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

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.

Arcade Theatre

The balcony of the Arcade Theatre in Los Angeles, California

View from the side of the balcony.

The Arcade Theatre in Los Angeles, California originally opened on September 26, 1910 as the Pantages Theatre. It was designed in the Beaux-Arts style by the Morgan & Walls architecture firm and was a part of the Pantages Vaudeville Circuit. Morgan & Walls are also known for designing the Mayan and El Capitan Theaters in Los Angeles. The location of the 1,400 seat theater helped to make downtown Los Angeles an entertainment destination, and 11 more theaters opened in the area between 1910 and 1931.

The Arcade was the first theater on the Pantages Vaudeville circuit in southern California.

Vaudeville singer and comedian Sophie Tucker appeared at the Arcade’s opening day celebration as part of her first West Coast tour. Other opening day acts included a one act pantomime called “A Hot Time in Dogville,” singer Maurice Burkhart, a musical comedy sketch by the Lelliott Brothers, and the Yalto Duo dancers. On Christmas Day 1913, an unusual wedding took place on the theater’s stage — Napoleon, a vaudeville-performing and silent film starring chimpanzee “married” Sally, another chimpanzee from the E&R Jungle Zoo. The theater closed in December of 1921 so that a photoplayer, an automatic mechanical orchestra to accompany silent films, could be installed.

Souvenir programs from the theater’s opening day were printed on silk.

Pantages sold the building in 1925 to the Dalton Brothers, who owned the nearby Folles Theater. It was renamed Dalton’s Theatre (or Dalton’s Broadway) until 1928 when the name was changed to the Arcade Theatre, after the Broadway Spring Arcade Building, which is located directly next to the theater. The Dalton Brothers renovated the Arcade in 1932, and reopened it as a burlesque house on July 30, 1932. Lou Costello (of Abbott and Costello) was one of the comedians who performed at the theater during this time.

All of the seats were removed after the theater closed in 1992.

In 1938, famed theater architect S. Charles Lee remodeled the interior of the theater, which reduced the seating to 800, changed the foyer to the Moderne style, and updated the building’s facade. On August 22, 1941 the Arcade became a Telenews Theatre, which ran newsreels from 8AM to 3AM the next day. The opening newsreel was called “This World Besieged,” and was about World War II. This change lasted only four months, and by mid-November 1941 the Arcade was back to showing feature films.

The mural in the center of the proscenium has long been painted over.

The Arcade was an independent theater in the 1960s and 1970s. In the early 1970s, keno was played at the theater every night at 8PM. Metropolitan Theatres ran the Arcade as a grindhouse (a theater that ran three or four different films on repeat) until it closed in 1992. The following year the lobby was converted into a retail space. It is currently an electronics store, and the stage is used as a storage space for the store’s inventory. There have been a few proposals to restore the theater, including one that would have it and two other theaters turned into a restaurant and multiplex complex, but none have come to pass.

Stan Laurel (of Laurel and Hardy) performed at the Arcade in 1919.

During the first burlesque show someone threw a stink bomb on stage and injured one of the dancers.

For more on the Arcade and many other Los Angeles Theatres be sure to visit: https://losangelestheatres.blogspot.com/

 

Strand and Capitol

Strand New Bedford

Strand Theatre, New Bedford, MA

Yesterday I attended a photography workshop at the Strand Theatre in New Bedford, Massachusetts hosted by Bryan Buckley of Vanishing New England. I love hosting workshops, but it was very nice to be on the other side of one this time. The Strand Theatre originally opened as the Vien Theatre in 1905, and is going to be turned into a community center in the near future.

Capitol Theatre, Fall River, MA.

While I was in the area I also visited the former Capitol Theatre in Fall River, MA. The Capitol originally opened on February 2, 1926. I believe it closed in the 1960s, but haven’t been able to verify that yet. Part of the orchestra level was converted into a bowling alley sometime after it closed.  The proscenium and organ chambers were removed so that a large steel support beam could be installed as part of the conversion.

I’ll be posting full write ups on both of these theaters very soon.

Back in the States

Royalty Cinema, Birmingham, England.

I had a fantastic time in England with the Cinema Theatre Association and wanted to share a few of the theaters I visited while I was over there. First, the Royalty Cinema in Birmingham. It opened on October 20, 1930 and closed in 1963. The cinema was then converted into a bingo hall, which closed in 2012.

Granada Cinema – Tooting, South London, England.

The Granada originally opened on September 7, 1931. It was converted into a bingo hall in 1967, and remains one today. This is one of the more impressive theaters I’ve ever visited.

Finally, we have the ABC Stoke Newington. It opened as the Savoy Cinema on October 26, 1936. It closed in 1984, and the orchestra level was converted into a snooker hall. The snooker hall closed in 2014. Current plans call for the theater to undergo an estimated  £3 million restoration and reopen as the Hackney Arts Centre in 2018.

I’ll be posting in-depth write ups of these cinemas (and more) very soon.

Fitchburg Theatre – Fitchburg, MA

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During the late 1930’s tickets cost .25 cents, except on Wednesdays when admission only cost .10 cents.

The Fitchburg Theatre in Fitchburg, Massachusetts originally opened on February 7, 1929. It was designed by architects Louis Chiaramonte and George W. Jacobs for the Maine and New Hampshire Theater Corporation (MNHTC). The construction of the theater displaced two buildings, one of which is now the Masciarelli Funeral Home, a Fitchburg Historic Landmark. MNHTC spared no expense in construction, which included a $15,000 Wurlitzer Style 190 pipe organ, large decorative tapestries for the auditorium, and a Photophone system. The 1,751-seat theater was the second theater in New England to have Photophone, a system of syncing recorded audio with motion picture.

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The Wurlitzer organ is long gone. It was removed in the 1960s.

Like many of its contemporaries, the Fitchburg Theatre had a mix of motion pictures and live (often vaudeville) performances. Its opening day program consisted of “In Old Arizona,” starring Warner Baxter, Dorothy Burgess and Edmund Lowe, five vaudeville acts (Miss Raffin’s Marvelous Troupe of Monkeys, Marie DeComa and Company, Don Romaine & Will Castle, Will Ward & Co.). Harry Rodgers played the Wurlitzer organ during the festivities. Tickets to the opening were reserved in advance and the same show was performed on February 8 and 9. Vaudeville performances continued at the theater until 1948, much longer than usual. In 1954, the theater closed for renovations. A concession stand, new marquee and updated seating were added.

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The Lobby is currently full of construction debris.

The Fitchburg Theatre closed in 1970 and reopened the following year as an adult theater. Fitchburg police raided the theater on December 31, 1973 and seized copies of “Deep Throat,” and “The Devil in Miss Jones.” More adult films were seized in subsequent raids on February 11, 1974 and July 5, 1974. The owners were fined $10,000 in August 1974 for violating Massachusetts obscenity laws.

 

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Frank Hollis, of the vaudeville team Kenney and Hollis was the first manager of the theater.

In 1975 the theater was forced to close when the city of Fitchburg refused to renew the theater’s license to show films. It was rumored that it was due to the obscenity law violations, but that was denied by Hedley Brey, the Mayor of Fitchburg at the time. Brey said it was because the owners had not complied with a city ordinance requiring the approval of the Health, Building, Fire and Police departments’ approval to show films to the public. Ben Sack Theatres, Inc. leased the theater later that year, and it reopened as the Family Theatre on July 30, 1975 with a showing of “Doc Savage: Man of Bronze.”

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Some of the original plasterwork can be seen again due to the drapes that were put up during the 1980 remodel falling down.

Live performances began again soon after it reopened, and many famous bands performed at the theater during this time, including; Rush, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Hank Snow and Freddy Fender. In 1980, the theater closed for renovations once again. This time it was triplexed with the orchestra level becoming one, and the balcony being divided into two smaller auditoriums. At the same time most of the ornate plasterwork was covered with drapes. Upon reopening the theater was renamed the Cinema-1-2-3. It closed for permanently in 1987 with a showing of “Crocodile Dundee.”

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One of the two smaller auditoriums created from the former balcony space.

A few plans to reopen the theater were proposed over the next two decades, including reopening it as a movie theater, becoming a “draft house” theater that served alcohol, and gutting the theater and turning it into a rock climbing gym. In November 2016, the main street theater block was purchased by Fitchburg State University (FSU) for $350,000. FSU have a three-phase plan to renovate and reopen the block culminating in the theater becoming a 1,600-seat performing arts space for use by the University’s theater program and community organizations.

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The second of the two balcony auditoriums.

My two books, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater, and Kings Theatre; The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Brooklyn’s Wonder Theatre are available on Amazon and bookstores worldwide. Signed copies can be purchased at my site.