RKO Albee Theatre

12 E. 5th Street,
Cincinnati, OH 45202

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RKO Albee Theatre

At a cost of $4 million, the 3,500-seat E.F. Albee Photoplays Theatre was considered Cincinnati’s finest movie palace. Opened on December 24, 1927 with Clara Bow in “Get Your Man” plus 5-acts of vaudeville on the stage. This Thomas W. Lamb designed palace was named after its builder, E. F. Albee, noted vaudeville theatre owner and a relative of famous playwright Edward Albee. The exterior facade was almost identical to the Thomas W. Lamb designed Empire Theatre, London, England which opened in November 1928. The E.F. Albee Photo Plays Theatre was equipped with a Wurlitzer 3 manual 19ranks organ with the console located on the left hand side of the orchestra pit. It was opened by organist Hy C. Geis The E.F. Albee Theatre was taken over by RKO in 1930.

Until 1960, the theatre booked stage show acts in addition to showing movies. Another source says the stage shows stopped as early as 1957. In the late-1960’s RKO donated the Wurlitzer organ to the Emory Auditorium of the Ohio Mechanics Institute. In late-1999 it was removed and put into storage. It was restored in 2007 and installed in the ballroom of the Music Hall. RKO closed the Albee Theatre on September 17, 1974 with Angie Dickinson in “Big Bad Mama. It stood boarded up until demolition which began on March 9, 1977 and was completed in December 1977.

The Westin Hotel was constructed in its place. Some portions of the theatre were saved and are now located in other buildings including Music Hall and the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

The facade was one of the saved sections of the building and now sits on the 5th Street side of the Albert B. Sabin Convention Center — about 3 blocks from where the original theater once stood.

Contributed by Ray Martinez, Anna Horton, John Ryan

Recent comments (view all 52 comments)

WayneS
WayneS on October 19, 2011 at 12:18 am

armleder I saw a number of films at the Albee in the early sixties. Gorgeous wonderful palace of a theater, including “The Music Man” in stereo sound. I attended a couple times with a black friend and have no memory of any racial discrimination.

Trolleyguy
Trolleyguy on October 19, 2011 at 9:00 am

when I would visit relatives in Cincinnati as a youngster from Chicago in the 50’s, there was definitely de facto segregation in public places, like movie theaters and the Coney Island amusement park.

No surprises here. In his autobiography, the comedian Dick Gregory wrote about having to sit in the segregated balcony of a Carbondale Illinois movie theater. Illinois and Ohio did not have Jim Crow laws on the books, but they existed in unofficial practice,nonetheless.

hanksykes
hanksykes on December 7, 2012 at 2:33 pm

All 8 of our RKO first run houses downtown escaped the water damage from Ohio’s 1937 flood as they were all above the waters peak by 69 feet.

cincinnaticarol
cincinnaticarol on March 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm

CORRECTION: the above states that “The facade was also later duplicated on the 5th Street side of the Albert B. Sabin Convention Center — about 3 blocks from where the original theater once stood.” My father worked in Urban Renewal and I clearly remember when the Convention Center was built and the Albee town down. The Albee theatre facade was NOT DUPLICATED, it is the ORIGINAL facade that was saved and placed on one of the Convention Center’s entrances. Yes, the Albee facade was saved!!!

hanksykes
hanksykes on February 3, 2014 at 7:11 am

Removal of the splendid Albee Theatre on fifth street was Cincinnati’s most stupid theater loss.

rivest266
rivest266 on May 30, 2015 at 3:28 pm

December 24th, 1927 grand opening ad in photo section

hanksykes
hanksykes on March 11, 2016 at 12:49 pm

That roof sign atop this venue only lasted 3 years until RKO took over!!!

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on March 16, 2017 at 2:40 pm

October 1962 marquee photo added courtesy of Rose Taylor. JFK attended the groundbreaking of the Federal Building at 5th & Walnut.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on March 16, 2017 at 2:51 pm

Here is Melissa Kramer’s March 4, 2010 article on the Albee.

http://melissakramerscincinnati.com/?page_id=151

dallasmovietheaters
dallasmovietheaters on March 18, 2020 at 10:41 am

Closed by RKO with “Big Bad Mama” on September 17, 1974 and was boarded up. demolition began March 9, 1977 and took more than eight months to complete due to how well constructed the building was.

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