This was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in January 2022. For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content, you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain
The Rivoli Theatre opened on April 22, 1922, in Rutherford, New Jersey. It was designed by architect Abram Presikel and featured a marble facade, an ornate interior, and a centerpiece chandelier made of crystals from Czechoslovakia. The 2,200 seat theater opened as a combination vaudeville and silent film house. During this time, acts such as Abbott and Costello and the Glenn Miller Orchestra performed at the Rivoli.
In 1936, architect John Eberson, known for designing many atmospherictheaters across the world, remodeled the interior. On January 9, 1977, a fire destroyed the lobby and front of the building. Luckily, most of the auditorium was undamaged. Repairs began right away, and in 1982 the theater reopened as a performing arts center called the George W. Newman Theatre. However, movies were still shown in the building. As part of the reconstruction, a two-screen cinema was constructed on the site of the Rivoli’s lobby. The entire building, including the former Rivoli and the two-screen cinema, was named the William Carlos Williams Center for the Performing Arts, after the poet, doctor, and Rutherford native.
The theater was gifted to Bergen County in 1987, and they made an agreement with the nonprofit group that ran the theater to continue on. Over the years, the theater hosted music shows, films, art shows, and High School Graduations. In October 2012, the Newman theater closed due to damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. A study determined that the ceiling plasterwork might not be stable if exposed to the sound of a live music performance. In August 2021, Bergen County transferred the ownership of the building to the borough of Rutherford, who then sold it to local developer Chuck Olivo for $1. Olivo intends to save the theater, as well as build a residential building on the site.
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. You can find the first three parts at the following links:
Rumors circulated Loews was interested in selling the Kings in November 1976. Marty Markowitz, then president of the Flatbush Tenants Council, confirmed that the building was up for sale. According to Markowitz, “I know that the building is up for sale. I don’t know if it has been sold yet, but I know that the Loews Corporation would like to sell it.” Markowitz said, “We would like to bring live entertainment to the theater – Broadway-type shows and concerts so that there could be a sort of renaissance on Flatbush Avenue. We mentioned it to the Loews people, but they aren’t interested.” Chet Arnow, the vice president in charge of advertising and publicity for Loews, denied that the Kings was up for sale, but added, “Sure the Kings is up for sale. Every one of our theaters is always up for sale if the price is right. If we don’t get the right price, we’ll continue operating the Kings as usual.” Brunner also denied the rumors and stated that people have been talking about the Kings closing for 20 years. Despite their denials, less than six months later, the marquee read, “Closed: Will Reopen Soon.”
Soon after the theater closed, two churches asked about buying the theater and converting it into a place of worship. There was precedent for this; Loew’s 175th, one of the Kings’ sister theaters, had been purchased by the United Christian Evangelistic Association in 1969 and converted into a church. Another former Loew’s Wonder Theater, the Valencia, closed around the same time as the Kings and was turned into a church two years later when Loew’s donated the building to the Tabernacle of Prayer for All People.
Less than a month after closing, the Kings Theater was sold to the Kings Royalty Production Corporation (KRPC) for $718,385, or $2,782,520 when adjusted for inflation. The KRPC was formed for the specific purpose of purchasing and running the theater. Robert Smerling and David Fellman, the owners of KRPC, also owned the American Theatre Management Corporation (ATMC), which had several theaters in the tri-state area. “Loew’s” was removed from the marquee, and it reopened in early June 1977 as simply the Kings Theatre. The first film shown was Day of the Animals, a horror movie starring Leslie Nielsen. KRPC contracted with major movie companies, including Warner Brothers and Paramount, to turn the Kings into a first-run movie theater.
On July 13, 1977, lightning struck a substation near Buchanan, NY and began a chain of events that caused the New York metropolitan area to lose power for around 25 hours. Looting began soon after the power went out. It was especially bad in the Bronx, Harlem, Queens, and Central Brooklyn. Eighty stores in Flatbush were hit, with 49 of them on Flatbush Avenue. The already low attendance and the destruction and looting during the blackout caused many people to stay away from the hardest hit neighborhoods.
One of the first films shown at the newly reopened theater was the follow up to the 1973 hit, The Exorcist. KRPC was banking on Exorcist II: The Heretic being as big a hit as the first one. Unfortunately, this film was considered by many to be one of the worst films ever made, and it languished at the box office. The Kings showed the “Exorcist II: The Heretic” for almost a month before switching to another film. By that point, the damage was done, and the KRPC could not meet expenses to keep the theater open. On Monday, August 29, 1977, the Kings closed again, just six weeks after it had reopened. The last film shown was “Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth.”
Laurence Lehr, a representative employed by both KRPC and ATMC, claimed that the company closed the theater because it was cheaper to let the bank have it. “When you get monthly electric bills over $7,800 …, how do you expect to do business? You can’t do business in this city. The costs of labor, security, and everything else are ridiculous.” They tried to keep the costs down by rarely using the large chandeliers in the lobby and only turning the marquee on around 9 PM each evening. According to Lehr, the company was aware of the costs of running a theater when they bought it, but was hoping they could turn it around.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m launching a Patreon page! As an After the Final Curtain Patreon you’ll get early access to image galleries, video walkthroughs, and write-ups before they are released, print giveaways, discounts on workshops, and some exclusive workshop locations (one some of you have been asking me about for years).
After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theatres
I received my copies of my new book After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters, yesterday and it looks amazing! I’ll be shipping out the pre-orders starting today. Each pre-ordered copy comes with a 5×7 print, ticket from Proctor’s Palace Theatre, and a USB drive with the After the Final Curtain logo courtesy of USB Memory Direct. Here’s some more information from their website:
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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.
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 Rogers, Al 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.
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 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.