The original Gem Theatre in Cairo, Illinois opened on October 10, 1910. Opening night’s main attraction was the Cora Youngblood Carson Sextette, a group of young women who sang and danced. Three photoplays, which was an early form of motion picture, were also shown. This incarnation of the Gem was destroyed by a fire in 1929, and a new theater was built in its shell at a cost of $200,000 (or $2.8 million when adjusted for inflation.) The Gem was destroyed by another fire that started in one of the dressing rooms on February 27, 1934. It was rebuilt as an art deco theater with 900 and reopened in 1936.
In 1978, the Gem closed for good, and the lobby was turned into retail space, at one point becoming a video rental store called Gem Video. In 1995, the building was donated to the city, who planned on reopening as a movie theater and cultural arts center. They began work on the building in March of 1996, and were assisted by former Peace Corps volunteers as part of the Peace Corps 35 year anniversary. During this time the roof was replaced, the marquee was removed and restored, and the lobby was restored.
On October 1, 1998, the restored lobby was shown to the public during Cairo’s October Days Festival. In 2000, the City of Cairo received a $436,000 Federal grant from the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, and $231,900 of it was to go to the redevelopment of Gem Theatre. An additional $20,000 was given by the state of Illinois to renovate the theater’s stage and the city itself contributed $70,256. However, the restoration of the theater was put on hold in the mid-2000’s and it is unclear whether it will ever be restored.
I’ve been practicing with my newly acquired drone, and thought that a theater walkthrough might make for an interesting video. So a few days ago I revisited the Everett Square Theatre in Boston, MA to do just that. I think that I’ll be making many more of these videos going forward.
I’ve been posting Facebook Live videos of the theaters I’ve visited as I’ve been traveling around the country. I’ve decided to branch out to YouTube, and started my own channel. The theater featured in the video above is the Fox Theatre in Fullerton, CA. I was lucky enough to visit it twice, once in 2014, and again in 2017 after the ceiling was restored. This video is only available in SD, but future ones will be High Definition.
I’ll be posting more videos from theaters across the country soon.
The Fitchburg Theatre in Fitchburg, Massachusetts originally opened on February 7, 1929. It was designed by architects Louis Chiaramonte and George W. Jacobs for the Maine and New Hampshire Theater Corporation (MNHTC). The construction of the theater displaced two buildings, one of which is now the Masciarelli Funeral Home, a Fitchburg Historic Landmark. MNHTC spared no expense in construction, which included a $15,000 Wurlitzer Style 190 pipe organ, large decorative tapestries for the auditorium, and a Photophone system. The 1,751-seat theater was the second theater in New England to have Photophone, a system of syncing recorded audio with motion picture.
Like many of its contemporaries, the Fitchburg Theatre had a mix of motion pictures and live (often vaudeville) performances. Its opening day program consisted of “In Old Arizona,” starring Warner Baxter, Dorothy Burgess and Edmund Lowe, five vaudeville acts (Miss Raffin’s Marvelous Troupe of Monkeys, Marie DeComa and Company, Don Romaine & Will Castle, Will Ward & Co.). Harry Rodgers played the Wurlitzer organ during the festivities. Tickets to the opening were reserved in advance and the same show was performed on February 8 and 9. Vaudeville performances continued at the theater until 1948, much longer than usual. In 1954, the theater closed for renovations. A concession stand, new marquee and updated seating were added.
The Fitchburg Theatre closed in 1970 and reopened the following year as an adult theater. Fitchburg police raided the theater on December 31, 1973 and seized copies of “Deep Throat,” and “The Devil in Miss Jones.” More adult films were seized in subsequent raids on February 11, 1974 and July 5, 1974. The owners were fined $10,000 in August 1974 for violating Massachusetts obscenity laws.
In 1975 the theater was forced to close when the city of Fitchburg refused to renew the theater’s license to show films. It was rumored that it was due to the obscenity law violations, but that was denied by Hedley Brey, the Mayor of Fitchburg at the time. Brey said it was because the owners had not complied with a city ordinance requiring the approval of the Health, Building, Fire and Police departments’ approval to show films to the public. Ben Sack Theatres, Inc. leased the theater later that year, and it reopened as the Family Theatre on July 30, 1975 with a showing of “Doc Savage: Man of Bronze.”
Live performances began again soon after it reopened, and many famous bands performed at the theater during this time, including; Rush, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Hank Snow and Freddy Fender. In 1980, the theater closed for renovations once again. This time it was triplexed with the orchestra level becoming one, and the balcony being divided into two smaller auditoriums. At the same time most of the ornate plasterwork was covered with drapes. Upon reopening the theater was renamed the Cinema-1-2-3. It closed for permanently in 1987 with a showing of “Crocodile Dundee.”
A few plans to reopen the theater were proposed over the next two decades, including reopening it as a movie theater, becoming a “draft house” theater that served alcohol, and gutting the theater and turning it into a rock climbing gym. In November 2016, the main street theater block was purchased by Fitchburg State University (FSU) for $350,000. FSU have a three-phase plan to renovate and reopen the block culminating in the theater becoming a 1,600-seat performing arts space for use by the University’s theater program and community organizations.
This year will mark the 7th anniversary of the After the Final Curtain, and with that I’m going to do something a bit different. AFtC will be going weekly in 2018! I’ve been photographing theaters much faster than I’ve been posting them, and as you can see by the image above I’ve got quite a backlog. There will be at least one new theater post a month as well as interviews, videos, updates of old blog posts, and more.
Look for the first post (The Fitchburg Theatre in Fitchburg, Massachusetts) this Thursday.
Originally billed in opening advertisements as “Springfield’s newest playground of pleasure,” the Paramount Theatre in Springfield, Massachusetts opened on September 29, 1929. In 1926, the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, later known as Paramount Pictures Corp, signed a 14-year contract at $100,000 per year for the space at the former Massasoit Hotel and hired architect Ernest Carlson to design the theater. Carlson designed the Paramount for talking motion pictures, which were quickly replacing silent films. The 3,200-seat theater took three years to build, and cost $1,118,000 ($16 million when adjusted for inflation). A Wurlitzer 3/11 Opus 2011, Style 230 theater organ was installed prior to opening.
The opening week program at the Paramount consisted of the 1812 Overture performed by the New York Symphony Orchestra, Joe Alexander playing the Wurlitzer organ, a Paramount newsreel, and “Dance of Life,” a talking film starring Nancy Carroll and Hal Skelly. Like many other theaters of the time, entertainers often made appearances at the Paramount. At first it was as part of a vaudeville act, and later on to promote their films. Some of the stars that appeared at the theater included Ethel Barrymore, Jack Benny,Eric Von Stroheim, and Lillian Gish. The theater was operated by Western Massachusetts Theatres, Inc. (WMT), which was a division of Paramount Pictures. WMT also operated the nearby Victory Theatre in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The Paramount Theatre was WMT’s flagship theater until 1952 when the movie studios were forced to give up ownership of theaters by the verdict of the United States vs. Paramount Pictures Supreme Court case.
Movies were the main attraction at the Paramount until 1966, when musical performances and other live entertainment began to be regularly shown at the theater. In 1969, the Paramount closed for the first time. It reopened In 1975 and was renamed the Julia Sanderson Theater, after a Broadway actress from Springfield. Live shows continued at the theater until 1979, when it became a revival movie house, and its name was changed back to the Paramount. A new screen, and a speaker system taken from the recently closed Victory Theatre, were installed. It closed for a second time in 1986, but was used occasionally until 1999.
It was purchased by Paramount Realty Investment LLC/Creative Theater Concepts, who spent $1.3 million turning the theater into a nightclub/live performance space. It reopened as the Hippodrome Theatre in December 2000. The Hippodrome was a popular nighttime downtown destination for most of the 2000s. In 2011, it was purchased by the New England Farm Workers Council (NEFWC) for $1.7 million. They operated the theater sporadically until closing for good after a shooting in April 2015. NEFWC intend to remove the nightclub alterations and reopen the theater as a live performance space, as well as restore the Massasoit Hotel into an 81-room boutique hotel. The estimated costs for the restoration are between $32 and $41 million.
I’ve added two more photo workshops to the fall season. The Grand Theatre in Steubenville, Ohio and the Paramount Theatre in Springfield, MA. Both theaters are full of amazing details to photograph, and I’ll be on hand to help you out with any questions you might have. All levels of photographer, from beginner to expert, are welcome.
Grand Theatre Workshop
Location: Steubenville, Ohio
October 15, 2017 (Session 1) 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM and (Session 2) 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Past workshops I co-hosted raised thousands to help the theaters with maintenance, and other expenses. However, these are solo workshops, which means that more money will be going to the owners to help the theaters. While the money from these workshops will never be enough to save a theater, but every little bit helps.