The Pantheon Theatre in Vincennes, Indiana opened on May 15, 1921. John Bayard, a local architect designed the theater for owners Louis A. Wilkerson and A.M. Lyons. It cost $225,000 to build, or roughly $3.2 million when adjusted for inflation. The 1,500 seat theater had a Typhoon air cooling and ventilating system, a precursor to air conditioning, which was powered by three very large fans in the ceiling. The opening of the theater was originally supposed to take place on March 15, 1921, but it was delayed two months due to some plaster falling from the underside of the balcony.
In 1923, Wilkerson-Lyons Enterprises sold the Pantheon Theatre to the Consolidated Realty and Theatres Company (CRTC), which owned and operated theaters in several cities in Indiana, for $225,000. However, CRTC could not afford to pay, and it reverted back to the original owners two months after it was sold. Red Skelton, an American entertainer and Vincennes native who performed at the Pantheon in his youth later unsuccessfully tried to purchase the theater. The Marx Brothers, Spike Jones and Duke Ellington, Will Rogers, Roy Rogers, Hank Williams and Gene Autry also performed at the theater.
In 1961, the Pantheon closed and was converted to retail space. The orchestra level was leveled with concrete and a suspended ceiling was added to close off the balcony. A Sears department store was the first to move into the newly created space. In 2006, the building was purchased by Travis Tarrants, who planned on reopening the theater as a performing arts center. Tarrants formed a non-profit organization, the Pantheon Theatre Company (PTC), and began work on the theater. The suspended ceiling was removed, and the auditorium floor was de-leveled. However, PTC relied on donations to fund the restoration of the Pantheon, and those dried up due to the recession of 2008. PTC was unable to pay the thousands of dollars in back taxes owed, and the theater was sold at a tax auction in October 2012.
The Vincennes Business and Arts Initiative (INVin), purchased the theater in December 2014. INVin made repairs to the theater, including replacing the roof, to minimize damage to the theater during the winter. In March 2016, they announced plans for the theater to become a shared work space, which would allow business owners and entrepreneurs a place to network and share resources. Steve Miller, INVin’s founder, envisions the space including training and conference facilities.
The Carolina Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina opened on March 7, 1927. It was designed by R.E. Hall as a pseudo-atmospheric theater. The interior design was made to resemble a Spanish patio, but unlike a typical atmospheric theatre with its dome ceiling painted like the night’s sky, the Carolina has a coffered ceiling with murals on the side walls depicting a Mediterranean sky. The 1,800 seat theater was part of the Publix Theatres Corporation, which later became Paramount. Publix’s motto was “One of The Publix Theatres,” meaning that each of their theaters were held to a very high standard. It was built for $600,000, or around $8,276,000 when adjusted for inflation.
In 1938 the theater was updated with new projectors, sound equipment and larger seats. As part of the renovation the original murals were replaced with new ones on acoustic tiles. The new acoustic tiles helped with film sound clarity, since the theater was built before “talkies” were the norm. It underwent another renovation in December 1961 when it became a Cinerama Theatre. Cinerama was a widescreen projection system that involved using three synchronized 35mm projectors on a very wide, curved screen. Films shown in Cinerama Theaters had programs, assigned seating, and encouraged people to dress up to see the show.
The Carolina closed on November 27, 1978 after a showing of “The Fist of Fury,” starring Bruce Lee. Almost two years later on November 13, 1980 a fire was started in the stage area. Luckily, the fire curtain was still intact and saved the auditorium from being damaged. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission designated the Carolina a historic landmark in September 1982. During the years the theater was dormant there were a few restoration proposals. One such plan was City Fair, a project that would have converted the theater into a performing arts center with conference space in between shows. The City Fair project was announced in May 1987, and work began on the theater a few months later. The developers petitioned the city to delist the theater from the national historic register because the steel beams for the restaurant portion of the complex would not fit through the lobby, so they needed it to be demolished. The city agreed and the lobby was demolished in 1988. A few months later the project came to a halt when the developers ran out of money.
In April 2013, the city of Charlotte sold the theater to the Foundation for the Carolinas for $1. The Foundation for the Carolinas (FFTC), a charitable foundation located in North Carolina whose headquarters is located adjacent to the theater, intends to renovate the theater and use it as a performing arts center. In October 2014 the Belk Family gave FFTC an $8 million dollar gift to go to the restoration of the theater. In honor of that gift the complex will named Belk Place and the theater will be known as the Carolina Theatre at Belk Place. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2017 with the theater currently slated to reopen in late 2018.
The Ritz Theatre in Carteret, New Jersey originally opened on September 1, 1927. According to an article in “The Carteret Press,” which ran the the week before the opening, “it [was] the first modern theater to be erected in the borough and is up-to-date in every respect.” The 1,000 to 1,200 seat Ritz (accounts on the number of seats differ) was designed by local architect John Gliva. It was a vaudeville and silent film house until September 1928, when a Western Electric sound apparatus was installed to allow for the showing of “talkie” films.
The theater closed on January 31, 1965, and the building was converted into a sewing factory. However, during the conversion the building was not gutted — instead, walls were built inside the auditorium, which covered and protected the ornate plasterwork. After the bakery that had been occupying the building since the 1980’s closed in 2013, the borough of Carteret took possession and discovered the protected auditorium behind the interior walls.
Carteret planned to restore and expand the Ritz into a 1,600 seat performing arts center and movie theater. In 2015, the borough received a $6 million grant from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund to be used for the new performing arts center. However, a structural survey conducted during the planning stages revealed that the cost of restoring the existing structure could be cost prohibitive. Moving forward, the borough will either demolish a portion of the theater and incorporate what remains into the new performing arts center or they will demolish the whole building and honor the Ritz in the design of the new one. The opening of the Carteret Performing Arts Center is planned for 2018, and will host live music and cultural events, off-broadway plays and comedy acts.
Thank you to everyone who came to the lecture/launch party for the book at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA! There are plans for similar events in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and even London. Details for those will be released soon. If you’d like me to come speak at your local theater or bookstore let me know!
The blog will return to regular updates on Monday November 21 with the Ritz Theatre in Carteret, NJ. Here’s a sneak peek at some theaters I recently photographed to tide you over until then.