After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters

Cover of After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters.

I took a bit of a hiatus from the site to finish this up, but now that I’m completely done I’m excited to announce that my third book is coming out this November!

“After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters” will feature 20 different theaters across the United States, including six exclusive ones, and a foreword written by Tim League, the founder of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain.

If you pre-order it via my site you will get a signed copy with a ticket stub and a 5×7 print of one of the theaters in the book. It should ship around the first week in November.

Pre-Order Link

The streets of small towns and cities across America were filled with the lights and sounds of movie theaters in the early 20th CenturyThe most opulent were known as “movie palaces,” which were designed to make their patrons feel like royalty; people would dress up to visit. But as time went on, it became harder and harder to fill the 2,000+ seat theaters, and many were forced to close.

Today, these palaces are illuminated only by the flicker of dying lights, and the sound of water dripping from holes in the ceiling echoes through the auditoriums. In “After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters,” internationally-renowned photographer Matt Lambros continues his travels across the United States, documenting these once-elegant buildings. From the supposedly haunted Pacific Warner Theatre in Los Angeles to the Orpheum Theatre in New Bedford, MA, which opened the same day the Titanic sank, Lambros pulls back the curtain to reveal what is left, giving these palaces a chance to shine again.

It’s also available to order on AmazonBarnes and Noble, Indiebound or your local bookstore.

I’m in the beginning stages of planning a book/lecture tour to promote the new book, so if you want me to visit your area let me know!

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the theaters that will be in the the new book:

View from the side of the balcony at the Emery Theatre in Cincinnati, Ohio

The auditorium of the United Artists Theatre in Detroit, MI

View from the balcony of the Majestic Theatre in East St. Louis, IL.

Roxie Theatre – Los Angeles, CA

The theater was built for Gus A. Metzger and Harry Srere, who also owned the Fairfax Theatre.

The Roxie Theatre in Los Angeles, California opened on November 25, 1931. It was the last theater in Los Angeles’s Broadway Theater District to open, and was built on the site of Quinn’s Superba Theatre, which was demolished to make way for the new theater. The Roxie originally had 1,637 seats, and was designed primarily for motion pictures, but had a small stage house so it could hold live performances.

The exterior of the theater has showed up in many movies over the years including 2011’s “The Muppets.”

It was designed by John M. Cooper — known for the NuWilshire Theatre in Santa Monica — in the Art Deco style, and has the distinction of being the only Art Deco theater in the theater district. Construction began in June 1931 at a cost of around $100,000 (or $1,663,794 when adjusted for inflation.)

View of the auditorium from the stage.

The Roxie’s history is marred by a number of tragic events, beginning with the death of the Harry Metzger, the general manager, on August 3, 1943. A customer discovered Metzger had died of a heart attack in the ticket booth when they went to purchase a ticket. On Christmas Eve 1954, a woman killed herself in her seat during a double feature showing of “Crossed Swords” and “Track of the Cat.” The Roxie was an all-night theater at the time, so her body wasn’t discovered until the lights went on at 3:30AM. The only clues to her identity were a Canadian dollar bill and a telephone number written on a cafe receipt in her pockets. She’s never been identified. Richard Studeny, an usher, tied up the manager and robbed the theater in June of 1958. He turned himself in to the police in Florida the following December.

In 1989, the Roxie closed after a stint showing Spanish-language films operated by Metropolitan Theatres. The ticket booth was removed and the lobby was converted into retail space in 1995. A number of reuse plans for the building have been been proposed over the years, often including the nearby Cameo and Arcade Theaters. One plan proposed turning the Roxie into a restaurant and restoring the Arcade as a live performance venue, but nothing has come to pass. The Roxie’s auditorium has been used as a filming location in a number of movies over the years including “Foxcatcher,” starring Steve Carell and Channing Tatum.

View of the auditorium from the orchestra level.

Lights, Camera, Contest Winners

Everett Square Theatre, Boston, MA. Left side on site lighting. Right side LED lighting.

One of the questions I’m asked pretty often is “How do you light these theaters?” When I first started photographing theaters the answer was pretty simple. I didn’t. I relied on whatever was already in the building. I’d use construction lights, open fire escape doors, or in some rare cases use the original theater lights.

Victory Theatre Holyoke, MA Left side on site lighting. Right side LED lighting.

A few years ago I picked up some small LED lights from Amazon. They worked pretty well, but had a battery life of around 45 minutes, which wasn’t ideal. Earlier this year I noticed that they were taking longer to charge and not lasting as long. I began to search for replacements. If you’ve ever looked at how many LED lights there are on Amazon and B&H you’d know that finding a good one is a pretty daunting task. After weeding through the duds I bought two Yongnuo YN300 III LED lights, and they’re pretty fantastic. I’m able to light an entire auditorium with the two lights running at 50%, and the batteries last for around two hours. I’ve only tested them at the Everett Square Theatre and the Victory Theatre, but I think they’re a welcome addition to my camera bag.

After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.

Congratulations to Monika Seitz Vega and @NKenny ! You both won a copy of my first book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater . Thank you to everyone who entered the contest. I’ll be doing another giveaway soon.

After the Final Curtain 7 Year Anniversary Giveaway

Cover for After the Final Curtain; the Fall of the American Movie Theater.

I had been photographing forgotten theaters for a few years before I launched this site, but we just passed the 7 year anniversary of my first post. So to celebrate I’m giving away two signed copies of my first book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater. 

To enter just follow my twitter account: https://twitter.com/MattLambros and retweet any image I tweet during the next week.

If you don’t have a twitter account, just comment on this post to enter. Good Luck!

Gem Theatre – Cairo, IL

 

View from the balcony.

The original Gem Theatre in Cairo, Illinois opened on October 10, 1910. Opening night’s main attraction was the Cora Youngblood Carson Sextette, a group of young women who sang and danced. Three photoplays, which was an early form of motion picture, were also shown. This incarnation of the Gem was destroyed by a fire in 1929, and a new theater was built in its shell at a cost of $200,000 (or $2.8 million when adjusted for inflation.) The Gem was destroyed by another fire that started in one of the dressing rooms on February 27, 1934. It was rebuilt as an art deco theater with 900 and reopened in 1936.

Construction of the original 685 seat theater was completed in just over four months.

In 1978, the Gem closed for good, and the lobby was turned into retail space, at one point becoming a video rental store called Gem Video. In 1995, the building was donated to the city, who planned on reopening as a movie theater and cultural arts center. They began work on the building in March of 1996, and were assisted by former Peace Corps volunteers as part of the Peace Corps 35 year anniversary. During this time the roof was replaced, the marquee was removed and restored, and the lobby was restored.

A tree is growing in the auditorium through a large hole in the wall.

On October 1, 1998, the restored lobby was shown to the public during Cairo’s October Days Festival. In 2000, the City of Cairo received a $436,000 Federal grant from the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, and $231,900 of it was to go to the redevelopment of Gem Theatre. An additional $20,000 was given by the state of Illinois to renovate the theater’s stage and the city itself contributed $70,256. However, the restoration of the theater was put on hold in the mid-2000’s and it is unclear whether it will ever be restored.

Lobby, Gem Theatre Cairo, IL

The lobby was restored in the late 90s, but has fallen back into disrepair.

Main level, Gem Theatre Cairo, IL

One of the original advertising slogans for the theater was “It’s Cool at the Gem.”

The projection room is empty.