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.

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.

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.

Patreon

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).

I’ve been uploading content to the page for a few months before launch so there’s already a number of things to check out. You can sign up at https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theatres is here!

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:

USB Memory Direct specializes in custom-printed and custom shape USB flash drives. Being in business for over 15 years, UMD has gained a reputation for being one of the premiere providers of wholesale USB flash drives across the country. With a wide variety of drive styles to choose from, you’ll be sure to find a drive that you can customize to perfectly represent you and your brand. You can also rest assured knowing that they offer a lifetime guarantee on any and all drives you purchase from them. Check them out today and request a quote from one of their friendly and knowledgeable account executives.”

The pre-order package will be available until I run out of tickets, prints and USB drives. You can order a signed copy at my site: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/store/after-the-final-curtain-americas-abandoned-theaters

Or a non-signed copy at:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/33bjLKl

Barnes and Noble: https://tinyurl.com/y3cxxb8j

Indiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9782361953485

Waterstones: https://tinyurl.com/yym686rf

 

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.