November 30, 2007
Buffalo lays claim to the air conditioner, grain elevator, windshield wiper and pacemaker. It may be time to add another: The first motion picture theater.
Mitchell Mark and his younger brother, Moe, opened Vitascope Hall in the basement of Ellicott Square in October 1896. Moviegoers entered through the Marks' first-floor Edisonia Phonograph Parlor, an early penny arcade using inventions of Thomas Alva Edison’s factory.
“This is one of those very hazy areas of theater history. Really, no one can say with any certainty what was the very first purpose-built movie theater,” said Karen Colizzi Noonan, president of the Theatre Historical Society in Elmhurst, Ill., which records and preserves the history of America’s theaters.
November 26, 2007
MONTEREY, CA — The Golden State Theatre opened in 1926. At the time the ornate Moorish themed 1600 seat theatre was the biggest between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It featured modern miracles that were cutting-edge for 1926: hidden lighting that imitated a colorful sunset; an electric seat annunciator system that helped the uniformed ushers seat patrons quickly and efficiently; an emergency generator; an electric central vacuum; and an internal/external telephone system. Plush carpet led the way past dramatically oversized furniture in the Grand Lobby. Reaching the inner lobby, you were torn between visiting the elegant ladies' lounge or men’s smoker, (passing the “crying windows” installed for the viewing convenience of those with small children,) or proceeding directly to the velvet portieres guarded by the ubiquitous ushers.
As theatre attendance started to drop in the 1950s the theatre suffered the ravages affecting many theatres. The entire theatre was painted two shades of gray which obliterated its ornamentation and intricate painting scheme. In 1972 it was further altered by the addition of two additional screens in the balcony and extensive “draping” of the interior.
November 21, 2007
MENLO PARK, CA — After a year of negotiations, the Menlo Park City Council subcommittee has rejected an unpopular plan to buy and renovate the Park Theater with city money, a move that sends a would-be restorer back to the drawing board and leaves the fate of the 60-year-old landmark in question.
The Guild is the only remaining operating theater on the historic 47 mile section of El Camino Real Drive between San Francisco and San Jose. At one time there were twenty plus theaters along the scenic drive either on El Camino or within a block or two of the drive. The other theaters have either been converted to other uses or demolished.
November 19, 2007
PORTSMOUTH, OH — You can see cranes and other heavy equipment outside the brick wall of what was the Columbia Music Hall. The historic theatre burned early Sunday morning. With the federal investigators methodically removing debris, no one will venture even a remote cause of the inferno.
“The entire Fourth Street parking lot is covered with [cars and equipment from ] the state fire marshal, ATF, Portsmouth Fire Department, Portsmouth Police Department and numerous other crews working on investigation and clean up,” said Claudette Ferguson, the now former sound engineer of the Music Hall. “They are removing any and all burned metal [and debris] from the shell of the Columbia by way of the crane and the huge bucket.”
On Wednesday, November 14, Ferguson was visited by members of the ATF. They interviewed her for about two hours. As confirmed by prior ATF fire investigations, Ferguson said, “they will be here until they find out the cause and if the cause is arson, they will continue to stay until they find the individual responsible.”
As the investigation continues, “the owners and the town are hopeful for a healing and rebuilding of the area and of the Columbia,” Ferguson said. “It’s so nice to know that there are other who care as much about our little theatre as we do.”
You can read more info on the Columbia fire at Huntington News.
UPDATE 11/20: Huntington News lists arson as cause of fire.
Photo courtesy of Claudette Ferguson
CARBONDALE, IL — The Varsity Theater will soon have a new owner, and a new purpose.
According to the Southern Illinoisan, Kerosotes Theaters has agreed to donate the theater to the City of Carbondale.
Mayor Brad Cole announced Tuesday that Kerasotes Theatres is going to donate the Varsity Theater at 418 S. Illinois Avenue “to the community,” and the building “will be available to become the permanent home of The Stage Company and likely other not-for-profit organizations such as Carbondale Community Arts.”
Cole said the theater closed in June 2003, a few months after he began serving his first mayoral term, and “there was much discussion about what could then go into that building to preserve its place in Carbondale, particularly its place in Carbondale’s downtown history.”
The theater will be renovated and used as a performance venue for local theater groups. The theater was closed in 2003 when a new multiplex opened at a nearby mall.
November 16, 2007
A Wall Street Journal article(link to close to non-subscribers soon) discusses the hopes for Los Angeles' Broadway.
Along Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, the Tower Theater helped usher in the era of “talking pictures” in 1927, and the Los Angeles Theatre hosted the 1931 premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s classic film “City Lights.” Albert Einstein accompanied the star to the gala, while Great Depression victims stood in line for bread across the street.
But unlike the Broadway of New York City, where — when stagehands aren’t on strike — throngs arrive in tour buses to see “Mamma Mia” or “A Chorus Line,” the 12 theaters in L.A.’s version of the Great White Way have long been neglected and sit mostly unused.
The baroque and gothic venues, built between 1910 and 1931 for vaudeville acts and movies, line a six-block stretch that today is a melange of retail marts, check-cashing outlets and bridal shops. Two theaters serve as churches, and another has become a flea market. This street teems with activity by day but largely empties at dusk.
For the first time in decades, though, there is hope that the city’s faded theater district can be revived — as a broader renaissance of downtown Los Angeles takes hold.
November 14, 2007
PAXTON, IL — A fire Tuesday morning completely destroyed the historic Paxton Majestic Theatre building, which included the theater space and apartments on the upper floor. Firefighters from six area departments fought the blaze, and were able to save nearby buildings from destruction. No one was injured in the fire. By later Tuesday afternoon, firefighters were still on the scene, as the remains of the theater continued to smoke. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to the state fire marshal’s office.
The Paxton Majestic, also known as the New Paxton, Paxtonian and Majestic Theatre, originally opened in 1913, in a building dating to the 19th century. It was last used in 2005 for live theatrical stage productions.
Paxtonians are shocked and mourning the loss of a Paxton landmark. Says Rhonda Blackford, who works across the street from the theater building at a florist, “It was just so sad to see something so historical go up so fast”.
For more information (and a photo of the burning theater), see this story in the News-Gazette.
November 13, 2007
PORTSMOUTH, OH — Fire destroyed the 1912 Columbia Theatre in Portsmouth, Ohio, early Sunday morning. The theatre had been renovated as a music venue and was operating as the Columbia Music Hall. Although the owners have vowed to rebuild, the entire roof has been destroyed. The ATF will be investigating, although the fire has not yet been labeled suspicious.
A large portion of the last remaining former single screen downtown movie theatre burned early Sunday morning, Nov. 11. Four fire departments battled flames starting around 3 a.m.
The Columbia Theatre, 832 Gallia Street, which had been renovated over the course of five years at a cost in the millions, became the Columbia Music Hall in 2006. The Music Hall suffered extensive damage particularly to the stage area, according to Robert Forrey, a retired Shawnee State University professor, who compiled a documentary on the showplace. The professor’s evaluation came from a drive around the structure early Sunday evening. He said the rear roof has collapsed and most of the renovated and “finer” portions have been gutted. He has not been inside the remains of the structure.
Read the full story at Huntington News.
PITTSBURGH, PA — The currently closed Garden Theater in Pittsburgh’s historic North Side is a step closer to being designated a historic landmark. This means the former adult theater will not be torn down. No one yet knows what its use will be.
The designation now must go before the city planning commission for a vote. If approved, City Council will conduct a public hearing and then vote on whether the designation should receive final approval.
A historic designation would require developers to preserve the 92-year-old building’s beaux arts terra cotta exterior. Historic status does not regulate what can be done to the interior.
More info in this article from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.
November 12, 2007
JERSEY CITY, NJ – The Loew’s Jersey Morton Wonder Organ was removed nearly 40 years ago and has been restored after 10 years of dedicated effort by the volunteers and members of the Garden State Theatre Organ Society. The magic of live organ music returned to The Loew’s Jersey on November 3, 2007.
The Bob Balfour Memorial Robert Morton Wonder Organ, named in memory of the GSTOS member who was instrumental in acquiring and leading the effort to restore an organ to The Loew’s Jersey, was celebrated during a Garden State Theatre Organ Society members event at the classic “wonder palace.” This organ, originally installed at the Loew’s Paradise (Bronx, NY), is a twin to the organ that was removed from The Loew’s Jersey and is currently installed at The Arlington Theatre (Santa Barbara, CA).
This Robert Morton Wonder Organ was only one of five ever built from among the over 6,000 organs the Robert Morton Company produced. It consists of 4 ranks, 23 banks and 1,774 pipes. The console, which rises and rotates from a position on the house left side of the orchestra pit, features 228 stops.