I just received copies of my upcoming book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater! I can’t wait for all of you to see it. It comes out this November and is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and manyother bookstores.
I’ll be announcing some live events as we get closer to the book’s release date. Stay tuned!
Post 3 in the SnapshotSeries – Occasionally in my travels I come across a theater that I can’t find a lot of information on, or that I only have a chance to photograph for an hour or two. They’re still beautiful and fascinating, so they definitely have a place on After the Final Curtain.
Originally billed as the “Pride of the East Side,” the Hollywood Theatre, located in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, opened on March, 11 1926. It was operated by the Mayer and Schneider (M&S) Circuit, and designed by architect Harrison G. Wiseman, who is also known for the nearby Village East Cinemas. According to an account in the Motion Picture News, the crowd on opening night was so large that the police had to cordon the entrance prevent them from storming the theater. The opening was attended by a number of that era’s stars of stage and screen including; George Walsh, Wally Van, Julia Faye, and Edna Purviance.
The 1,303 seat theater was later managed by RKO and Loew’s Inc. before closing in 1959. After the theater closed, the orchestra level of the auditorium and the lobby were converted into separate retail spaces. The former orchestra level became a series of grocery stores, beginning with a Pioneer Supermarket in 1960. In early 2012, it was announced that the East Farms Supermarket, the latest tenant to occupy the space, would close and the building would be demolished to make way for an eight-story condo building with retail space on the main floor. Demolition began in 2014, and the new building is scheduled to open in the winter of 2016.
Originally known as the Alician Court Theatre, the Fox Theatre in Fullerton, California opened on May 28, 1925. Raymond Kennedy of the Meyer & Holler Architectural firm was commissioned by C. Stanley Chapman to design the theater. Meyer & Holler are also known for designing Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The 1,095 seat Fox was designed in the Italian Renaissance architectural style and had six large California-themed murals – painted by Anthony Heinsbergen – on the auditorium walls. It cost $300,000 to build the theater in 1925, which is $4,082,000 when adjusted for inflation. The complex also included retail spaces, one of which was originally occupied by a tea room run by Alice Chapman, the owner’s wife.
Like most theaters at the time, the Fox was built to be a vaudeville and silent movie theater. The Fox opened with a showing of Luna-cy!, an early 3D film, and Dick Turpin starring Tom Mix as the feature presentation.Julius Johnson accompanied the films on the Marr and Colton Concert Organ, Conductor Bayard Fallas led the orchestra and J. Charles Thamer served as the Master of Ceremonies.
Four years later in 1929, “talkies,” or motion pictures with sound, were becoming more and more prevalent. New sound equipment was installed for $35,000 to allow the theater to show Movietone News, Photophone and Vitaphone, which were the three major types of talking films at the time. On February 17, 1929, Give and Take, starring Jean Hersholt and George Sidney, was the first talking motion picture shown at the Fox. The following year even more upgrades were installed including a larger screen, more new sound equipment and a new marquee. Doughboys, starring Buster Keaton, was shown at the grand reopening in 1929.
The Fox went through a number of name changes through the years. It opened as the Alician Court Theatre, then became the Mission Court Theatre, Universal Mission Court Theatre, Fox Mission Theatre and finally the Fox Fullerton Theatre, which it remains today. A number of celebrities made personal appearances at the Fox to promote their films, including Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Janet Gaynor, Dolores Del Rio, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Jayne Mansfield. The Fox was modernized again in 1955 with the installation of a Cinemascope screen. The Cinemascope screen ran from wall-to-wall, and some of the decorative plasterwork surrounding the stage had to be removed to accommodate it. In 1962, the National General Corporation took over the theater, and had the murals in the auditorium painted over.
After a showing of Angel Heartstarring Mickey Rourke, The Fox closed in 1987 and remained dark for almost twenty years. It was scheduled to be demolished in 2004 to make way for a five-storey apartment building, but was saved by the Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation (FHTF), which was formed in 2001 to acquire and restore the theater. They officially took ownership in 2005, and the following year helped add the theater to the National Register of Historic Places. The city of Fullerton started to show films in the theater’s back parking lot in 2005 in an effort to help raise funds for the restoration. In 2015, Evergreene Architectural Arts, an Award-Winning Decoration & Restoration firm, replicated the original design elements on the auditorium ceiling as part of the restoration efforts.* At the same time, the “FOX FULLERTON” sign, which was removed for restoration in 2013, was reinstalled. The FHTF held a 90th birthday party for the the theater in May 2015 to unveil the restored ceiling and the reinstalled sign. In February 2016, a coffee shop opened in one of the refurbished retail spaces. The monthly rent from the shop will go towards the building’s restoration which is estimated to cost $26 million dollars, and $14 million has been spent as of 2016.
*These photographs were taken before the restoration of the auditorium ceiling.
Remember in the last post how I said I had an announcement I was going to keep secret for the moment? Well, here it is – Jonglez Publishing is going to be publishing a book featuring my photography of abandoned theaters!
After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater consists of 24 theaters from New York to California, including some that have never been posted on this site.
I’m excited to announce that I’ll once again be partnering with photographer/founder of Abandoned America, Matthew Christopher for photo workshops in 2016!
First, we will be returning to the Victory Theatre in Holyoke, MA on April 9, 2016. The Victory Theatre opened on December 30, 1920 and closed 58 years late on December 15, 1978. It is currently owned by the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts, who plan to renovate the theater and reopen it as a performing arts center. Past workshops have generated over $4000 for MIFA.
We will also be returning to the Variety Theatre in 2016. The details for that workshop will be announced at a later date.
The Variety opened on November 24, 1927 and after a number of different uses (including a wrestling gym called the Cleveland Wrestleplex) closed in the late 1980s. The building was purchased by the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre on June 12, 2009, and they plan to restore the theater as a multi-use venue.
The Moreland Theatre opened on January 12, 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. It was designed by the local architectural firm of Braverman & Havermaet for A. T. (Adolph) Wallach, a real estate entrepreneur. The 1,296 seat theater is located in the Buckeye neighborhood, which had the largest concentration of Hungarian immigrants in the country at the time the theater was constructed. A press release for the opening of the theater describes it as having, “the most modern system of indirect side lighting,…newest type of projection machines,…and every facility and resource to contribute to the complete enjoyment of its patrons.” The Moreland cost $300,000 to build, equal to a $4,156,421 budget today when adjusted for inflation.
Originally built for vaudeville and silent films, the Moreland was part of the Universal-Variety circuit and opened with, The Cat and the Canary, starring Laura LaPlante. The film was accompanied by a live performance by George Williams and his band, the music box Merrymakers. Larry Jean Fisher, “The Texas Organist,” played the $40,000 Kimball organ throughout the opening night. The owners made sure to program for the theater’s Hungarian community soon after opening by scheduling the Hungarian Elite Mixed Choir, who performed in March 1928.
In October 1929, theater operator Paul Gusdanovic took over the Moreland Theatre. He already had a partnership interest in the Regent Theatre, which was located a few blocks away from the Moreland. Gusdanovic began jointly operating them, but was forced to close the Moreland in December due to the Stock Market crash of 1929. He reopened it a few times showing primarily Hungarian films as well as hosting community events.
The G&P Amusement Company of Cleveland acquired the lease to the Moreland in 1937. They remodeled the theater, adding a new RCA sound system, and began showing daily double features of Hollywood films. However, G&P ran into problems early on as they faced competition from the Gusdanovic’s Regent Theatre and the newly opened Colony Theatre in Shaker Square.In March 1949, G&P filed suit against the owners of the Regent, along with four other studios — 20th Century Fox, Loew’s, Warner Bros and Universal Studios — claiming that the Gusdanovic conspired with the studios to ruin the Moreland.G&P were eventually forced to close the theater in 1950. The Cleveland District Court ruled against G&P in 1952 — the judge said that the neighborhood could not support two theaters. G&P appealed the decision to the Sixth Court of Appeals who upheld the lower court’s decision.
The Moreland opened, closed and reopened throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. It was remodeled into a musical dinner theater in 1963 by Gerard Gentile, William Boehm and Eugene Woods. The trio had experience in theaters in the Cleveland area and were determined to revitalize the Moreland. It opened as Players Theatre Café in January 1964. Once again, the reopening was short lived and the theater closed in April 1964. It reopened again as the Beach Party Room in July 1967, with three inches of sand and artificial palm trees in the auditorium to help give the illusion that patrons were attending a party on the beach.This venture only lasted four months, after which it was turned into a dance club called “Second Shadow Lounge” in October 1967. This too did not last very long, and the theater became a Hungarian playhouse in June 1969. By 1975 the theater was closed again, and three years later it was sold to the Church of God in Christ (CGC). CGC became the theater’s longest tenant, using the building as a worship space for almost thirty years.
The CGC sold the theater in 2007 to the Buckeye Area Development Corporation (BADC), a not-for-profit community development corporation serving the area. BADC planned to restore the theater as a cultural center, but have yet to raise the estimated $6.1 million needed to renovate the building.
The Varsity Theater in Evanston, IL opened on Christmas Eve in 1926. It was designed by Chicago architect John E. O. Pridmore, who is also known for the nearby Vic Theatre. Clyde Elliot, an Evanston native who had worked in Hollywood before returning to his hometown to open the theater, commissioned it. Upon opening the 2,500 seat Varsity was one of the largest neighborhood theatres in the Chicago area, and the largest in Evanston beating the nearby Coronet, Hoyburn, New Campus, and Valencia Theatres.
An Atmospheric theatre, the Varsity was designed to give the illusion that you were sitting in a courtyard under the night sky and in the case of the Varsity it was the courtyard of a French Royal Chateau. The side walls featured marble imported from Italy, and the stage area resembled a lowered drawbridge. As with otheratmospherictheatres, it also featured small twinkling lights in the ceiling to give the appearance of stars, with clouds projected across the ceiling from projectors located on both sides of the auditorium.
The Varsity opened with with a short serial “The Collegians” and the feature “Man of the Forest” which starred Jack Holt and Georgia Hale. In the early 1930’s the theater became part of the Balaban & Katz theatre chain, which was controlled by the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, a forerunner of Paramount Pictures. A Geneva organ was installed in the theater when it opened, and the console was painted to resemble a cottage with roof tiles made of terra cotta. As with many of its contemporaries the organ did not see much use later in the theater’s life and was eventually removed. It was acquired by Karl Werner, who installed it in his home. Werner later moved to Arizona and took the organ with him, but when he passed away his family disposed of the organ.
In the 1980’s the nearby Evanston Theater, originally known as the Stadium Theatre, was purchased by the Loews Corporation, and enlarged from a single screen to a five-screen theater. As multiplex theatres became to be the norm, single screen theaters like the Varsity struggled to stay open. The Coronet Theatre, another Evanston single screen, closed because of this in 1984, and the Varsity followed in 1988.
Almost immediately after the theater closed, the main level and lobby were gutted and turned into retail space, which is currently occupied by a Gap clothing store. In 2010, the City of Evanston received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowments for the Arts to conduct a feasibility study on reopening the Varsity as a performing arts center. In July 2011, the study concluded that given that the first floor of the theater was currently occupied by a retail store, and not available for redevelopment, that the performing arts needs of Evanston are greater than the Varsity Theatre could accommodate alone. They recommended developing a number of performing arts spaces in downtown Evanston, instead of just one central location.