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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Fabian Theatre opened on December 14, 1925 in Paterson, New Jersey. Designed by Paterson architect Fred Wesley Wentworth for theater magnate Jacob Fabian, the 3,228 seat theater was built in a Sullivanesque style with a two ton chandelier, tile floors, murals, and Turkish baths in the basement.
I spent most of my second day in Chicago photographing the New Regal Theatre. This John Eberson designed theater opened in 1927 as the Avalon Theatre. It is said to be inspired by a Persian lamp Eberson found at an antiques market. The Regal closed in 2010 .
The Paramount Theatre opened as the Broadway Theatre in Long Branch, New Jersey on August 1, 1912. The project was commissioned by theater magnate Walter Reade on the site of an old Episcopal church. The 1,772 seat Broadway began showing plays and vaudeville performances before transitioning over to film.
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.
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.
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.