RKO Keith's Theatre

410 S. Salina Street,
Syracuse, NY 13202

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Paramount Theatre exterior and the nearby RKO Keiths Theatres

Built in 1919, B.F. Keith’s New Theatre was opened on January 20, 1920. It was billed as “The Most Magnificent Theatre In All The Universe”. A large painted sign on the north side of the building said “B.F. Keith’s New Theatre Devoted To High Class Vaudeville”. In 1925 the Wurlitzer Co. installed a 3 manual 11 rank theatre pipe organ, opus 1143.

Unfortunately, the theatre was torn down in 1967 due to urban renewal. Many of the theatre’s furnishings and equipment still survives as part of the Empire State Theatre and Musical Instrument Museum. The Wurlitzer was removed, restored and permanently installed in the Empire Theatre on the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, New York.

Contributed by Philip A. Edwards

Recent comments (view all 30 comments)

SchineHistorian
SchineHistorian on April 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm

It was a tremendous honor to be one of Jim’s pallbearers. He and his wife Irene truly took me under their wing when I was a young, idealistic and enthusiastic theater lover so very long ago. Today I owe a great deal to Jim’s mentoring.

WilliamMcQuade
WilliamMcQuade on April 9, 2011 at 4:15 pm

The stories old Jim used to tell when he worked backstage during vaudevilee were priceless.Who knew Moe of the 3 Stooges like to knit?

SchineHistorian
SchineHistorian on April 10, 2011 at 3:28 pm

In response to Ed Solero’s photo and question on the date of the photo, here is the response from ESTMIM who currently owns the organ: “Easy question! The exact date was June 14 ,1966. The Glimpse of the Past program was one of the last times the Wurlitzer was used in the theatre for a public performance. This program was basically a fundraiser to purchase the instrument and move it out of the theatre, which was demolished in 1967. We have in our archives the “order form” paper for the wording on the Marquee.”

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 10, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Wow… A lot later than I thought. Glad we were able to get that resolved so quickly! Thanks, Schine!

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 10, 2011 at 4:40 pm

You know… I wonder how well the program sold? How many of the 2548 seats were filled that evening?

ESTMIM
ESTMIM on April 11, 2011 at 10:40 am

The “Glimpse of the Past” program was sold out, literally. The seats were “reserved only”. On display in the museum is a photograph taken that night from stage right looking out into the audience. In the foreground Luella Wickham is performing on the Wurlitzer. We also have an audio recording of that program featuring master of ceremonies Deacon Doubleday, of the Wired Woodshed program AM 57 WSYR radio. Our museum has plans to have the recording digitally remastered and make it available to the public. Most interesting fact is, Carleton James who was the original organist in 1925-? at this theatre accompanied a silent film for the “Glimpse of the Past” program. Because of that, the program really was a “Glimpse….."
ESTMIM President(2011)
www.jrjunction.com/estmim

Greenpoint
Greenpoint on September 20, 2012 at 8:26 pm

That theatre must have been so ornate, my heart breaks for its loss.

dontforgetus
dontforgetus on January 9, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Ok, I remember the RKO theater{Keith’s]. I think I was 4yrs old, when I won a watch, for a contest they had in the early 50’s. I was scared when I had to go up on stage, so my Grandma took me. I don’t have the watch now, but years later, I had a Dance recital there. It was big to me, being about 7yrs, I wore a blue and yellow ballet outfit, and had to put make-up on for the first time.

GeorgeC
GeorgeC on April 8, 2021 at 8:45 pm

When was the RKO Keith’s part of the Schine circuit?

Also, when were the Strand, the Empire and the Palace under Schine management?

All four theaters are listed as “previously operated by” Schine Inc.

The Schine circuit was not shy about promoting itself. When the Paramount and Eckel became part of the circuit, they were promoted as Schine’s Paramount and Schine’s Eckel. But the other four were never advertised as Schine’s RKO Keith’s, Schine’s Strand, Schine’s Empire or Schine’s Palace

Film Daily Yearbook isn’t much help. It doesn’t include “Schine” with their Syracuse Paramount or Eckel listings for 1940, 1941 and 1946 -51 even though both theaters were part of the Schine circuit during those years.

The Strand was advertised as the Warner Strand in the 1930’s then operated as the Loew’s Strand from the 40s until it closed in 1958.

The Empire was briefly under RKO management with the “RKO” squeezed in between the larger “Empire” on the marquee (See Empire photos) During it’s final years, the Empire operated as the Astor with a foreign film policy.

There’s an article from 2019 at Syracuse.com that states, “The Palace has been in the DiBella family since it opened, except for a brief period after it was leased to RKO-Schine in 1939”

If there was an RKO-Schine circuit, why would RKO and Schine take turns managing these theaters? And a combined circuit while Schine was under a federal anti trust investigation doesn’t make sense.

https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/31/270/1678889/

RKO was not a party to the suit, but did provide testimony in 1944. https://www.nytimes.com/1944/11/09/archives/calls-films-competitive-depinet-of-rko-testifies-in-schine.html

Given the anti trust suit, it’s possible Schine may have been managing the Empire and other theaters with RKO acting as a front. That’s wild speculation.

The Paramount and Eckel were definitely part of the Schine circuit. Can the Empire and Strand be confirmed? The Keith’s from its inception was a flagship theater in the Keith-Albee then RKO circuit. Not sure where the Schine circuit fits in with the Keith’s.

GeorgeC
GeorgeC on April 23, 2021 at 12:57 pm

RKO-Schine circuit.

This was not a business entity. RKO and Schine didn’t merge into one circuit.

RKO-Schine was first used by Department of Justice attorneys during court testimony to describe a pooling agreement between the two circuits as a means to gain favorable booking terms from the major distributors and control competition.

The case, Schine Chain Theaters and Appellants vs United States, was heard in Federal court in 1944 and on appeal before the Supreme Court in 1947.

https://www.google.com/books/edition/Records_and_Briefs_of_the_United_States/nqD47w6UKSQC?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=RKO-Schine&pg=PA2020&printsec=frontcover

See the “RKO-Schine” highlights with the above link for some interesting witness testimony.

The Court found Schine, with over 140 theaters, was able to demand favorable terms from the major distributors that included: 1) withholding pictures from independent theater operators 2) deciding which independents would receive sub runs, the rental terms and ticket prices. 3) pooling agreements with another major distributor/exhibitor (such as RKO Keith’s in Syracuse) to control competition.
4) keeping houses closed in their territories to control competition. If an independent operator opened a competing theater in the same area, Schine would re-open their house and play the first run pictures the independent was unable to book

http://www.cobbles.com/simpp_archive/schinecase.htm

Prior to the Court finding, the Schine circuit may have been negotiating terms for five of the six downtown Syracuse theaters under the pooling agreement with RKO.

But given the legal issues with the agreement, “Previously operated by the Schine circuit” doesn’t accurately describe the situation with the Strand, Empire and Keith’s.

In 1956, several Schine corporate officers were convicted of criminal contempt for having violated the divestiture decree. Under the provisions of the 1949 decree, the Schine circuit had been ordered to dispose of thirty nine theaters. Seven years later only sixteen had been sold. On appeal, the criminal contempt convictions were affirmed and became final in 1959

The initial case was filed by the DOJ in 1939 and concluded 20 years later with criminal contempt convictions.

https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/246399/united-states-v-j-myer-schine/

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