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.
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United Palace (Loew’s 175th Street Theatre)

This theater is not abandoned, but I had the chance to shoot it a few years ago, and I wanted to share the images with everyone.

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony

The United Palace originally opened on February 22, 1930 as the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre. Located in the the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, the building takes up an entire city block and was designed by famed theater architect Thomas W. Lamb. (Lamb’s work can also be seen in my posts on the RKO Hamilton Theatre also in Washington Heights, and the RKO Keith’s Theatre in Flushing, Queens.) The interior decor was designed by Harold Rambusch of the Rambusch Company, who did some of the interior work on the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, the Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia and many others across the country. The theater was estimated to cost $1.25M to build in 1928 or $18.4M when adjusted for inflation. It was the first theater in Washington Heights designed specifically for talking pictures.

David W. Dunlap of the New York Times described the theater’s architectural style as “Byzantine-Romanesque-Indo-Hindu-Sino-Moorish-Persian-Eclectic-Rococo-Deco”

The 3,000 seat United Palace was the fifth and last of the theaters that became known as the “Loew’s Wonder Theatres.”  The wonder theater concept was originally developed by the Balaban and Katz Theater Corporation of Chicago to bring large movie palaces to smaller urban neighborhoods. Loew’s acquired three of Paramount’s planned wonder theaters (the Kings and Pitkin in Brooklyn and the Valencia in Queens) in a deal with the company in 1927. Each of the Loew’s Wonder Theatres originally had identical Robert Morton “Wonder” organs built specifically for them.

View of the lobby from the lobby mezzanine.

The opening day program consisted of a showing of “Their Own Desire” starring Norma Shearer and a stage show from the Capitol Theatre on Broadway.  Over the years many stars made appearances at the theater, including Judy Garland, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Joan Crawford. Loew’s closed the theater in March 1969, and later that year sold it to Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkotter II, a television evangelist, for $600,000. Rev. Ike, as he was known, turned the theater into the headquarters of his church, now called the United Palace of Spiritual Arts, often hosting his television program from the stage, and renamed the theater the United Palace.

The United Palace was the only one of the Wonder Theatres that retained its original organ. The console can be seen at the lower right side of this photo.

In 2007, the theater became a concert venue and hosted acts such as Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire, Beck and Neil Young. Xavier Eikerenkotter, Rev. Ike’s son, created a non-profit called the United Palace of Cultural Arts to turn the theater into a performing and community arts center in 2012. One year later, the United Palace held a crowdfunding campaign to purchase a 50-foot screen. The campaign was a success, and the first movie screened in the theater in over 40 years was “Casablanca” on November 17, 2013. In 2016, Lin-Manuel Miranda donated $100,000 for a new state-of-the-art digital projector that launched the campaign “Reawaken Wonder at a Timeless Movie Palace,” to raise funds for cinema-quality audio. The United Palace has also been used as a filming location for television and motion pictures in recent years. Upcoming events and more information can be found on the theater’s website at: UnitedPalace.org

The organ was removed from the building by the New York Theatre Organ Society to undergo repairs in 2017.

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Back in the States

Royalty Cinema, Birmingham, England.

I had a fantastic time in England with the Cinema Theatre Association and wanted to share a few of the theaters I visited while I was over there. First, the Royalty Cinema in Birmingham. It opened on October 20, 1930 and closed in 1963. The cinema was then converted into a bingo hall, which closed in 2012.

Granada Cinema – Tooting, South London, England.

The Granada originally opened on September 7, 1931. It was converted into a bingo hall in 1967, and remains one today. This is one of the more impressive theaters I’ve ever visited.

Finally, we have the ABC Stoke Newington. It opened as the Savoy Cinema on October 26, 1936. It closed in 1984, and the orchestra level was converted into a snooker hall. The snooker hall closed in 2014. Current plans call for the theater to undergo an estimated  £3 million restoration and reopen as the Hackney Arts Centre in 2018.

I’ll be posting in-depth write ups of these cinemas (and more) very soon.

London Theatres

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Hi Everyone,

I’m currently in London checking out some of England’s amazing theaters. The picture above is the remnants of the Kingsland Empire Theatre which opened in 1915. It’s located above the Rio Cinema, a smaller art deco theater, that was built inside the Kingsland in 1937.

 

Los Angeles Lost Theatre Tour

The exterior of the Rialto Theatre in Pasadena, CA

Hi Everyone,

On Saturday July 1, I’ll be co-leading tours through seven of Los Angeles’s Lost Theatres as part of the Afterglow event at the Theatre Historical Society of America’s 2017 Conclave.

Starting at 10AM, we’ll be going to The Variety Arts, the Leimert/Vision, the Rialto, the Raymond, the Uptown and the Westlake.* Photography is allowed, and I’ll be conducting short demonstrations and answering any questions you may have about architectural photography.

Coaches will depart from the Omni Hotel at 9AM, and lunch will be provided in Old Town Pasadena.

If you use the coupon code “ATFC2017” you’ll get $25 dollars off the price and a one year Theatre Historical Society membership (valued at $60).

Tickets are $175 ($150 with the discount) and can be purchased at the THS Conclave site.

If you’d like to attend more than just the Afterglow you’ll also get a discount using the same coupon code:

For the full Conclave (four days of theatre tours) you’ll get $70 off and a complimentary one-year THS membership (valued at $60).

For the two-day downtown LA theater tour you’ll get $60 off and a complimentary one-year THS membership (valued at $60).

Hope to see some of you there!

* Schedule may change. I’ll post an update when it is finalized.

Loew’s Valencia Theatre

This theater is not abandoned, but I had the chance to shoot it late last year, and I wanted to share the images with everyone.

View from the main level of the auditorium.
View from the main level of the auditorium.

In the early 1920s, the Paramount-Publix theater chain planned to open five theaters in the New York City area. However, in December of 1927 those plans were put on hold due to an agreement with the Loew’s Corporation. The agreement stated that Loew’s would not open any new theaters in Chicago, and Paramount would not open any more in New York. The plans for four of the theaters were then turned over to the Loew’s Corporation. Two years later on January 12, 1929, The Loew’s Valencia Theatre opened in Jamaica, Queens, and became the first of the five Loew’s “Wonder” theaters.

Continue reading “Loew’s Valencia Theatre”

Snapshot: Empress Theatre

Post 3 in the Snapshot Series  – Occasionally in my travels I come across a theater that I can’t find a lot of information on, or that I only have a chance to photograph for an hour or two. They’re still beautiful and fascinating, so they definitely have a place on After the Final Curtain

The remains of the Empress Theatre's proscenium arch.
The remains of the Empress Theatre’s proscenium arch.

The Empress Theatre opened in 1927 in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The 1,595 seat theater was built by architect Charles A. Sandblom, who is also known for the Gramercy Theater in Manhattan. Originally part of the Century Circuit, the theater became part of the RKO circuit in 1929.

Continue reading “Snapshot: Empress Theatre”

Snapshot: Metropolitan Opera House

Post 2 in the Snapshot Series  – Occasionally in my travels I come across a theater that I can’t find a lot of information on, or that I only have a chance to photograph for an hour or two. They’re still beautiful and fascinating, so they definitely have a place on After the Final Curtain.

View of the auditorium from the side of the upper balcony.
View of the auditorium from the side of the upper balcony.

Philadelphia’s Metropolitan Opera House opened on November 17, 1908 as the Philadelphia Opera House. The 3,482 seat theater was built by architect William H. McElfatrick for Oscar Hammerstein, the grandfather of Oscar Hammerstein II, the famous musical theater lyricist. However, Hammerstein fell into debt and was forced to sell the opera house to one of his competitors, the Metropolitan Opera of New York City, after only two years.

Continue reading “Snapshot: Metropolitan Opera House”

Road Trip 2013 Day 2

Lyric Theatre Birmingham, AL.
Lyric Theatre Birmingham, AL.

Day two was spent photographing the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham, Alabama. The Lyric opened in 1914 as a vaudeville theater, and was eventually converted to show films. More information can be found at http://lightupthelyric.com/

 

© Matthew Lambros and After the Final Curtain, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Lambros and After the Final Curtain with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Loew’s 46th Street Theatre

Balcony level - Loew's 46th Street Theater
The main floor of the auditorium is now used as storage for a furniture store.

The Loew’s 46th Street Theatre opened on October 9, 1927 as the Universal Theatre. It was designed by John Eberson, a famous theater architect known for his atmospheric style auditoriums. According to an account in the Brooklyn Eagle, 25,000 people were present for the opening of the theater. The 2,675 seat theater was acquired by the Loew’s Corporation in August 1928, and closed so renovations could be made to the sound equipment. It reopened on September 10, 1928 as the Loew’s 46th Street Theatre.

Continue reading “Loew’s 46th Street Theatre”