Loew’s Kings Theatre Part 2 – The Early Years

The original Loew’s Kings policy was to bring Broadway entertainment to a neighborhood district, which was a departure from the long-established operating plan of the Loew’s Theatres Corporation. During the first few months of 1930, the Kings, Valencia, and Pitkin Theatres were advertised as “Loew’s Wonder Theatres” and given top billing in local newspapers as they all hosted vaudeville performances from Loew’s Capitol Theatre in Manhattan. A show would open at the Capitol and then move to the Kings, Valencia, or Pitkin before moving on to another one of the Loew’s theaters in the New York Metropolitan area. That changed on June 7th, 1930 when Loew’s announced a new summer program for the Kings that they called “All the Show on the Screen.”

Loew’s Theatre Advertisement in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Loew’s stopped the vaudeville performances, lowered ticket prices, and switched to a Wednesday/Saturday schedule for films. A number of factors contributed to the change, the main one was the worldwide economic recession known as the Great Depression. On October 29, 1929, less than two months after the Kings opened, the stock market crash led to a severe economic depression. Because of this, attendance at certain Loew’s theaters, including the Kings, had dropped; people could not afford the higher priced vaudeville shows. Another reason that attendance dropped at the Kings was neighborhood competition from the nearby Flatbush and Kenmore Theatres which were also presenting vaudeville shows. Finally, the Kings size proved to be a detriment for live performances. Most of the seats were on the main floor, and performers complained that they could not “reach” people in the back rows. Even though Loew’s claimed it was just for the summer of 1930, the summer policy was never reversed, and the Kings joined the Bedford, Coney Island, Kameo, and Oriental Theatres as Loew’s Perfect Talking Screens, which was Loew’s term for theaters that only showed motion pictures.

The lobby shortly after the theater opened.

In 1933, Paramount-Famous-Lasky Company was unable to pay its debts and was forced to file for bankruptcy. Soon after this, Loew’s Inc. stopped making mortgage payments to the Allied Owners Corporation on the Kings, Valencia, and Pitkin Theatres. Since Allied Owners had been originally formed to finance the Kings, Brooklyn Paramount, Pitkin, and Valencia, not being paid for three of the four theaters caused that company to declare bankruptcy as well. Allied Owners then filed suit against Loew’s and Paramount for the missed payments. The case was settled in August 1934 for $12,875,000 to be paid over a period of 25 years. The closing of the sale took place the following year on July 29, 1935 when the Kings, Valencia, and Pitkin officially became the property of Loew’s Inc. Rumor has it that Loew’s Inc. stopped the payment to Allied Owners because they were trying to acquire Paramount during the bankruptcy proceedings, but Paramount emerged from bankruptcy before Loew’s was able to take over.

Men’s Lounge located on the mezzanine level of the lobby. The mural on the wall depicts a knight slaying a dragon and rescuing a princess.

For the first twenty years, the Kings primarily showed MGM and Paramount films, but that changed in 1948 because of the results of a United States Supreme Court case. The United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., 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. Studios owning theater circuits had created monopolies in some areas, and the verdict forced Loew’s and MGM to split into two separate companies in 1952.

Blueprint for the replacement marquee.

In 1949, Loew’s decided to give a number of their theaters an upgrade by replacing the original marquees and vertical signs with more modern ones. They contracted Art Kraft Strauss, the company that originally installed the marquee and vertical sign on the Kings, to install new ones. On December 14, 1949 the old marquee was removed and the new one was installed over the next few weeks finishing on January 9, 1950. It was designed to fit over the frame of the original with the original underbelly remaining. The original vertical sign came down almost a year later on October 27, 1950 and its replacement was installed over the next few days. It was lit for the first time on November 3, 1950. Unfortunately, the blade wasn’t properly secured to the facade of the building, and it would sway slightly in the wind. On an especially windy day in late November it began to sway so badly that the police had to cordon off the front of the theater because they were afraid it was going to fall off. Art Kraft Strauss sent workers to secure the sign and reattach the letters “E” and “O” in “LOEW’S which had come loose during the swinging.

Part Three will be available soon. Material from for this post was taken from the first three chapters of my book, Kings Theatre; The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Brooklyn’s Wonder Theater.  If you’d like to buy a copy they are available on Amazon, and on my website.

Historic photographs and blueprints are from the archival collections of the Theatre Historical Society of America.

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Photo Workshops 2019

Orpheum Theatre – New Bedford, MA

Here are the first three locations for the 2019 photo workshop season:

First up is a return to the Orpheum Theatre in New Bedford, MA on February 23, 2019. The Orpheum was the first theater profiled on After the Final Curtain, and the past workshops have been great. Attendees will be able to photograph the auditorium, ballroom and shooting range. You can find out more information and sign up here.

Everett Square Theatre – Boston, MA.

Next is the Everett Square Theatre in Boston, MA on March 30, 2019. The Everett is a smaller theater, and a great place for someone who is just starting to photograph abandoned spaces. Due to the theaters size attendance is limited to 7 people per session. For more information and to sign up visit: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/everett-square-theatre-workshop

Auditorium, Colonial Theatre Augusta, Maine

Finally, the Colonial Theatre in Augusta, Maine on April 27, 2019. It opened in 1913, and closed in the 1960s. There’s a group looking to restore the theater, and they’ve done quite a bit of work (including fixing a giant hole in the auditorium floor.) This will be the first workshop at the Colonial, and I’m excited for all of you to see it in person. For more information visit: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/colonial-theatre

I’m still waiting on confirmation for three more new workshop locations for early 2019. I don’t want to say much about them until I get the go ahead, but two of them are active theaters. Hopefully, I’ll be able to announce them very soon.

American Shakespeare Theater – Stratford, CT

This theater is a bit different from every other one I’ve posted on AFtC as it was never a movie theater. However,  I believe that it is still historically significant due to the people who performed in it. I planned on posting a completely different theater today, but since this one was destroyed last weekend I felt it needed to be bumped up.
View of the auditorium from the balcony.

The American Shakespeare Theatre opened on July 12, 1955 in Stratford, CT. Construction of the building began in 1954, and cost $1 million or $9.3 million when adjusted for inflation. It was commissioned by the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre and Academy (ASFTA), which was formed by Lawrence Langner, a co-founder of The Theatre Guild.  Langner formed the ASFTA to create American interpretations of William Shakespeare’s plays in Connecticut.

On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily, shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough. (Ariel, Act 5 Scene 1)

“Julius Caesar” was the opening production and the theater company included Raymond Massey, Christopher Plummer, Roddy McDowall, Jack Palance, and Jerry Stiller. Over the years many famous actors were involved in productions at the theater including: Katharine Hepburn, Fred Gwynne, Margaret Hamilton, James Earl Jones, Lillian Gish, Christopher Walken and Ed Asner. In 1966, T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral,” becomes the first non-Shakespeare play performed at the theater.

The theater’s ticket booth inside the lobby.

The final full season was in 1982, with performances of “King Henry IV,” “Twelfth Night,” and “Hamlet.”  In 1983, the theater was bought by the state of Connecticut for $1 million due to the threat of foreclosure. The American Shakespeare Theatre Corp. was given a 20 year, $1 a year lease but financial issues continued and the summer productions were canceled in 1986.

In 1989 the theater was closed. The final production was one-person show of the Tempest. Connecticut turned the property over to the town of Stratford in 2005 after a few failed attempts to develop the property. On January 13, 2019, a fire destroyed the theater. The cause is currently unknown.

2019

Undisclosed Theatre – USA.

2019 is going to be a big year for After the Final Curtain. First, in December 2019 it will be 10 years since I first photographed the Loew’s Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, NY and kicked off the project that turned into After the Final Curtain. Second, I’ve been hard at work on the follow up to 2016’s After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater, which should be out later this year. I’m going to set up a book tour around the release of the book, so if there are any places you’d like me to stop at be sure to let me know!

Third, I’ll be announcing the first photography workshops of 2019 in the next few days. I’m just waiting on confirmation from two of the new locations.

Thanks for following my work and I hope you all are having a happy 2019.

Cyber Monday 2019

Roxie Theatre, Los Angeles, CA.
Auditorium, Roxie Theatre – Los Angeles, CA.

Beginning on Cyber Monday November 26 and running until December 2, 2018 you’ll get 20% off select prints and books on my website: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/store/ if you use the coupon code “Cybermonday”

After the Final Curtain 2019 Calendar

I’ve been asked about a calendar for a while, and finally decided to create one. The 2019 After the Final Curtain Calendar will feature 12 of the theaters I’ve photographed in order of the month that they originally opened and will include some that I’ve never posted online.

If you have any questions, please let me know!

After the Final Curtain is a personal project, and all profits from your print purchases help me to continue photographing endangered theaters across the United States.

Sorg Opera House – Middletown, Ohio

Auditorium, Sorg Opera House - Middletown, Ohio.
View of the auditorium from the balcony.

The Sorg Opera House in Middletown, OH originally opened on September 12, 1891. Paul J. Sorg, Middletown’s first multi-millionaire, had the opera house built as a gift to the city of Middletown. Sorg hired Samuel Hannaford, who designed the Cincinnati Music Hall, to design the 1,200-seat opera house. Opening day included a performance of the opera “The Little Tycoon,” composed by Willard Spenser and a speech by then Ohio Governor James E. Campbell.

View of the auditorium from the stage.

In 1901, the Sorg began showing early forms of motion pictures, such as photo plays, and vaudeville performances before the operas. Many now famous vaudeville performers played at the opera house, including Marie Dressler, Will RogersAl Jolson, Bob Hope and Sophie Tucker. The live shows were discontinued in the late 1920s, and in the summer of 1929 a sound system was installed, turning the Sorg into a full time movie theater.


The orchestra and mezzanine levels have been restored, but the upper balcony and ceiling remain in a state of disrepair. 

On January 17, 1935, a fire caused $10,000 (or $185,298 when adjusted for inflation) of damage to the backstage area of the theater, which caused it to close for several months. In April 1935, the Gordon Theatre Company took a long term lease on the theater and began repairs. It reopened in September 22, 1935 with films and stage shows. The Sorg closed again for a remodel in the late 1940s and a false ceiling was added, separating the upper balcony from the the rest of the theater to improve the sound.

The original walls of the lobby were covered up during the remodel in the 1940s.

The Sorg remained a movie theater until it closed in the late 1970s. Soon after, the Friends of the Sorg was formed to reopen it as a live performance venue. They were successful, and ran the theater until 2010, when a water main break forced the opera house to close again. In 2012, the Sorg Opera Revitalization Group (SORG) formed to buy and reopen the building. SORG was able to purchase the theater in August 2012 for $32,000. Since then they’ve made a number of improvements to the building, including removing the partition between the upper balcony and the rest of the auditorium, replacing the seats with ones donated from the Cincinnati Music Hall, repairing the public restrooms and re-hanging the house curtains. A full restoration of the building is estimated to cost between $9M and $11M. The Sorg reopened in late 2017 with a performance called “Celebrate the Sorg”  and featured the Butler Philharmonic Orchestra.

Like many theaters at the time, the Sorg was segregated. It had a separate entrance, ticket booth and balcony for its non-white patrons.
The much of the proscenium arch was covered up during the remodel in the late 1940s.
View of the auditorium from the main level.