You are invited to tour historic theatres in Indiana
Those of us who advocate for the renovation and reuse of historic theatres always learn something when we look at successfully operating vintage theatres. Sometimes, you can find them in what you think are unlikely places.
In that spirit, I would like to invite you to consider joining us June 22-27, 2010, for the Theatre Historical Society of America’s statewide tour of Indiana. (THSA tours a different area in the U.S. each year for its annual “conclave.”)
Among the 33 historic venues we will see are at least three “movie palaces.” You can see how the INDIANA (Indianapolis), EMBASSY (Fort Wayne) and PALACE (Louisville) survived the decades and have been renovated for contemporary entertainment. We will travel daily in buses as far north as South Bend, as far south as Lexington, Ky., as far west as Danville, Ill., and as far east as Richmond. You are free to roam on your own in the evenings. Indy has much to offer in the way of theatre, movies, bowling and other amusements.
In addition to the movie palaces, there are a wide variety of opera houses, cinemas, fraternal halls, ballrooms and other unique venues on the tour that really don’t fit into one category. Their diverse stories of survival and endurance are encouraging and inspiring to those of us who are working to preserve great theatres.
You may read the full conclave brochure and contemplate the registration form on the THSA web site:
What follows after the jump is the complete introduction I wrote for the current edition of Marquee magazine that covers all of the Indiana theatres we will tour. It includes a lot of personal history that explains how I came to have this interest. I’m including it here because space limitations and good editing have appropriately truncated it for Marquee.
Thank you for considering this invitation. If these kinds of thing sounds like fun to you, then I hope to see you on the bus plowing through the corn and bean fields of Indiana!
The 2010 Indiana Hoosier Heartland Conclave:
MOVIE PALACES, OPERA HOUSES, CINEMAS & MORE!
From Indy to the Sticks
Known for Boilermakers, Hoosiers, Colts, Pacers, Indy Cars and corn, the majority of the landscape of my home state is a blank spot for most tourists and TV watchers worldwide. The computer message “file not found” or “data not available” blinks in my mind when I try to picture the collective image of Indiana. It is, for many, a place in-between places that one has come from or is going to. A “flyover.”
The land of Larry Bird, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Cougar, James Dean, Eugene V. Debs, John Dillinger, “Garfield,” Gus Grissom, Presidents Harrison, Michael Jackson, Jim Jones, David Letterman, Carole Lombard, Eli Lilly, John T. McCutcheon, Bill Monroe, Wes Montgomery, Jane Pauley, Gennet Records, Florence Henderson, Cole Porter, Ernie Pyle, Dan Quayle, Orville Redenbacher, James Whitcomb Riley, the Studebakers, Billy Sunday, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Madame Walker and Wilbur Wright is not necessarily known for its theatres and designers. However, notable architects here include Alvin M. Strauss (1895 —– 1958), of Kendallville, Ind., who designed many important buildings, including the EMBASSY, PARAMOUNT and Indiana Hotel in Fort Wayne and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Facility in Auburn. Strauss collaborated with John Eberson in the design of the PARAMOUNT, Anderson, an impressive survivor.
Born 40 years earlier in Indianapolis, architect Bernard Vonnegut (1855 to 1908), grandfather of the famous writer, partnered with Arthur Bohn to design several commissions, including the ATHENAEUM. Kurt Vonnegut Sr. (1884-1956) continued the firm’s work, including the 1916 Fletcher Savings and Trust bank building that was converted to hotel use in 1996 and is our conclave headquarters. An interesting footnote, Kurt Vonnegut Sr. oversaw the moving of the 11,000-ton, 8-story Central Union Telephone Company Building in downtown Indianapolis over a period of 30 days in late 1930, without interrupting service or relocating staff. This lost, 1907 building is said to have been the biggest building ever moved.
You may ask: Why Indiana? The answer is that in its entire 41 years, Theatre Historical Society of America has not yet covered Indiana in a conclave. That is not to say that we do not have strong Hoosier ties. There have been many leading members from Indiana and occasional tours of a handful of theatres. Also, our late co-founder, editor and archive creator Bro. Andrew Corsini Fowler lived and worked in South Bend for many years. When the idea was discussed by the board, Beth Eckerty and I agreed to help host if veteran conclave planner Tom Du Buque was onboard. Our assignment is bittersweet, I feel, because we all miss and feel the absence of Chicago-area director and interior designer Joe DuciBella, with whom we executed the 2003 Chicago conclave and who died too young from cancer in 2007. I like to think that Joe would have enjoyed this presentation even if he didn’t like being in the sticks.
Indiana, much like the 2004 conclave of Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, is lucky to have so many surviving and operating theatres in its small towns. Victorian opera houses, small purpose-built movie houses, movie palaces and art deco cinemas can be found all along the way. At the same time, the capital city Indianapolis has not looked better in my lifetime. Its historic venues have been renovated and preserved, modern shopping centers and sports facilities are in the heart of downtown and its choices for hospitality are affordable and friendly.
As a native Hoosier, I cannot honestly say that all of the venues I knew as a kid were remarkable, had interesting names or can be made memorable by my prose. We saw many of our movies in the first generation of multiplexes that sprouted in the parking lots of shopping centers and malls. It’s those less remarkable boxes made of concrete blocks and drapes that make the great historic theatres that we’ve charted for this tour and other conclaves stand out so brightly for me.
Famous only for twice covering the 1993 murder trial of Susan Grund for the Peru (Ind.) Daily Tribune, I was born to loving parents, who met at the SKYDROME, where my soon to be dad was a manager. It was a drive-in on the edge of New Castle that closed and was replaced by a grocery store and K-Mart long before my memory started. We saw our cartoons and movies uptown on Main Street (really) at the CASTLE, a modest, modern 810-seat cinema with a façade that was a small work of swirly Vitrolite art when it opened in 1935. While it long outlived the earlier PRINCESS across the street, it was closed suddenly this January, leaving my hometown without a cinema for the first time since movies first came to the prairie. Dave Battas, a veteran Indiana cinema operator and the owner of a concessions supply company, reopened the CASTLE on Friday, March 26, 2010, with “How to Train Your Dragon.”
My younger sister and I helped sell concessions and clean up at the now lost ALHAMBRA, Knightstown, an imposing Odd Fellows Hall on the town square turned cinema that my grandparents Jay and Ida Mae Farmer bought, renovated and opened in 1980. It was just blocks away from the Victorian high school gymnasium made famous five years later in the movie “Hoosiers.” There were occasional trips to the SKY-VUE with grocery sacks full of buttered popcorn from home. My second theatre volunteer job was hauling wet, rotten piles of debris to the alley out of the GUYER OPERA HOUSE in Lewisville under the spell of literature teacher and thespian Dick Willis. Now, wasn’t that a proper baptism?
Our birthdays were celebrated at a Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor or at the Paramount Music Palace in Indianapolis, where the 4-manual, 42-rank Oakland, Calif. PARAMOUNT WurilTzer organ was accompanied by pizza and ice cream. Little did I know how many pieces of my puzzle where coming together there. (That pizza palace was displaced by a national chain Mexican restaurant but the organ survives at the Roaring `20s Pizza and Pipes in Ellenton, Fla.) In Chrysler High, I played alto and baritone saxophones in the Trojan Band to entertain basketball fans in “The World’s Largest and Finest High School Gymnasium,” which according to Wikipedia still reigns at 9,325 seats.
The first movie palace I entered was the INDIANA in Indianapolis for live stage plays. Though I knew there was something different about it, I didn’t know enough to say what. The big stores and tall buildings were always a thrill for the Pierce family when they went to the big city. “Naptown,” mom called it. We lived only 30 miles from the PARAMOUNT, Anderson, but never went. The first restored Hoosier theatre for me was the MADAME WALKER in Indianapolis. The exotic interior replete with monkeys perched atop the proscenium hypnotized me during a New Year’s Eve rock concert. I couldn’t believe they let people party in such a beautiful place.
There is something about “Hoosier Hospitality” that is rooted more in the south. Maybe it is the Appalachian heritage of many Indiana residents that makes their friendliness more remarkable than that of other Midwesterners. I do hope you join us for the 2010 Hoosier Heartland Conclave and see what you and THSA have been missing all of these years. And, keep our archives in mind as you wander Indiana. THSA could really benefit from having more historical information on and photographs of these great theatres.
By Andy Pierce, volunteer