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. 

Digital Theater Reconstructions

Mark Jabara, an artist from Australia, has been taking some of my theater images and restoring them in Photoshop. The Boyd Theatre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s only art deco movie palace, opened on Christmas day in 1928.  It closed in 2002, and the auditorium was demolished in the spring of 2015.

Auditorium of the Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia, PA

Digital Restoration of the Boyd with original colors.

The Madison in Peoria, IL was originally designed in the Adamesque style and was remodeled in 1936 in the simpler art deco style to ease the maintenance of the building. Mark restored some of the lost adamesque details near the stage.

Auditorium, Madison Theatre – Peoria, IL

A digital restoration of the madison theater in Peoria IL

Digital Restoration of the Madison Theatre with some original details restored.

The United Artists Theatre in Detroit, Michigan opened on February 3, 1928 and closed in August 1972. It’s one of the most dangerous and deteriorated theaters I’ve ever photographed.

Decaying auditorium of the United Artists Theatre in Detroit

Auditorium, United Artists Theatre – Detroit, MI

Digital Restoration of the United Artists Theatre with original colors.

The Boyd Theatre is featured in my first book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater. The Madison and United Artists are featured in my latest book, After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters. Both are available on my site, Bookshop.org, and bookstores everywhere.

United Artists Theatre – Detroit, MI

An expanded version of this post on the United Artists Theatre in Detroit, MI is in my new book “After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters.” For more information visit: http://www.afterthefinalcurtainbook.com

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

Designed by famed theater architect C. Howard Crane, the United Artists Theatre in Detroit, Michigan opened on February 3, 1928. It cost $5 million ($77.8 million when adjusted for inflation) to build the 2,070-seat theater and 18-story office building. Crane was hired by the founders of United Artist PicturesD.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin — to design the theater based on castles that Pickford and Fairbanks saw while on honeymoon in Spain. The theater’s Spanish Gothic interior was very similar in design to the United Artists Theatre in Los Angeles, California, which was also designed by Crane and had opened a little over a month earlier. An opening day advertisement in the Detroit Free Press called the theater “Old World Luxury combined with New World Comfort.” The feature presentation on opening day was “Sadie Thompson” a silent film starring Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore. Swanson made an “appearance” via phone and spoke to the audience about the film. The United Artists was designed for feature films, though it did feature the occasional live show, and had a house orchestra as well as a Wurlitzer Opus 1824 theater organ.

The fire curtain can be seen in this close up of the proscenium arch.

The theater was closed for modernization in 1950; new projectors, a new screen and a sound system were installed in the auditorium, and a snack bar was installed in the lobby.  In January 1970, the United Artists switched to showing X-rated films. The first X-rated film shown was “Camille 2000”, an Italian movie starring Danièle Gaubert. The format change only lasted around three months and the theater returned to showing regular films on March 25, 1970. The United Artists changed formats a few times before closing on September 14, 1971 after a showing of “Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song” starring Melvin Van Peebles. It reopened a few times over the next year — once as the Downtown Theatre —but closed for good in August 1972.

Decorative plasterwork covering one of the organ chambers.

Artifacts from the theater were auctioned off through DuMochelle Galleries on February 15, 1975; auctioned items included the lobby furniture, chandeliers, fountains, seats, and marble statues. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra began to use the theater as a recording studio in April 1978, but was forced to stop in 1983 due to the deterioration of the building. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places that same year. A number of plans, including demolishing the building to build a baseball stadium, were proposed over the years, but none came to fruition.

View of the auditorium from the stage area.

In May 2017, it was announced that the office portion of the building would be turned into 148 residential units with retail on the first floor. The developer intends to demolish the theater because according to Gershman Mortgage, who is providing $34.5 million for the project, a dilapidated theater or a restored one put the financing in jeopardy. Adam Hendin, a vice president at Gershman is quoted as saying “the theater building is dilapidated and not an attractive building to live next to” and “If the theater building gets renovated and becomes operational again, Gershman has concerns that this adjoining commercial, public use would disrupt the residential tenants and therefore make the project less attractive and less marketable as a going concern.”

Much of the first floor, as well as the stairs were covered in a thick layer of ice.

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

A close up of some of the decorative plasterwork in the auditorium dome.

If you enjoy After the Final Curtain consider supporting me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain?fan_landing=true There are some exclusive benefits, and you’ll be among the first to listen to my podcast when it launches very soon.

Norwich State Hospital Theater

I don’t talk about this very often, but for a long time I wanted to be a Director, and make movies. When I first started exploring abandoned buildings I had a video camera in hand the whole time. Those tapes have been packed away in a box for years, but I recently transferred the footage to my computer. This is a short walkthrough of the Norwich State Hospital Theater from 2004. The building (along with many others on the campus) has since been demolished.

I’ll be posting some more videos from back then on the After the Final Curtain Youtube page in the coming months.

Colonial Theatre – Laconia, NH

The Colonial Theatre in Laconia, NH is one of the 20 theaters featured in my new book “After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters.” For more information visit: http://www.afterthefinalcurtainbook.com

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

Advertised in the Laconia Democrat as “One of the handsomest play-houses to be found in New England and far ahead of anything which the average city of Laconia can boast”, the Colonial Theatre in Laconia, New Hampshire opened in April 1914. It was designed by George. L. Griffin, a local architect, in the Neocolonial style for owner Benjamin Piscopo. Piscopo was from Venice, Italy and commissioned a fire curtain with a mural depicting the city of Venice as seen from the water.

Fire Curtain, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

According to an account in the Laconia Daily Sun, the fire curtain dropped on its own during the renovation. It had been stuck up, and no one wanted to move it out of fear of damaging it.

When the 1,400-seat Colonial opened, it showed a mixture of stage shows, photoplays, and vaudeville. The opera “Il Trovatore” was performed at the theater by the Boston English Opera Company on April 6, 1915. In September 1916, the theater joined Charles H. Waldron’s Amusement Enterprises circuit, and was known as Waldron’s Colonial Theatre. Waldron advertised it as “Playing only First Class Attractions.” Vaudeville and silent film star Willie Collier Jr. performed at the Colonial on February 28, 1918. With the decline of vaudeville in the late 1920s/early 1930s, the theater switched to primarily showing motion pictures.

Ticket Booth, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

The theater’s ticket booth.

The world premiere of “Return to Peyton Place”, a film set in a fictional New Hampshire town starring Carol Lynley and Jeff Chandler, was held at the Colonial in 1961. In 1983, the auditorium was multiplexed with the balcony and orchestra sections divided into four separate screens with a fifth screen in the former stage area. Fortunately, much of the original architecture, as well as the fire curtain, were preserved behind the new dividing walls. In August 2002 the Colonial closed after 87 years. It was last used as a combination pizza place and movie theater.

Projection Booth, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

This projection booth was added during the multiplexing in 1983. The door on the left leads to the original projection booth.

On June 15, 2015, the City of Laconia announced they had partnered the Belknap Economic Development Council (BEDC) on a $15 million package to purchase, restore and reopen the Colonial Theatre as well as redevelop the retail space and the 14 apartments in the building. BEDC created a limited liability corporation, 609 Main Street, LLC, to run a capital campaign to cover some of the cost of restoring the building. The first part of rehabilitation began in March 2016 when the partitions that divided the auditorium into four screens was removed. When the restoration is complete, the theater will be a multi-use performing arts center with 750 seats, with 450 in the orchestra level and 300 in the balcony.

Orchestra level, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH.

View of the auditorium from the side of the orchestra level.

Lobby, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

The lobby of the theater remained the same throughout its various incarnations.

Box Seats, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

View of the auditorium from the boxed seats.

Proscenium arch, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

The strip of metal in the center of the mural is from when the balcony was divided in two in 1983.

An Acre of Seats in a Palace of Decay

Auditorium, California Theatre – San Diego, CA.

Hi Everyone!

I’ll be exhibiting some of my work at the Wall Gallery at Percival Brewing Company. It’s located at 83 Morse Street, Norwood, MA starting on December 14 and running to January 24, 2020.  There’s going to be an opening reception on Dec 14 from 2-4 PM. Hope to see some of you there!

Almost all of the work I’m exhibiting will be on metal. Metal Prints are created by infusing a digital photograph onto raw aluminum, and the result is an image that almost jumps out at you. I’m not going to share them here because the screen and my iPhone shot doesn’t do them justice.

Ok, maybe just one.

Also, if you’re looking to order a copy of my new book, After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theatresfrom me directly in time for Christmas please place your order by December 15th.

Happy Holidays! – Matt

Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace

I’m going to be in a movie! I was interviewed in the lobby of the Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, NJ in 2016 for a documentary on the history of the American Movie Palace. I spoke with the director, April Wright, for at least an hour, and some of my ramblings made it into the finished film (and the trailer below.)

I was able to view a rough cut of the film at the Million Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles during the Theatre Historical Society Conclave in 2017, and really enjoyed it (I’m probably a bit biased.) If you’d like to see the film here’s some upcoming screening dates and locations:

Oct. 4: Mystic Film Festival, The Garde Arts Center in New London, CT
Oct 16 & 18: Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, IN
Oct. 20: Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA
Oct 23 – 27: Lake Placid Film Festival in Lake Placid, NY
Oct. 24: Los Angeles Premiere at Laemmle Fine Arts in Beverly Hills, CA
Oct. 25 – 31: Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills, CA
Oct. 28 – 29: Laemmle Claremont in Claremont, CA
Oct 28 – 29: Laemmle Playhouse in Pasadena, CA
Oct 28-29: Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles, CA
Oct 28-29: Laemmle Town Center in Encino, CA
Nov 8-10: Centre Film Festival in Philipsburg, PA

I’ll be appearing at the Somerville, Lake Placid Film Festival, and the Centre Film Festival to promote the film. Some of my work will be exhibited, and depending on the location there will be a short talk/ Q&A.

Here’s the synopsis for the film:

“Other countries built palaces for royalty, in the United States we built them to watch movies.

The 100 year history of how the American movie experience evolved so quickly from nickelodeons to the studio system and huge movie palaces of the teens and twenties and their eventual decline through present day including current preservation efforts.

What started as individual entertainment in penny arcades moved to a shared experience in nickelodeons.  Next, when movies evolved from a lower class entertainment to mainstream, large movie palaces were built and the studio system grew in the teens and twenties.  All of the grand movie palaces were built in a very compressed period of time between approximately 1915 with many converting from Vaudeville, through the early 30s. The addition of sound spawned the golden age of cinema in the 30’s in these architecturally gorgeous theaters in metropolitan areas which thrived as an escape from the great depression.

After World War II, television became popular and single screen theaters followed on main streets everywhere as a result of suburban sprawl and the baby boom.  This led to a sharp decline in the downtowns of American cities. The classic theatres were too large and expensive to maintain.  By the 70’s they tried to survive with exploitation films and alternative programming.  Often these palaces were split or multiplexed.  But more often, they closed, and were allowed to decay. In a country that is synonymous with the film industry, we have allowed our history to be lost as we’ve demolished many of our country’s palaces.

But many individuals have worked tirelessly to preserve, restore and maintain this piece of history so it can be enjoyed by future generations.  However, many still stand in the balance, waiting for the funds to bring these landmarks back to life. “

https://www.goingattractions.com

Queens Theatre – Queens Village, NY

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

The Queens Theatre opened on December 29, 1927 opened in the Queens Village neighborhood of Queens, NY. It was designed by architect R. Thomas Short, who also designed the nearby Prospect Theatre in Flushing, for the Century Theatre Circuit. Morris Rosenthal, who managed the Majestic Theatre in Bridgeport, CT, was brought on as the theater’s manager. The 2,500 seat theater opened with a performance by The Happiness Boys, a popular radio act, and for the first year showed a combination of vaudeville and silent pictures. 

View of the auditorium ceiling from the stage.

In January 1929 Vitaphone, an early form of talking movies, was installed. The switch from vaudeville and silent films did not go over well with the regular patrons, and they threatened to go to another theater. Rosenthal, the manager of the Queens, got a permit to hang a banner in front of the theater that said “Sound Talkies – See and hear!” along with a catchy phrase about the upcoming film to help drive traffic into the theater. On September 13, 1938 projectionist Solomon Schulman killed Nat Klein in the Queen’s projection booth during a screening of “The Devil’s Party.” Klein was a former projectionist’s assistant. Schulman claimed that Klein failed to get a job at a different theater, blamed Schulman, and attacked him with a fire extinguisher. Schulman was convicted of second degree manslaughter and sentenced to 5-10 years at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, NY.

The main floor of the lobby was almost completely gutted during the late 2000s.

The Queens closed on March 1, 1974 after a showing of “Last Tango in Paris” starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider. According to Joseph Wickman of Century Theatres, the Queens had been losing money for years, and only filled 150 of the 2000 seats during the final showing.  Later that year, Louis Diaz reopened the theater as an independent house. He started showing first run films, then switched to Spanish language films, then Spanish language XXX films, and by 1976 English language XXX films. A Queens based group called the “Coalition for Decency” began to picket the theater, and eventually sat down with Diaz and asked him to stop showing XXX films. He declined, but did stop putting up posters for films outside the theater. In July 1976 Diaz was charged with promoting obscenity for showing the pornographic films “The Taking of Christina” and “Little Sisters.” He plead guilty and was fined $1,500. He was charged again the following year, and this time the films and the projector’s lenses were seized. The case was eventually dismissed, and the theater continued showing XXX films until it closed February 1989. 

The interior of the theater was very similar to the now demolished Prospect Theatre in Flushing, NY.

In July 1990, the Queens was renovated and reopened as a performing arts center. Marty Oser, who was behind the renovation, hoped that the lack of venues between Manhattan and Long Island would give the Queens a chance. Kool and the Gang, The Marshall Tucker Band, David Brenner, Waylon Jennings, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Ace Frehley, and Jerry Lee Lewis all performed at the theater during this time. However, it wasn’t very successful and it closed again in late December 1990.

A 3 manual 11 rank Opus 1569 Austin Theatre Organ was installed in the theater when it opened. It was later moved to Chaminade High School in Mineola, NY.

On October 2, 1993, the New York Deliverance Gospel Temple began holding services at the theater before purchasing it in January 1995. They sold it to the All Nations Apostolic Tabernacle (ANAT) in September 2006. ANAT closed the building and began to renovate it into a 2,500 seat second location for their rapidly growing congregation . They completed work on the building’s facade, but the interior work stalled out. Despite a few attempts to complete construction, the building was put on the market in early 2019. 

 

State Theatre – South Bend, Indiana

Auditorium, State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana

The seats were removed from the auditorium when it was converted into a nightclub.

Billed in early newspaper advertisements as “The Pride of South Bend,” the 2,500 seat State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana opened on January 29, 1921 as the Blackstone Theatre. Construction lasted for 16 months and cost $500,000 ($6.7 million when adjusted for inflation). Henry L. Newhouse — an architect known for many theaters in the Chicago area — designed the building with a neoclassical exterior and a beaux-arts interior. Unlike many other theaters built during this time, the State did not have one traditional balcony; instead, it had tiered seating in the rear of the auditorium, and two small balconies on either side, beginning at the organ chamber and ending over the third tier seating section. Designed for silent motion pictures and vaudeville shows, the opening day feature was the silent film “Once to Every Woman,” starring Dorothy Phillips and a then-unknown Rudolph Valentino.

Auditorium as seen from the stage of the State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana

View of the auditorium from the stage.

The Blackstone began to fall behind the times after the Colfax and Granda Theatres opened in 1927 and 1928, which both offered talking pictures. Rather than also show talking pictures and compete with the new theaters, the Blackstone Theatre stopped showing films and changed to burlesque. This was likely due to the cost of purchasing and installing the equipment required to show talking pictures. However, the City Government didn’t approve of burlesque shows, and Chester P. Montgomery, the Mayor of South Bend at the time, ordered the theater closed in early October 1929. It was taken over by the Publix (Paramount) chain who repainted the interior, reupholstered the seats, and reopened it on Christmas Day 1929 as the State Theatre. 

Exterior of the State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana

The exterior of the State was designed in the neoclassical architecture style. A shootout between the police and John Dillinger in 1934 allegedly left bullet holes on the theater’s marquee and terra cotta facade.

Like many other theaters, the State was used for a range of events other than showing films including; school graduations, closed circuit telecasts and beauty pageants. The State closed again on November 3, 1977 due to declining attendance. In 1980, a crew from the Victorian Supply Company of Little Rock, Arkansas removed the 17-panel stained glass dome from the auditorium. The stained glass was taken back to Arkansas and refurbished for a prospective buyer — a restaurant owner from Dallas, Texas.

Auditorium as seen from one of the small balconies.

View of the auditorium from one of the small balconies.

The building passed through a number of owners in the 1980s and 1990s before it was purchased for $20,000 by the Watseka Theatre Corp. Watseka made $500,000 in repairs to the building, and reopened it as a second run movie theater on March 25, 1993. However, it couldn’t compete with local multiplexes and in October 1996, it changed formats and became a live music venue and nightclub. It closed again in 2005. The State was purchased by Banko Capitol, a real estate investment firm, and reopened as a performing arts center and cultural center in the Spring of 2013. After operating infrequently it closed again in September 2016 after the theater was sold at a county auction due to unpaid taxes. A grassroots organization called “Save the State Theatre SB” was formed by an Indiana University South Bend student in early 2019 to try and raise the funds to purchase and reopen the theater.

The Projection room of the State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana

The projection room is full of equipment that was likely installed during the theaters stint as a second run movie theater in the 1990s. The film on the platform was 1997’s Starship Troopers.

The lobby of the State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana

Like many large theaters of the era, the State had its own orchestra, the 17-piece Blackstone Symphony Orchestra, which was led by 21-year-old Angelo Vitale, one of the youngest band leaders in America at the time.

Organ Chamber in the auditorium of the State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana

The organ chamber, which once held pipes for the theater’s Kimball organ, is now filled with a large speaker.

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.