United Palace (Loew’s 175th Street Theatre)

This theater is not abandoned, but I had the chance to shoot it a few years ago, and I wanted to share the images with everyone.

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony

The United Palace originally opened on February 22, 1930 as the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre. Located in the the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, the building takes up an entire city block and was designed by famed theater architect Thomas W. Lamb. (Lamb’s work can also be seen in my posts on the RKO Hamilton Theatre also in Washington Heights, and the RKO Keith’s Theatre in Flushing, Queens.) The interior decor was designed by Harold Rambusch of the Rambusch Company, who did some of the interior work on the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, the Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia and many others across the country. The theater was estimated to cost $1.25M to build in 1928 or $18.4M when adjusted for inflation. It was the first theater in Washington Heights designed specifically for talking pictures.

David W. Dunlap of the New York Times described the theater’s architectural style as “Byzantine-Romanesque-Indo-Hindu-Sino-Moorish-Persian-Eclectic-Rococo-Deco”

The 3,000 seat United Palace was the fifth and last of the theaters that became known as the “Loew’s Wonder Theatres.”  The wonder theater concept was originally developed by the Balaban and Katz Theater Corporation of Chicago to bring large movie palaces to smaller urban neighborhoods. Loew’s acquired three of Paramount’s planned wonder theaters (the Kings and Pitkin in Brooklyn and the Valencia in Queens) in a deal with the company in 1927. Each of the Loew’s Wonder Theatres originally had identical Robert Morton “Wonder” organs built specifically for them.

View of the lobby from the lobby mezzanine.

The opening day program consisted of a showing of “Their Own Desire” starring Norma Shearer and a stage show from the Capitol Theatre on Broadway.  Over the years many stars made appearances at the theater, including Judy Garland, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Joan Crawford. Loew’s closed the theater in March 1969, and later that year sold it to Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkotter II, a television evangelist, for $600,000. Rev. Ike, as he was known, turned the theater into the headquarters of his church, now called the United Palace of Spiritual Arts, often hosting his television program from the stage, and renamed the theater the United Palace.

The United Palace was the only one of the Wonder Theatres that retained its original organ. The console can be seen at the lower right side of this photo.

In 2007, the theater became a concert venue and hosted acts such as Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire, Beck and Neil Young. Xavier Eikerenkotter, Rev. Ike’s son, created a non-profit called the United Palace of Cultural Arts to turn the theater into a performing and community arts center in 2012. One year later, the United Palace held a crowdfunding campaign to purchase a 50-foot screen. The campaign was a success, and the first movie screened in the theater in over 40 years was “Casablanca” on November 17, 2013. In 2016, Lin-Manuel Miranda donated $100,000 for a new state-of-the-art digital projector that launched the campaign “Reawaken Wonder at a Timeless Movie Palace,” to raise funds for cinema-quality audio. The United Palace has also been used as a filming location for television and motion pictures in recent years. Upcoming events and more information can be found on the theater’s website at: UnitedPalace.org

The organ was removed from the building by the New York Theatre Organ Society to undergo repairs in 2017.

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After the Final Curtain 7 Year Anniversary Giveaway

Cover for After the Final Curtain; the Fall of the American Movie Theater.

I had been photographing forgotten theaters for a few years before I launched this site, but we just passed the 7 year anniversary of my first post. So to celebrate I’m giving away two signed copies of my first book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater. 

To enter just follow my twitter account: https://twitter.com/MattLambros and retweet any image I tweet during the next week.

If you don’t have a twitter account, just comment on this post to enter. Good Luck!

2018

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Happy New Year Everyone!

This year will mark the 7th anniversary of the After the Final Curtain, and with that I’m going to do something a bit different. AFtC will be going weekly in 2018! I’ve been photographing theaters much faster than I’ve been posting them, and as you can see by the image above I’ve got quite a backlog. There will be at least one new theater post a month as well as interviews, videos, updates of old blog posts, and more.

Look for the first post (The Fitchburg Theatre in Fitchburg, Massachusetts) this Thursday.

Fox Fullerton Theatre

View of the Auditorium from the balcony.
View of the Auditorium from the balcony.

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.

The Lobby of the Fox Theatre.
The Lobby of the Fox Theatre.

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.

The theater originally opened with 1,095 seats, but seating was reduced to 908 after modern seats were installed in 1955.
The theater originally opened with 1,095 seats, but seating was reduced to 908 after modern seats were installed in 1955.

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.

A close up of the proscenium arch.
A close up of the proscenium arch.

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.

Two of the six murals in the auditorium were painted over several times, and will have to be reproduced instead of restored. The remaining four murals were painted over using a water-based paint, and could be restored.
Two of the six murals in the auditorium were painted over several times, and will have to be reproduced instead of restored. The remaining four murals were painted over using a water-based paint, and could be restored.

After a showing of Angel Heart starring 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.

The Fox is one of only three courtyard theaters designed by the Meyer and Holler architectural firm.
The Fox is one of only three courtyard theaters designed by the Meyer and Holler architectural firm.
It was the largest motion picture theater in Orange County, CA when it opened in 1925.
It was the largest motion picture theater in Orange County, CA when it opened in 1925.
View of the auditorium from the stage.
View of the auditorium from the stage.
The theater was one of the first to show talking motion pictures in Orange County, CA.
The theater was one of the first to show talking motion pictures in Orange County, CA.
Murals painted by artist John Gabriel Beckman adorn the ceiling of this room.
Murals painted by artist John Gabriel Beckman adorn the ceiling of this room.
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A close up of one of the murals.

 

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*These photographs were taken before the restoration of the auditorium ceiling.

Loew’s Valencia Theatre

This theater is not abandoned, but I had the chance to shoot it late last year, and I wanted to share the images with everyone.

View from the main level of the auditorium.
View from the main level of the auditorium.

In the early 1920s, the Paramount-Publix theater chain planned to open five theaters in the New York City area. However, in December of 1927 those plans were put on hold due to an agreement with the Loew’s Corporation. The agreement stated that Loew’s would not open any new theaters in Chicago, and Paramount would not open any more in New York. The plans for four of the theaters were then turned over to the Loew’s Corporation. Two years later on January 12, 1929, The Loew’s Valencia Theatre opened in Jamaica, Queens, and became the first of the five Loew’s “Wonder” theaters.

Continue reading “Loew’s Valencia Theatre”

Snapshot: Empress Theatre

Post 3 in the Snapshot Series  – 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

The remains of the Empress Theatre's proscenium arch.
The remains of the Empress Theatre’s proscenium arch.

The Empress Theatre opened in 1927 in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The 1,595 seat theater was built by architect Charles A. Sandblom, who is also known for the Gramercy Theater in Manhattan. Originally part of the Century Circuit, the theater became part of the RKO circuit in 1929.

Continue reading “Snapshot: Empress Theatre”

Popcorn Palaces

Loew’s Majestic Theatre Bridgeport, CT

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve joined the creative team of Popcorn Palaces, an upcoming documentary that will cover the rise, fall and rebirth of some of America’s greatest theaters!

“Once upon a time, the theatre in which you saw a movie could be just as special as the movie itself. The theatres that America built in the 20s and 30s were extravagant, exotic fantasies designed to transport the audience into another world. The show started on the sidewalk the moment you saw the theatre’s towering sign, outlined in thousands of flashing, chasing lights, spelling out the words PARAMOUNT or FOX or LOEW’S. You had found your way to an acre of seats in a garden of dreams. “Popcorn Palaces” will not only be a celebration of America’s moviegoing legacy, it will also be the story of how theatres today are striving to develop new audiences. Long before there was a multiplex or HBO or Netflix, the ritual of going to the movies provided us with a gateway to a new and deeper understanding of ourselves and our world. Today theatres are priceless resources that are bringing new vitality and civic pride to our cities. Far from seeing themselves as a club for the aged, historic theatres have made educational outreach programs central to their mission. Theatres are part of our past. They are also a vital part of our future.”

Please check out the Popcorn Palaces website at: www.popcornpalaces.com and be sure to like them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/popcornpalaces

Unfortunately, due to the death of Wally Coberg, the mind behind Popcorn Palaces, in 2011 the project was cancelled.

The Newark Paramount Theatre

The Paramount is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.

View of the Paramount Theatre from the balcony.

The Paramount Theatre opened on October 11, 1886 as H.C. Miner’s Newark Theatre. It was originally a vaudeville house managed by Hyde & Behman Amusement Co., a Brooklyn based theater Management Company. After H.C. Miner’s death in 1900, his surviving relatives retained ownership of the theater for several years until its sale in 1916 to Edward Spiegel, the owner of the nearby Strand Theatre. Spiegel also purchased the building next to the theater with the intent to use the space to expand the theater. To accomplish this he hired famed theater architect Thomas W. Lamb to do the alterations.

Continue reading “The Newark Paramount Theatre”

The Paramount Theatre – Youngstown, Ohio

The Paramount is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.

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The Liberty Theatre opened on February 11, 1918 in Youngstown, Ohio. It was designed by architect C. Howard Crane, later known for designing the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan.  The 1,800 seat Liberty opened as a vaudeville theater, and was managed by C.W. Diebel.  Diebel’s father had built a theater on the same lot as the Liberty, but it was demolished to make way for what would become the Paramount Theatre. According to an account in the Motion Picture News, the theater cost $500,000 to build (or $8.8 million when adjusted for inflation.)

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The main level of the Paramount Theatre.

The exterior of the building was constructed with white glazed terra cotta, and the interior was decorated in the Adamesque style. Due to the Liberty’s wartime construction, it was very difficult to get the steel required for the framework. In 1929 the Liberty was purchased by Paramount Pictures and renamed the Paramount Theatre. Paramount Pictures spent $200,000 modernizing the building and installing a sound system so the theater could show sound films (or ”talkies”). The Paramount thrived for more than 50 years before closing in 1976. The theater reopened for two days in late 1984 to host “Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. Steel Mill Movie Day.” People were given a short brief on the current state of the steel industry, a tour of the theater, and shown a film about the mill.

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In April 2006 Grande Venues, Inc. purchased the Paramount.  They planned to reuse it by adding a dance hall on the main floor and a one- or two-screen movie theater in the balcony. However, the restoration plans were never applied and the building was purchased by the city of Youngstown in 2011.

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The Paramount Project, a group working to reuse the building in some capacity, wanted to save the facade for a small restaurant, and construct an amphitheater where the auditorium was located. However, two separate studies found that if the walls of the theater were removed, the facade would likely collapse. It would cost between 1.3 and 1.6 million dollars to shore the facade enough to survive the demolition. Due to the cost, the Paramount Project walked away from the building and in July 2013 it was demolished. The city turned the space into a parking lot.

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The organ pipes were stored on the stage after the theater closed. They disappeared shortly before demolition.

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View of the auditorium from the balcony.

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Kenosha Theatre

The Kenosha is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.

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View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

The Kenosha Theatre opened on September 1st, 1927. It was designed by Larry P. Larson, an architect from the mid-western United States. The theater cost $750,000 ($10,220,301 when adjusted for inflation) and was financed by United Studios of Chicago. It was commissioned by Carl Laemmle, a Wisconsin native and one of the founders of Universal Studios. The 2300-seat theater was built to resemble the Alcazar castle in Segovia, Spain, which is rumored to be the inspiration behind Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World.

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Much of the blue ceiling was destroyed when the roof was replaced in the mid-1990s.

An atmospheric theater, the auditorium ceiling was painted a dark navy blue and covered with lights that were meant to look like stars. This gave patrons the illusion that they were sitting in a courtyard under the night sky while watching a film. Larson took it a step further than most of his contemporaries when it came to the layout of the ‘stars’ and arranged them with data from the department of astronomy at the University of Wisconsin.

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Lobby staircase leading to the balcony.

Like many early 20th century theaters, the Kenosha opened as a vaudeville and silent film house. The opening program included a vaudeville act called “Dear Little Rebel” and a silent film, “The Irresistible Lover”. The Kenosha began showing ‘talking pictures’ when a Vitaphone system was installed in February 1927. Vitaphone was the only commercially successful sound-on-disc system for showing motion pictures with sound. The sound was on phonograph or vinyl records and was synced to the film by special turntables attached to the projectors. Like other theaters of this era, the Kenosha often held contests and giveaways to encourage customers to return. In July of 1928 the theater offered free airplane flights to its patrons. You could sign up to take a free flight with a licensed pilot as long as you saw a film at the theater.

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Some fallen pieces of plaster are being stored in the theater’s lobby so they can be used in the eventual restoration.

On December 18, 1928 eight men broke into the Kenosha Theatre, tied up the night watchman and cracked open the safe in the office, stealing $1,022 in cash and $720 in gift-ticket books. Alexander Dotz, the night watchman, confessed the following day that the robbery was an ‘inside job’ and that he planned the heist with his co-conspirators at a roadhouse the day before took place. He also revealed that his brother, a police officer, who had watched the robbery from the balcony, was planning on arresting the men but chickened out at the last minute. Both brothers testified in court that they had been forced to participate in the robbery due to repeated threats from the ringleader, Angelo Tarello. The Dotz Brothers were each sentenced to 16-20 years in the Green Bay Reformatory.

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View of the auditorium from the rear of the balcony.

Warner Bros, who took over the theater in 1929, closed the Kenosha Theatre in March of 1933 along with six other theaters in the area. Sol J. Hankin, general manager for Warner Bros is quoted as saying, “We may keep the theaters closed for a year, maybe less, maybe more, maybe forever. General economic conditions are the chief cause for their closing, but I can say that we do not believe there was the proper amount of cooperation from union labor”. Hankin cited that motion picture operators refused a reduction in salary that other theater employees had received. The Kenosha was reopened the following year after it was acquired by Standard Theatres, Inc.

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A close up of the theater’s proscenium arch.

Many Hollywood stars performed live at the Kenosha, including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Lawrence Welk and the Three Stooges. It closed on April 21, 1963, 36 years after it opened. Standard Theatres Inc. sold the theater with a stipulation in the deed that it could not be used as a theater for 30 years. Standard also owned the Lake Theatre in Kenosha and did not want competition. It was later used as a warehouse and a flea market before being closed permanently. Due to years of neglect, the roof leaked badly and much of the interior was damaged by the water exposure.

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In 1983 the theater was purchased by Kenosha Theatre Development. The group repaired the storefronts and the apartments attached to the building to help generate funds towards restoration of the theater. In the mid-1990s a new roof was installed. This had the unfortunate effect of destroying most of the ‘starlit’ ceiling, but it was necessary to prevent further water damage. Debris from the roof covered the main floor and it took volunteers three years to remove it all. It’s estimated that the theater will cost $24 million to restore.

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Entryway to the auditorium from the lobby.