significant damage, especially if it’s full of ornamental plasterwork.

California Theatre Auditorium from the Stage

It was named the New California Theatre because there was already a California Theatre in San Diego in 1927. The original California changed its name to the Aztec in 1930, which allowed this one to drop the “new” from its name.

Architect John Paxton Perrine designed the 2,200-seat theater in Spanish Colonial Revival style. The building also housed several restaurants and a high-end department store, Bernard’s, which occupied the entire second floor. It began as a silent film and a Vaudeville theater, before turning to talkies in 1931. Eventually, ornate theater interiors went out of style, and the decorative plasterwork in California’s auditorium was covered by draperies during a remodel in 1963. The California stopped showing films in 1976, and became a performing arts center in 1978. Many famous bands performed at the theater during this time, including; A-HA, Poison, Pete Seeger, The Jerry Garcia Band, Donny Osmond, Jesus and Mary Chain, Melissa Etheridge, The Smithereens, Alice Cooper, Cowboy Junkies, Lou Reed, and Patti Smith.

The lobby of the California Theatre in San Diego

Joseph F Malloy, the theater’s original assistant manager, was shot and killed during a robbery on May 7, 1928.

Ariel Wharton (A.W.) Coggeshall, a San Diego-based businessman, bought the building in 1976. When he died in 1986, he left California to a group of non-profit organizations. The nonprofits formed a consortium called Fourth and C Corp. They were not interested in owning a 2,200-seat theater and planned to sell it to Hillman Properties, a Pittsburgh-based developer. Hillman planned to demolish the building and build a 34-story office complex. Fourth and C Corp gave the tenants of the office building, many of which were month-to-month, 30 days to leave in April 1990. Avalon Attractions, the company that managed the theater, was given until July 1990. The last performances were the Cowboy Junkies on June 20, 1990 and the Final Curtain Concert at the California Theatre, held by the Theatre Organ Society of San Diego on June 24, 1990.

The fire curtain and proscenium arch of the California Theatre in San Diego, CA

The feature presentation on opening night was “Venus of Venice,” a silent romantic comedy starring Constance Talmadge and Antonio Moreno. “Book Ideas,” a vaudeville show by Fanchon and Marco, and a performance by Al Lyons and his band rounded out the opening bill.

However, it wouldn’t be that easy to demolish the California, as it was a historic site grade three, which protected it from being demolished. Fourth and C Corp petitioned the San Diego City Council to change the designation to grade four, which would allow demolition as long as the historic features were recorded. They held a vote in February 1991 and voted 5-to-2 to change the listing. Hillman Properties abandoned the project in October 1991 due to the impact of the economic recession of 1990-1991. The building was bought and sold a few times in the 1990s and early 2000s, with plans for the theater ranging from a Christian performing arts center to a playhouse with occasional films.

Orchestra Level, California Theatre San Diego, CA

View of the auditorium from the orchestra level.

Sloan Capital Partners LLC purchased the California building in 2006. Sloan partnered with Caydon Property Group, an Australian company, to redevelop the property. Caydon’s plans called for the theater to be demolished and replaced by a 41-story condominium tower. Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), a San Diego based historic preservation nonprofit, filed a legal challenge to the demolition of the building on March 1, 2018. The court granted the legal petition because the environmental impact report did not analyze any adaptive reuse alternatives for the theater, required by the California Environmental Quality Act.

Looby of the California Theatre in San Diego,CA.

The California was the first public venue in San Diego to have earthquake resistant framework built into the structure to protect the building.

SOHO and Caydon eventually agreed the lobby and much of the exterior facade would be reconstructed. They also agreed to work with SOHO to identify historic items in the building that could be repurposed. Caydon recently purchased the property from Sloan for $21.1M. It is currently scheduled to be demolished in 2021, with the construction of the new building beginning shortly afterwards.

Auditorium from the side of the stage - California Theatre San Diego, CA

The Wurlitzer organ was removed from the theater after it closed. It went to Trinity Presbyterian Church in Spring Valley, CA, but was destroyed by arson in March 1996.

Emery Theatre – Cincinnati, Ohio

This post was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in Jan 2021. You can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

View of the auditorium from the middle balcony.

Built as part of the Ohio Mechanics Institute, the Emery Theatre in Cincinnati, Ohio opened on January 6, 1912 as the Emery Auditorium. It was funded by an endowment of $656,737 ($17.1 million with inflation) from Mary Emery, whose husband, Thomas J. Emery had planned on building a similar school in the city. Emery stipulated as part of the endowment that the auditorium must be open to the public and have at least 1,800 seats. The 2,200-seat theater was designed by Harvey Hannaford of the architectural firm of Samuel Hannaford & Sons. It was one of four “acoustically perfect” concert halls whose design was inspired by the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, IL. The other three were the Orchestra Hall, also in Chicago, Carnegie Hall in New York, and the Orchestra Hall in Detroit, MI.

View of the auditorium from the stage.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra held an inaugural concert at the theater on January 6, 1912. In 1924, George Gershwin performed his classic composition Rhapsody in Blue at the theater. On April 25, 1936, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra held its final concert at the Emery; it moved to the Cincinnati Music Hall, a space with more seats and more parking. Beginning in 1935 and ending in 1939, the Federal Theatre Project, a program established during the Great Depression as part of the New Deal to fund live entertainment programs, began to use the Emery. From 1938 to 1948, the theater was the home of The Boone County Jamboree, an American Country Radio Program. A 500,000-watt transmitter was used by station WLW so that millions of people around the country could listen to the program.

The Emery has a very small lobby when compared to many other theaters built around the same time.

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the Emery on June 16, 1959 while he was campaigning for Ted Berry during Berry’s run for Cincinnati City Council. The University of Cincinnati (UC) took ownership of the Emery building in 1969, when the Ohio Mechanics Institute was incorporated into the university. A Wurlitzer Opus 1680 organ moved to the Emery from the nearby Keith’s Theater the same year, but was not completely installed until 1977. That same year, the Ohio Valley Chapter of the American Theater Organ Society began programming shows on the weekends. They held organ concerts, showed silent, talking, and 3D films, and reduced the seating by closing the upper balcony. The final organ concert was held on October 24, 1999, after which the Wurlitzer was removed to be restored. It would never return to the Emery, and was installed in the Cincinnati Music Hall’s ballroom in 2004.

Most of the seats on the upper balcony have been removed.

Beginning in November 2011, the Requiem Project, a non-profit group formed in late 2008 to restore the theater, held concerts, film festivals and recording sessions at the Emery. The National, Dirty Projectors, Carrie Rodriguez, Ralph Stanley and others performed at the theater during this time. The Requiem Project hired John Senhauser Architects and Westlake Reed Leskosky, two architecture firms, to create the restoration plans for the Emery. However, the Emery Center Corporation, who subleased the theater from Emery Center

Apartments Limited Partnership (ECALP), who in turn leased it from UC, shut down all programming in 2013. According to Kathy Schwab, head of the Emery Center Corp in 2013, programming was stopped due to the theater’s dilapidated state and because everything had to be approved by UC. The Requiem Project sued to try to continue their renovation efforts at the theater, but eventually settled in March 2016. On April 23, 2019, the UC board of trustees voted to sell the Emery; according to them, it is beyond repair. It was sold for $8.55 million to local developers who intend to restore the building. The restoration costs are estimated at around $30 million and will take about three years to complete.

The theater’s vertical sign is stored in one of the former offices in the building.

View of the auditorium from the orchestra level.