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 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

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.

Kenosha_Theatre_007

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.

Kenosha_Theatre_008

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.

Kenosha_Theatre_004

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.

Kenosha_Theatre_003

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.

Kenosha_Theatre_012

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.

Kenosha_Theatre_010

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.

Kenosha_Theatre_006

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.

Kenosha_Theatre_002

Entryway to the auditorium from the lobby.

Montauk Theatre

The Montauk Theatre during demolition

The Montauk Theatre opened on January 30, 1924 in Passaic, NJ on the site of a former vaudeville theater — also called the Montauk Theatre — that was popular in the early 1900’s. Designed by local architect Abram Presikel in the Adamesque style, the theater sat 2,638 people and was operated by the Fabian Enterprises theater chain (which was known for showing both First National Pictures and Warner Bros. films).   Continue reading

Beacon Theatre

The Beacon Theatre was built in 1928 and was intended to be a vaudeville house. However, the Great Depression pushed the opening date back six years.  The Beacon finally opened as a movie theater in 1934.  It was built in the art deco style and was advertised as  “the most beautiful theater from New York City to Albany,” and sat 1,100 people.

Continue reading

Keith-Albee Theatre, or RKO Keith’s Theater

balcony of keith's theatre

View from the balcony of the Keiths Theatre

The RKO Keith’s Theatre, originally called the Keith-Albee Theatre, opened Christmas Day, 1928 at 1:00 PM.  Located in Flushing, Queens, it was designed by Thomas W. Lamb, an architect known for his theater designs, which can also be seen in New York’s Ziegfeld Theatre and Proctor’s 58th Street (which was built simultaneously with the Keith’s).

Continue reading

Loew’s Kings Theatre – Brooklyn, NY

I’ve decided to expand my post on the Kings Theatre into 4-5 parts using some excerpts from my book, Kings Theatre; The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Brooklyn’s Wonder Theatre. Find out more about the book here. This original post will remain, and the first part in the new series can be viewed here.

 

View of the auditorium from the center of the main level.

Loew’s Kings Theatre opened on September 7, 1929 in Brooklyn, NY, and was designed by the architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp (also known for the Paramount Theater in Times Square) and decorated by Harold W. Rambush.  It was operated by the Loew’s theaters chain, and, along with the Loew’s Jersey Theatre, Loew’s Paradise Theatre, the Loew’s Valencia Theatre and the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre, it was one of the five “Loew’s Wonder Theaters” in the New York metropolitan area.

Continue reading