Robins Theatre – Warren, Ohio

This post was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in June 2021.  For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

View of the auditorium from the balcony before restoration.

A similar view of the auditorium during the renovation.

The Robins Theatre opened on January 9, 1923, in Warren, Ohio. It was the crown jewel of the Robins Amusement Company (RAC). Architect C. Howard Crane designed the theater in the Adamesque style with an Italian Renaissance exterior. Construction of the 1,500-seat theater was handled by the Charles Shutrump and Sons Company of nearby Youngstown, Ohio; it cost $300,000, equating to $4.5 million when adjusted for inflation.

Looking back from the stage pre renovation.

 

The Robins was designed so that the theater could be converted from a movie theater to a live performance theater in only 24 hours. According to an account in the Warren Tribune, “Workmen could begin building a stage while motion picture performances continued in the theater proper.” Then when the theater closed at 11pm, a temporary intervening wall of lumber could be torn down, the connections to the front of the stage constructed and the stage playhouse ready for opening the following night.” The Robins opened with a silent film double feature — “The Speeder” starring Lloyd Hamilton, and “Quincy Adams Sawyer” starring Jon Bowers — and the Robins Orchestra performed the overture of Oberon by Carl Maria von Weber.

Some of the painted details on the wall in the balcony.

Vitaphone, an early form of talking motion pictures, was installed at the Robins in 1927. The first film shown with Vitaphone was “Don Juan” starring John Barrymore. RAC sold the Robins and the Daniel Theaters to R.M.P Realty Co. in August 1966 for around $500,000 ($3.9 million with inflation). The theater closed in 1974, and various plans were put together over the years to restore and reopen it. A feasibility study was done in 2005 that estimated it would cost $12 million to restore and reopen the theater. However, it wasn’t until it was sold to Downtown Development Group LLC in December 2017 that work would begin. The seats were removed in early March 2018, and the plaster repair began soon after. It reopened as a performing arts center on January 20, 2020.

The entryway to the theater was redesigned in the 1960s.

The Projection booth was cleaned out prior to the theater’s restoration in 2018.

Drake Theatre – Oil City, PA

This post was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in May 2021.  For early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

A look at Oil City PA's Drake Theatre from the Balcony

View of the Auditorium from the balcony.

The Drake Theatre in Oil City, Pennsylvania opened on August 27, 1928, as the Colonel Drake Theatre. The date was chosen because it was the sixty-ninth anniversary of the completion of the first oil well drilled by Col. Edwin L. Drake, the first man to drill oil in the United States, and the theater’s namesake. The Vemark Corporation formed the Drake Theatre Realty Company (DTRC) to finance the construction, and $500,000 in bonds were sold, which was around half of the building’s appraised value. On January 7, 1928, DTRC invited the public to view the laying of the Drake’s cornerstone.

The ceiling of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA

Much of the interior décor items, including the glass from the light in the center of the ceiling, were donated to local museums.

The 2,000-seat theater and 50,000 sq. ft office building was designed by architect William H. Lee, who is known for designing many theaters in eastern Pennsylvania. It was designed in the Art Deco style, and there are two murals depicting the petroleum industry on the auditorium walls. Music was important at the Drake; the Colonial Drake Symphony Orchestra, led by William Lantz, alternated performances with the Wurlitzer Co. Opus 1870 organ. Clark Piers, an organist from Scranton, PA, was hired as the theater’s organist.

The view of the Drake Theatre auditorium from the stage.

The view from the stage reveals how much water damage there is in the auditorium.

Many businesses took out ads in the Oil City Derrick, the local newspaper, to congratulate the theater on its grand opening. The theater’s motto “Always a Good Show” appeared in early advertisements. The opening day celebration began with a street parade headed by a marching band. Many of the theater’s new ushers marched in the parade wearing their green and gold uniforms. Dr. Thomas Farmer, an Oil City businessman, gave the opening address, followed by George H. Torrey of the Oil City Historical Society, who told the history of the oil industry in the United States.

The proscenium arch of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA was damaged due to a leak in the roof.

A closer look at the water-damaged proscenium arch.

In the 1950s, one of the lobby staircases was removed so that a concessions stand could be installed. Due to competition from a local multiplex, the Drake closed in July 1986 after a showing of the film “Club Paradise” starring Robin Williams and Peter O’Toole. The Oil City Playhouse briefly reopened the theater in the mid-1990s as a performing arts center, but it closed again after a year. The building was put up for judicial tax sale in 1995 due to $221,000 in back taxes. It was purchased for $70,500 by Bruce Taylor, who owned Penn Aire Aviation, Inc. Taylor outbid a group that intended on restoring and reopening the Drake.

A mural on the auditorium wall of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA

One of the two murals depicting the petroleum industry on the auditorium walls.

Penn Aire sold the building to Webco, a local manufacturing company, in early 2018. Webco intends to demolish the auditorium and build a facility to house manufacturing equipment. However, the lobby, façade, and office building will remain. Ellen Gierlach, president of Penn Aire, removed two murals, exit signs, light fixtures, and more before the sale. Gierlach has donated many of them to museums and historical societies, including the Drake Well Museum and the Theatre Historical Society of America.

The lobby of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA.

The concession stand in the lobby was added in the 1950s and replaced one of the staircases to the balcony.

The auditorium of the Drake Theatre in Oil City from the orchestra level.

Emery Theatre – Cincinnati, Ohio

This post was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in Jan 2021. You can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

View of the auditorium from the middle balcony.

Built as part of the Ohio Mechanics Institute, the Emery Theatre in Cincinnati, Ohio opened on January 6, 1912 as the Emery Auditorium. It was funded by an endowment of $656,737 ($17.1 million with inflation) from Mary Emery, whose husband, Thomas J. Emery had planned on building a similar school in the city. Emery stipulated as part of the endowment that the auditorium must be open to the public and have at least 1,800 seats. The 2,200-seat theater was designed by Harvey Hannaford of the architectural firm of Samuel Hannaford & Sons. It was one of four “acoustically perfect” concert halls whose design was inspired by the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, IL. The other three were the Orchestra Hall, also in Chicago, Carnegie Hall in New York, and the Orchestra Hall in Detroit, MI.

View of the auditorium from the stage.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra held an inaugural concert at the theater on January 6, 1912. In 1924, George Gershwin performed his classic composition Rhapsody in Blue at the theater. On April 25, 1936, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra held its final concert at the Emery; it moved to the Cincinnati Music Hall, a space with more seats and more parking. Beginning in 1935 and ending in 1939, the Federal Theatre Project, a program established during the Great Depression as part of the New Deal to fund live entertainment programs, began to use the Emery. From 1938 to 1948, the theater was the home of The Boone County Jamboree, an American Country Radio Program. A 500,000-watt transmitter was used by station WLW so that millions of people around the country could listen to the program.

The Emery has a very small lobby when compared to many other theaters built around the same time.

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the Emery on June 16, 1959 while he was campaigning for Ted Berry during Berry’s run for Cincinnati City Council. The University of Cincinnati (UC) took ownership of the Emery building in 1969, when the Ohio Mechanics Institute was incorporated into the university. A Wurlitzer Opus 1680 organ moved to the Emery from the nearby Keith’s Theater the same year, but was not completely installed until 1977. That same year, the Ohio Valley Chapter of the American Theater Organ Society began programming shows on the weekends. They held organ concerts, showed silent, talking, and 3D films, and reduced the seating by closing the upper balcony. The final organ concert was held on October 24, 1999, after which the Wurlitzer was removed to be restored. It would never return to the Emery, and was installed in the Cincinnati Music Hall’s ballroom in 2004.

Most of the seats on the upper balcony have been removed.

Beginning in November 2011, the Requiem Project, a non-profit group formed in late 2008 to restore the theater, held concerts, film festivals and recording sessions at the Emery. The National, Dirty Projectors, Carrie Rodriguez, Ralph Stanley and others performed at the theater during this time. The Requiem Project hired John Senhauser Architects and Westlake Reed Leskosky, two architecture firms, to create the restoration plans for the Emery. However, the Emery Center Corporation, who subleased the theater from Emery Center

Apartments Limited Partnership (ECALP), who in turn leased it from UC, shut down all programming in 2013. According to Kathy Schwab, head of the Emery Center Corp in 2013, programming was stopped due to the theater’s dilapidated state and because everything had to be approved by UC. The Requiem Project sued to try to continue their renovation efforts at the theater, but eventually settled in March 2016. On April 23, 2019, the UC board of trustees voted to sell the Emery; according to them, it is beyond repair. It was sold for $8.55 million to local developers who intend to restore the building. The restoration costs are estimated at around $30 million and will take about three years to complete.

The theater’s vertical sign is stored in one of the former offices in the building.

View of the auditorium from the orchestra level.

Documenting the End of a Theater – Capitol Theatre, Racine, WI

This post was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in Feb 2021. You can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

The auditorium was used for storage after the theater closed.

In late December 2020, a representative of the Wisconsin Historical Society contacted me. They asked me if I was familiar with what was happening at the Capitol Theatre (Park) in Racine, Wisconsin. I had heard of it, but I didn’t know anything about its current state. 

The Capitol opened on May 30, 1928. It was a typical Vaudeville theater that eventually became a cinema. Les Paul, the famous musician, performed on the stage at the Capitol when he was 14. The theater was twinned in 1976 by splitting the auditorium in two. This change did not touch the front of the auditorium and the stage was closed. 

In the photo above, you can see the auditorium dome through the drop ceiling.

It was renamed Park 1 & 2 in August 1981 and closed on September 1, 1987. The theater was bought by John Apple, who used it as a storage and repair facility for antiques (e.g. cash registers and barber chairs). Over time, the building began to fall into disrepair, and Apple fell a decade behind on his property taxes. 

Many things were left behind before the theater was demolished.

The Racine Building Department issued 12 violations of the City Code in August 2017. Apple did not address this, so a demolition order was issued for the building in June 2018. Apple tried to stop the demolition by going through the court, but his petition was rejected. Then he sought a landmark designation, and on December 1, 2020, the city of Racine bestowed Landmark Status on the Capitol. 

However, the demolition order stood. The City Council of Racine voted to change the Historic Landmark Designation process so that they cannot be nominated while under a raze order. 

One of the antique cash registers that remained prior to demolition.

Despite the efforts of the Friends of the Capitol Theatre, Racine, WI, who raised enough money to purchase and stabilize the building, demolition began on the morning of February 23, 2021. The walls were destabilized and pushed down into the auditorium. The rubble was removed and dirt was hauled in to fill the space.

The projection room was used as a makeshift apartment.

I was asked if I would be interested in documenting the interior of the theater before it was demolished. I was but I needed to figure out the best way to get to Wisconsin and be safe due to the ongoing pandemic. I decided that driving out there was the safest way even if it meant spending 17 hours in the car. Fortunately, I convinced a friend of mine who has been exploring abandoned buildings with for almost 20 years to make the trip with me.

I was hoping that the effort to save the building would succeed but I’m glad that I could document it before it was lost. I know that not every that theater I photograph can or will be saved, but this one came close.

Patreon

I’m launching a Patreon page! As an After the Final Curtain Patreon you’ll get early access to image galleries, video walkthroughs, and write-ups before they are released, print giveaways, discounts on workshops, and some exclusive workshop locations (one some of you have been asking me about for years).

I’ve been uploading content to the page for a few months before launch so there’s already a number of things to check out. You can sign up at https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

2021 Workshops Part 1

Auditorium, Victory Theatre Holyoke, MA.

Here’s the workshop lineup for the first half of 2021. All of the workshops are limited in size and masks are required due to the ongoing pandemic.

Orchestra Level, Orpheum Theatre – New Bedford, MA.

First up is a return to the Orpheum Theatre in New Bedford, MA on May 1, 2021. This is one of my favorite workshops as there is so much to shoot. A theater, a ballroom, and a shooting range. To sign up visit: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/orpheum-theatre-workshop

Auditorium, Everett Square Theatre – Boston, MA.

Up next is the Everett Square Theatre in Hyde Park, MA on May 15, 2021. This is a great one for people who haven’t photographed anything abandoned before. It’s a smaller theater,  but still has a lot of great details. To sign up visit: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/everett-square-theatre-workshop

Auditorium, Victory Theatre Holyoke, MA

Next is one I haven’t done for a few years – The Victory Theatre in Holyoke, MA on June 12, 2021. The Victory was one of the first theaters I photographed, and the first one I held a workshop at back in 2014. To sign up visit: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/victory-theatre-workshop

Auditorium, Colonial Theatre – Augusta, Maine.July 24, 2021, is a return to the Colonial Theatre in Augusta, Maine. When I first photographed this theater there was a giant hole in the middle of the auditorium,  luckily that has been fixed and it’s much easier to move around the place. To sign up visit: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/colonial-theatre

Auditorium, Goodwill Theatre – Johnson City, NY

I had a workshop planned for the Goodwill Theatre in Johnson City, NY in April 2020 but it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m still working with the owners on finalizing a date but it should be sometime in the Spring of 2021. I will put out an update the second the date is locked.

There are other locations in the works (outside of the New England area) but that announcement will have to wait for another day.

Happy Holidays!

The Boyd Theatre opened on Christmas Day in 1928.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone! I hope you all are staying safe and healthy during this awful year.

Thank you for following my work!

The Keith-Albee or RKO Keith’s Theatre in Queens, NY opened on Christmas Day in 1928.

Artists Sunday is here!

Orchestra level, California Theatre – San Diego, CA.

Artists Sunday has officially begun! Visit mlambrosphotography.com/store and use the coupon code “Artistssunday” at checkout to get 20% off your order. The first 13 people to spend over $100 will get a free matted 8×12 print.

I’ve added some one-of-a-kind metallic prints from a gallery exhibition last year as well as some other surprises.

Here are a few great artists who are offering deals on their work today:

CJ Lavoie – Paintings in oil, watercolor, or acrylic. Landscapes from sites in Colorado, Washington, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Jill Harrington Nichols – Fine Art Paintings and Prints

David Shedlarz Photography – Limited edition, museum-grade fine art photography prints.

Loring Slivinski Fine Art & Photography – Nature Themed Art.

Christopher Sherman – Fine Art Photography and Founder of Artists Sunday

Artists Sunday – November 29, 2020

Orchestra level, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH.

Colonial Theatre – Laconia, NH.

I’ll be taking part in the first-ever Artists Sunday on November 29, 2020. It’s similar to Black Friday or Small Business Saturday but encourages people to buy art! 

Between now and November 29 I’ll be uploading a lot of new and never before seen work to my print store at http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/store. If you want a sneak peek of the new work be sure to follow my Instagram and Twitter pages. 

The sale will go live at 12:01 AM on November 29, 2020, and end at 11:59 PM.  

Visit http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/store and use the coupon code “Artistssunday” at checkout to get 20% off your order. The first 13 people to spend over $100 will get a free matted 8×12 print.

Lobby, Adams Theatre – Newark, NJ

Here’s a short interview I did with the Boston Globe about the event:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/11/20/lifestyle/thousands-artists-crafters-organizations-encourage-customers-shop-artists-sunday/?outputType=amp

 

Here’s a bit about Artists Sunday from their website:

“Artists Sunday is the nationwide movement dedicated to supporting artists and recognizing the impact they have in enriching our lives, communities, and the economy. The powerful new effort is designed to make the Sunday after Thanksgiving the most profitable day of the year for artists. Consumers are encouraged to shop with artists and purchase creative, handcrafted gifts for the holidays. Artists Sunday follows Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, prior to Cyber Monday. Supporters include individual artists, economic development agencies, and non-profit organizations across the country. To learn more about Artists Sunday artists, partners, sponsors, or involvement in promoting commerce with artists, please visit http://ArtistsSunday.com/

Artist Sunday Flyer

Capitol Theatre – New London, CT

Auditorium of the Capitol Theatre in New London, CT

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

George Burns and Gracie Allen are one of the most well-known comedy duos of the 20th century, and legend has it that they met at the Capitol Theatre in New London, CT. This isn’t true, but they were introduced by Allen’s roommate at the time, Rena Arnold, who went on to marry Walter T. Murphy, the owner of the Capitol Theatre. 

Stage, Capitol Theatre New London, CT

View of the auditorium from the stage.

The Capitol Theatre opened on November 21, 1921. Tickets for the opening day celebration went on sale three days earlier, and sold out in just a few hours. According to an article in The New London Day, “In beauty, comfort, equipment, construction, and other ways, it equals, if it does not surpass any theater of its size in the country.” Architect W. H. Lowe designed the interior, which featured a mural of cherubs above the proscenium arch. Like many other theaters of the time, the Capitol had an orchestra pit, and an organ. 

Lobby mezzanine, Capitol Theatre New London, CT

The opening act was Billy Sharpe and the 20th Century Revue.

Murphy sold the theater to the Connecticut Theatres Operating Company in 1942. Ownership and management of the Capitol between the mid-1940s and early-1970s is unclear, but we do know that the Capitol was closed on April 22, 1974 after a visit by the New London building inspector found multiple violations, including an unsafe marquee, eight feet of water in the basement, and a broken toilet in the projection booth. Its closing was made permanent after the projectionists union complained of unsafe working conditions. It was purchased by the City of New London for $55,000 in 1978 so that they could provide fire exits on the adjoining buildings — a tunnel was built under the theater’s stage that connected the buildings on either side of the theater to serve as their fire exit.

The ticket booth pictured here was not original to the theater.

Beyond housing this fire exit, the theater has been unused since 1978. Proposals for revitalizing the building have included a performing arts center, a disco, a mini-mall, a twin-screen theater, a flea market, a visitors center for a maritime heritage park, and a Jehovah’s Witnesses meeting hall. Every plan has fallen through — one developer said “Physically, it’s just too big. There just isn’t the population in the area to fill that theater every night.” The City executed some general maintenance on the theater in 1995, including replacing the roof, removing the seats, and cleaning up the interior of the building, but no additional work has been done on the theater space since then. 

The South Eastern New England Theatre Organ Society (SENTOS) purchased the Marr & Colton Organ in 1977 and placed it in storage. The last time it had been played was in 1936.

Maxim Development Group (MDG) purchased the theater in 2006 for $1 in exchange for modest tax breaks, provided that MDG renovate and develop the theater into a live music venue within an agreed upon time frame. Before the deal was executed, local newspaper The Day revealed that the head of the company had defrauded investors of millions, and had been convicted of attempted armed robbery. The City of New London went through with the deal regardless, and within the year the company had broken its agreement with the City. It was seized by the City for non-payment of taxes, and auctioned to two contractors from New York for $20,000, who later sold the property for $68,000 to a local developer.  The theater is currently for sale.

In my opinion the Capitol is worth reusing, but it should become something other than a performing arts center. New London has a movie palace-turned-performing arts center, the Garde Arts Center, located less than a mile from the Capitol. A return to movies in the style of a place like the Nitehawk Cinemas, a New York City movie theater chain that offers food and drinks that can be ordered and consumed while watching a film, might be something that would work.