Loew’s Majestic Theatre

View of the Majestic Theatre from the front of the balcony.
The Loew’s Majestic Theatre opened on November 4, 1922 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb (who also designed the other theater in the complex, the Loew’s Palace Theatre, and many other theaters at the time) for theater mogul Sylvester Z. Poli, who also owned the nearby Palace Theatre in Waterbury, Connecticut.
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The Boyd Theatre

The Boyd is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

The Boyd Theatre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania‘s only art deco movie palace, opened on Christmas Day in 1928. Located in Philadelphia’s Center City neighborhood, the 2,450 seat theater was commissioned by Alexander Boyd and built by Hoffman-Henon, a Philadelphia architecture firm also known for the construction of the nearby Prince Music Theatre. One of the companies commissioned for the Boyd’s interior decoration was the Rambusch Company, who later decorated the Loew’s Kings Theatre.

View of the lobby from the main level.

Unlike many theaters built in the 1920’s, the Boyd was originally intended to be a movie theater and, although there were backstage dressing rooms, did not feature vaudeville shows. According to the opening day brochure the Boyd was dedicated to women’s progress throughout history.  This appreciation for women is referenced throughout the theater, especially in several murals, one of which shows an Amazonian queen fighting African and Asian armies.

The proscenium arch.

Alexander Boyd sold the theater to the Stanley Warner company, which ran many of downtown Philadelphia’s theaters, after the construction was completed.  Shortly after the Boyd changed hands a Kimball theater organ was installed. It remained in the theater until 1969, when it was removed it was the last theater organ in a downtown Philadelphia theater. Various movie premieres were held at the theater over the years, including “Rocky III,” and “Philadelphia.” At the premiere of “Philadelphia” actor Tom Hanks is said to have remarked “Oh, a real movie theater!” when entering the Boyd.

View of the auditorium from the side of the orchestra level.

After being sold in 1971, the Boyd was renamed the SamEric by it’s new owners, the Sameric Corporation. They renovated the theater and eventually added three additional auditoriums next to the original, which was renamed again as SamEric 4. The theater closed and was slated for demolition in 2002 before a group of concerned citizens formed the “Committee to Save the SamEric” (which later became “Friends of the Boyd”) to save the theater from demolition. In the following ten years several attempts were made to restore the theater, without success.

In 2013, Florida theater chain iPic agreed to lease the building from developer Neal Rodin. iPic planned to restore the facade, and gut the interior of the theater to build an eight screen theater as well as a restaurant. Since the Boyd was listed on the National Register of Historic Places the Philadelphia Historical Commission met to vote to approve iPic’s plans. On March 14, 2014, after hearing the opinions of many Philadelphians for and against the demolition, the Commission voted to approve the plans. However, iPic’s plans fell through and in December 2014 Pearl Properties bought the property for $4.5 million. Pearl began demolition of the auditorium on March 14, 2015.  Tatel, a Spanish restaurant, is opening in the former lobby and foyer of the Boyd.  The Harper, a 27 story apartment tower, was built in place of the demolished auditorium. The Friends of the Boyd saved a number of artifacts from the Boyd before it was demolished, and have donated them to other theaters, including the Lansdowne Theatre in Lansdowne, PA.

The auditorium ceiling.

The RKO Hamilton Theatre

View from the balcony of the RKO Hamilton Theatre

Moss and Brill’s Hamilton Theatre opened on January 23, 1913 in Manhattan’s Hamilton Heights neighborhood. The theater was commissioned by vaudeville operator Benjamin S. Moss and theater developer Solomon Brill and designed by the prolific Thomas W. Lamb, known for the architecture of many of the Hamilton’s contemporaries.   Lamb designed the Hamilton in the Renaissance Revival style, incorporating a terracotta façade.

Continue reading “The RKO Hamilton Theatre”

Loew’s Poli Theatre

The Poli is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.

View of the Loew’s Palace Theatre from the balcony.
The Loew’s Poli Theatre opened as Poli’s Palace Theatre on September 4, 1922 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb (whose work can be seen in my posts on the Newark Paramount Theatre and the RKO Keith’s Theatre) for theater mogul Sylvester Z. Poli, who also owned the nearby Palace Theatre in Waterbury, Connecticut. The 3,642 seat Loew’s Poli Theatre was the biggest movie theater in Connecticut, and remains the largest of Bridgeport’s theaters. Its sister theater which is located next to the Palace in the same building, the Majestic, opened two months later. The walls of the Palace are covered with frescoes of formal Italian gardens painted by Hans Lehman.
View of the stage from the main level of the auditorium.
View of the stage from the main level of the auditorium.

Popcorn Palaces

Loew’s Majestic Theatre Bridgeport, CT

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve joined the creative team of Popcorn Palaces, an upcoming documentary that will cover the rise, fall and rebirth of some of America’s greatest theaters!

“Once upon a time, the theatre in which you saw a movie could be just as special as the movie itself. The theatres that America built in the 20s and 30s were extravagant, exotic fantasies designed to transport the audience into another world. The show started on the sidewalk the moment you saw the theatre’s towering sign, outlined in thousands of flashing, chasing lights, spelling out the words PARAMOUNT or FOX or LOEW’S. You had found your way to an acre of seats in a garden of dreams. “Popcorn Palaces” will not only be a celebration of America’s moviegoing legacy, it will also be the story of how theatres today are striving to develop new audiences. Long before there was a multiplex or HBO or Netflix, the ritual of going to the movies provided us with a gateway to a new and deeper understanding of ourselves and our world. Today theatres are priceless resources that are bringing new vitality and civic pride to our cities. Far from seeing themselves as a club for the aged, historic theatres have made educational outreach programs central to their mission. Theatres are part of our past. They are also a vital part of our future.”

Please check out the Popcorn Palaces website at: www.popcornpalaces.com and be sure to like them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/popcornpalaces

Unfortunately, due to the death of Wally Coberg, the mind behind Popcorn Palaces, in 2011 the project was cancelled.

The Newark Paramount Theatre

The Paramount is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.

View of the Paramount Theatre from the balcony.

The Paramount Theatre opened on October 11, 1886 as H.C. Miner’s Newark Theatre. It was originally a vaudeville house managed by Hyde & Behman Amusement Co., a Brooklyn based theater Management Company. After H.C. Miner’s death in 1900, his surviving relatives retained ownership of the theater for several years until its sale in 1916 to Edward Spiegel, the owner of the nearby Strand Theatre. Spiegel also purchased the building next to the theater with the intent to use the space to expand the theater. To accomplish this he hired famed theater architect Thomas W. Lamb to do the alterations.

Continue reading “The Newark Paramount Theatre”

The Paramount Theatre – Youngstown, Ohio

The Paramount is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.

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The Liberty Theatre opened on February 11, 1918 in Youngstown, Ohio. It was designed by architect C. Howard Crane, later known for designing the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan.  The 1,800 seat Liberty opened as a vaudeville theater, and was managed by C.W. Diebel.  Diebel’s father had built a theater on the same lot as the Liberty, but it was demolished to make way for what would become the Paramount Theatre. According to an account in the Motion Picture News, the theater cost $500,000 to build (or $8.8 million when adjusted for inflation.)

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The main level of the Paramount Theatre.

The exterior of the building was constructed with white glazed terra cotta, and the interior was decorated in the Adamesque style. Due to the Liberty’s wartime construction, it was very difficult to get the steel required for the framework. In 1929 the Liberty was purchased by Paramount Pictures and renamed the Paramount Theatre. Paramount Pictures spent $200,000 modernizing the building and installing a sound system so the theater could show sound films (or ”talkies”). The Paramount thrived for more than 50 years before closing in 1976. The theater reopened for two days in late 1984 to host “Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. Steel Mill Movie Day.” People were given a short brief on the current state of the steel industry, a tour of the theater, and shown a film about the mill.

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In April 2006 Grande Venues, Inc. purchased the Paramount.  They planned to reuse it by adding a dance hall on the main floor and a one- or two-screen movie theater in the balcony. However, the restoration plans were never applied and the building was purchased by the city of Youngstown in 2011.

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The Paramount Project, a group working to reuse the building in some capacity, wanted to save the facade for a small restaurant, and construct an amphitheater where the auditorium was located. However, two separate studies found that if the walls of the theater were removed, the facade would likely collapse. It would cost between 1.3 and 1.6 million dollars to shore the facade enough to survive the demolition. Due to the cost, the Paramount Project walked away from the building and in July 2013 it was demolished. The city turned the space into a parking lot.

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The organ pipes were stored on the stage after the theater closed. They disappeared shortly before demolition.

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View of the auditorium from the balcony.

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Kenosha Theatre

The Kenosha is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.

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View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

The Kenosha Theatre opened on September 1st, 1927. It was designed by Larry P. Larson, an architect from the mid-western United States. The theater cost $750,000 ($10,220,301 when adjusted for inflation) and was financed by United Studios of Chicago. It was commissioned by Carl Laemmle, a Wisconsin native and one of the founders of Universal Studios. The 2300-seat theater was built to resemble the Alcazar castle in Segovia, Spain, which is rumored to be the inspiration behind Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World.

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Much of the blue ceiling was destroyed when the roof was replaced in the mid-1990s.

An atmospheric theater, the auditorium ceiling was painted a dark navy blue and covered with lights that were meant to look like stars. This gave patrons the illusion that they were sitting in a courtyard under the night sky while watching a film. Larson took it a step further than most of his contemporaries when it came to the layout of the ‘stars’ and arranged them with data from the department of astronomy at the University of Wisconsin.

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Lobby staircase leading to the balcony.

Like many early 20th century theaters, the Kenosha opened as a vaudeville and silent film house. The opening program included a vaudeville act called “Dear Little Rebel” and a silent film, “The Irresistible Lover”. The Kenosha began showing ‘talking pictures’ when a Vitaphone system was installed in February 1927. Vitaphone was the only commercially successful sound-on-disc system for showing motion pictures with sound. The sound was on phonograph or vinyl records and was synced to the film by special turntables attached to the projectors. Like other theaters of this era, the Kenosha often held contests and giveaways to encourage customers to return. In July of 1928 the theater offered free airplane flights to its patrons. You could sign up to take a free flight with a licensed pilot as long as you saw a film at the theater.

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Some fallen pieces of plaster are being stored in the theater’s lobby so they can be used in the eventual restoration.

On December 18, 1928 eight men broke into the Kenosha Theatre, tied up the night watchman and cracked open the safe in the office, stealing $1,022 in cash and $720 in gift-ticket books. Alexander Dotz, the night watchman, confessed the following day that the robbery was an ‘inside job’ and that he planned the heist with his co-conspirators at a roadhouse the day before took place. He also revealed that his brother, a police officer, who had watched the robbery from the balcony, was planning on arresting the men but chickened out at the last minute. Both brothers testified in court that they had been forced to participate in the robbery due to repeated threats from the ringleader, Angelo Tarello. The Dotz Brothers were each sentenced to 16-20 years in the Green Bay Reformatory.

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View of the auditorium from the rear of the balcony.

Warner Bros, who took over the theater in 1929, closed the Kenosha Theatre in March of 1933 along with six other theaters in the area. Sol J. Hankin, general manager for Warner Bros is quoted as saying, “We may keep the theaters closed for a year, maybe less, maybe more, maybe forever. General economic conditions are the chief cause for their closing, but I can say that we do not believe there was the proper amount of cooperation from union labor”. Hankin cited that motion picture operators refused a reduction in salary that other theater employees had received. The Kenosha was reopened the following year after it was acquired by Standard Theatres, Inc.

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A close up of the theater’s proscenium arch.

Many Hollywood stars performed live at the Kenosha, including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Lawrence Welk and the Three Stooges. It closed on April 21, 1963, 36 years after it opened. Standard Theatres Inc. sold the theater with a stipulation in the deed that it could not be used as a theater for 30 years. Standard also owned the Lake Theatre in Kenosha and did not want competition. It was later used as a warehouse and a flea market before being closed permanently. Due to years of neglect, the roof leaked badly and much of the interior was damaged by the water exposure.

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In 1983 the theater was purchased by Kenosha Theatre Development. The group repaired the storefronts and the apartments attached to the building to help generate funds towards restoration of the theater. In the mid-1990s a new roof was installed. This had the unfortunate effect of destroying most of the ‘starlit’ ceiling, but it was necessary to prevent further water damage. Debris from the roof covered the main floor and it took volunteers three years to remove it all. It’s estimated that the theater will cost $24 million to restore.

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Entryway to the auditorium from the lobby.