Remember in the last post how I said I had an announcement I was going to keep secret for the moment? Well, here it is – Jonglez Publishing is going to be publishing a book featuring my photography of abandoned theaters!
After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater consists of 24 theaters from New York to California, including some that have never been posted on this site.
Hey Everyone! There are a couple big events coming up – the 5 year anniversary of After the Final Curtain, the release of the Kings Theatre book, the AFtC Facebook page reaching 10,000 (!) followers, and one other announcement I’m going to keep secret the moment. To celebrate, I’m going to give away a signed copy of my upcoming book, Kings Theatre; the Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Brooklyn’s Wonder Theatre when it’s released to one person who shares or likes a post on the AFtC Facebook page from now until the page reaches 10,000 followers.
Thank you for all your support over the years and good luck everyone!
I’m excited to announce that I’ll once again be partnering with photographer/founder of Abandoned America, Matthew Christopher for photo workshops in 2016!
First, we will be returning to the Victory Theatre in Holyoke, MA on April 9, 2016. The Victory Theatre opened on December 30, 1920 and closed 58 years late on December 15, 1978. It is currently owned by the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts, who plan to renovate the theater and reopen it as a performing arts center. Past workshops have generated over $4000 for MIFA.
We will also be returning to the Variety Theatre in 2016. The details for that workshop will be announced at a later date.
The Variety opened on November 24, 1927 and after a number of different uses (including a wrestling gym called the Cleveland Wrestleplex) closed in the late 1980s. The building was purchased by the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre on June 12, 2009, and they plan to restore the theater as a multi-use venue.
The Moreland Theatre opened on January 12, 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. It was designed by the local architectural firm of Braverman & Havermaet for A. T. (Adolph) Wallach, a real estate entrepreneur. The 1,296 seat theater is located in the Buckeye neighborhood, which had the largest concentration of Hungarian immigrants in the country at the time the theater was constructed. A press release for the opening of the theater describes it as having, “the most modern system of indirect side lighting,…newest type of projection machines,…and every facility and resource to contribute to the complete enjoyment of its patrons.” The Moreland cost $300,000 to build, equal to a $4,156,421 budget today when adjusted for inflation.
Originally built for vaudeville and silent films, the Moreland was part of the Universal-Variety circuit and opened with, The Cat and the Canary, starring Laura LaPlante. The film was accompanied by a live performance by George Williams and his band, the music box Merrymakers. Larry Jean Fisher, “The Texas Organist,” played the $40,000 Kimball organ throughout the opening night. The owners made sure to program for the theater’s Hungarian community soon after opening by scheduling the Hungarian Elite Mixed Choir, who performed in March 1928.
In October 1929, theater operator Paul Gusdanovic took over the Moreland Theatre. He already had a partnership interest in the Regent Theatre, which was located a few blocks away from the Moreland. Gusdanovic began jointly operating them, but was forced to close the Moreland in December due to the Stock Market crash of 1929. He reopened it a few times showing primarily Hungarian films as well as hosting community events.
The G&P Amusement Company of Cleveland acquired the lease to the Moreland in 1937. They remodeled the theater, adding a new RCA sound system, and began showing daily double features of Hollywood films. However, G&P ran into problems early on as they faced competition from the Gusdanovic’s Regent Theatre and the newly opened Colony Theatre in Shaker Square.In March 1949, G&P filed suit against the owners of the Regent, along with four other studios — 20th Century Fox, Loew’s, Warner Bros and Universal Studios — claiming that the Gusdanovic conspired with the studios to ruin the Moreland.G&P were eventually forced to close the theater in 1950. The Cleveland District Court ruled against G&P in 1952 — the judge said that the neighborhood could not support two theaters. G&P appealed the decision to the Sixth Court of Appeals who upheld the lower court’s decision.
The Moreland opened, closed and reopened throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. It was remodeled into a musical dinner theater in 1963 by Gerard Gentile, William Boehm and Eugene Woods. The trio had experience in theaters in the Cleveland area and were determined to revitalize the Moreland. It opened as Players Theatre Café in January 1964. Once again, the reopening was short lived and the theater closed in April 1964. It reopened again as the Beach Party Room in July 1967, with three inches of sand and artificial palm trees in the auditorium to help give the illusion that patrons were attending a party on the beach.This venture only lasted four months, after which it was turned into a dance club called “Second Shadow Lounge” in October 1967. This too did not last very long, and the theater became a Hungarian playhouse in June 1969. By 1975 the theater was closed again, and three years later it was sold to the Church of God in Christ (CGC). CGC became the theater’s longest tenant, using the building as a worship space for almost thirty years.
The CGC sold the theater in 2007 to the Buckeye Area Development Corporation (BADC), a not-for-profit community development corporation serving the area. BADC planned to restore the theater as a cultural center, but have yet to raise the estimated $6.1 million needed to renovate the building.
The Varsity Theater in Evanston, IL opened on Christmas Eve in 1926. It was designed by Chicago architect John E. O. Pridmore, who is also known for the nearby Vic Theatre. Clyde Elliot, an Evanston native who had worked in Hollywood before returning to his hometown to open the theater, commissioned it. Upon opening the 2,500 seat Varsity was one of the largest neighborhood theatres in the Chicago area, and the largest in Evanston beating the nearby Coronet, Hoyburn, New Campus, and Valencia Theatres.
An Atmospheric theatre, the Varsity was designed to give the illusion that you were sitting in a courtyard under the night sky and in the case of the Varsity it was the courtyard of a French Royal Chateau. The side walls featured marble imported from Italy, and the stage area resembled a lowered drawbridge. As with otheratmospherictheatres, it also featured small twinkling lights in the ceiling to give the appearance of stars, with clouds projected across the ceiling from projectors located on both sides of the auditorium.
The Varsity opened with with a short serial “The Collegians” and the feature “Man of the Forest” which starred Jack Holt and Georgia Hale. In the early 1930’s the theater became part of the Balaban & Katz theatre chain, which was controlled by the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, a forerunner of Paramount Pictures. A Geneva organ was installed in the theater when it opened, and the console was painted to resemble a cottage with roof tiles made of terra cotta. As with many of its contemporaries the organ did not see much use later in the theater’s life and was eventually removed. It was acquired by Karl Werner, who installed it in his home. Werner later moved to Arizona and took the organ with him, but when he passed away his family disposed of the organ.
In the 1980’s the nearby Evanston Theater, originally known as the Stadium Theatre, was purchased by the Loews Corporation, and enlarged from a single screen to a five-screen theater. As multiplex theatres became to be the norm, single screen theaters like the Varsity struggled to stay open. The Coronet Theatre, another Evanston single screen, closed because of this in 1984, and the Varsity followed in 1988.
Almost immediately after the theater closed, the main level and lobby were gutted and turned into retail space, which is currently occupied by a Gap clothing store. In 2010, the City of Evanston received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowments for the Arts to conduct a feasibility study on reopening the Varsity as a performing arts center. In July 2011, the study concluded that given that the first floor of the theater was currently occupied by a retail store, and not available for redevelopment, that the performing arts needs of Evanston are greater than the Varsity Theatre could accommodate alone. They recommended developing a number of performing arts spaces in downtown Evanston, instead of just one central location.
The Colonial Theatre in Augusta, Maine opened in 1913 and was designed by architect Harry S. Coombs, who was known for designing many local libraries. In 1926 the theater was damaged by a fire, and much of the auditorium had to be rebuilt. The owners took advantage of this and expanded the size of the theater. Originally the 1,240 seat theater showed silent films, and had an orchestra pit directly in front of the stage so music could accompany the films, but this was covered over as silent films gave way to “talkies” or motion pictures with sound.
During World War II, bond drives were held at theaters across the country where you could only gain admission by purchasing a war bond, which were certificates issued by the government to help finance military expenses, and the Colonial Theatre was no exception. At one bond drive held at the Colonial, actress and singer Dorothy Lamour made an appearance to help drive bond sales.
The theater closed in the late 1960s due to declining ticket sales. Mothballed and only used for storage, the building’s roof began to deteriorate. Without regular maintenance, water began to leak into the building and eventually causing three large holes in the wooden auditorium floor.
Colonial Theatre, Inc. was founded in 1995 with the purpose of buying and restoring the building. A number of developers expressed an interest in rehabilitating the theater, but no plan worked out and the building continued to deteriorate. In 2009, Colonial Theatre, Inc. began the process of getting the theater listed on the National Register of Historic Places as that status would offer some protection and tax breaks if the theater was restored. Five years later, they succeeded and the theater was listed in the summer of 2014. The theater is open for tours on Saturday mornings during the spring, summer and fall months.