Lincoln Square Theatre

W. Washington Street and S. Illinois Street,
Indianapolis, IN 46204

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Opened in 1908 as the Family Theatre, it was renamed the Rialto Theatre on July 2, 1916, and in 1923 became the Lincoln Square Theatre.

The first known charge of showing an obscene film in Indianapolis was while the theatre was known as the Rialto Theatre. As President of the Indianapolis Church Federation a Mr. M.C. Pearson saw the film and demanded the court to take action. A Jury reviewd the movie on Oct 2, and deamed the film not obscene. The film then played for two weeks following the decision.

The theatre had two entrances, one being on Kentucky Avenue and the other on South Illinois Street. The Family Theatre used both entrances but the Rialto Theatre and the Lincoln Square Theatre used the entrance on Kentucky Avenue. As the Kentucky Theatre it was one of the leading vaudeville theatres during its prime.

Could not find a time line as to when the theatre was closed or demolished.

Contributed by Chuck

Recent comments (view all 8 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 12, 2012 at 11:26 am

An item in the June 14, 1919, issue of Domestic Engineering mentioned the recently-remodeled New Rialto Theatre at Indianapolis. It gave the location of the theater as Kentucky Avenue and Washington Street. Today, these streets no longer intersect, which has confused Google Maps.

The actual location of the Lincoln Square Theatre would have been on the block just southwest of the modern intersection of Washington and Illinois Streets in downtown Indianapolis. This is the block now occupied by the Indianapolis Hyatt Regency Hotel. Several blocks of Kentucky Avenue were eliminated for the construction of the enormous Indiana Convention Center and associated buildings. The Hyatt was completed in 1977, but the theater could have been gone for many years before the hotel was built.

Several old maps of Indianapolis showing the former alignment of Kentucky Avenue can be seen at this page on the web site of the University of Alabama.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 25, 2013 at 4:14 am

The best way to get Google Maps to fetch something close to the proper location for this theater would be to give the address as Washington and Illinois Streets. Here is an item about the opening of the rebuilt theater as the Rialto from the August 5, 1916, issue of The Moving Picture World:

“The Rialto theater, Indianapolis, has been opened. The new house is at the intersection of three streets at the busiest downtown corner. The interior is striking. It probably has the largest number of lights in use of any theater in the state. A Seeberg piano is being installed.”
The third street refereed to in the item was, of course, Kentucky Avenue, this section of which has since been obliterated.

AndrewBarrett on January 28, 2015 at 2:08 pm

According to “The Encyclopedia of the American Theatre Organ” by Mr. Dave Junchen, pg. 629, the “Rialto (Family) (Lincoln Square) Th.” in Indianapolis, Indiana, had a two-manual, 7-rank Seeburg-Smith organ installed at some point.

No other information on this organ, such as blower make, number, or specs; or install date, is listed in the book (not known at the time of publication).

Does anybody know where this organ, or its parts, is/are today? Thanks a lot!

It is weird to look at the Google Maps street view of the former theatre site, and see not merely a vacant lot in an urban or formerly-urban-looking area, but an actual DIRT MOUND (or dirt patch) with long grass, in the bend of an (obviously more recent) freeway!

Things can change quite a lot in 95 years, can’t they?

AndrewBarrett on January 28, 2015 at 2:31 pm

*Never mind, I just read Mr. Joe Vogel’s comments above, a little more carefully. OK, it makes more sense for the theatre to have been in a razed/remodeled section of downtown than out in the middle of nowhere, cool! I hope we can figure out how to get the map to show the correct former theatre site, instead of what it shows now.

Also, Mr. Vogel’s quote from “Moving Picture World” mentioning a “Seeburg Piano” being installed at this theatre, undoubtedly refers to a Seeburg photoplayer (the various models of which were advertised as “Seeburg Pipe Organ Orchestras”), although Seeburg dealers were also known to sell the relatively large Seeburg G and H orchestrions to very early movie theatres, where they would be turned on and let play totally uncoordinated with the picture, either for background music, or for entertainment and intermission music between shows (these orchestrions, being keyboard models, could also be played by hand as a “straight” piano alone, and a very rare variety of the model G was provided with extra pedals, stop controls, and a special roll frame transmission that allowed the musician to stop the roll and play the entire orchestrion by hand from the keyboard and foot pedals, like a photoplayer).

Most of these orchestrion theatre sales, however, must have happened in around 1912 and 1913, when the G and H orchestrions were first put on the market for sale.

This is because Seeburg introduced its line of photoplayers / Pipe-Organ Orchestras starting in 1914 with the model M, followed by the models S, R, and at some point, A DeLuxe, T, V, P, Q, and W (I do not know the order or dates of the introduction of these models yet).

Of course, once theatre owners/builders had an orchestal instrument available that could be played entirely by one person (with rolls or manually) and have its music coordinated with the picture, they generally chose this option, and thus sales of regular coin pianos and orchestrions to theatres must have taken quite a nosedive in 1914-1915.

I also do not know what kind of Seeburg instrument this particular theatre had in 1916, although it was quite likely a photoplayer, probably a larger one if it was later replaced by a Seeburg-Smith theatre pipe organ (although it is also possible that the theatre building itself was enlarged).

Both Seeburg photoplayers and Seeburg-Smith theatre pipe organs are quite rare today (I know of fewer than 20 Seeburg photoplayers extant, many of them being quite incomplete, and only a handful of Seeburg-Smith pipe organs), although purportedly around 1,000 Seeburg photoplayers and perhaps around 75-125 Seeburg-Smith pipe organs were originally built.

Hope this helps or entertains someone!

rivest266 on October 24, 2015 at 10:54 am

July 2nd, 1916 grand opening ad as Rialto in photo section

JohnnyC. on October 24, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Lincoln Square theatre was located at 20 South Illinois Street.

rivest266 on October 24, 2015 at 2:26 pm

November 11th, 1923 grand opening ad as Lincoln Square in photo section.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 24, 2015 at 3:43 pm

In Polk’s 1919 Indianapolis City Directory, 20 S. Illinois Street is the address of the Rialto Theatre.

The “Among the Picture Theaters” section of the September 23, 1916, issue of The Moving Picture World ran several paragraphs about the new Rialto, several weeks after it had opened, but didn’t provide a photo:


“Newest of Photoplay Houses to Be Opened in This City—

“Seats 1,000 and Has $10,000 Organ—Managed by Fred B. Leonard.

“THE latest motion picture theater in Indianapolis, Ind., to throw open its doors is the Rialto, in South Illinois street, just as close to the center of the city as it is possible to get. Cars from every section of the city unload their burden of human freight at the front doors of this theater.

“The Rialto should become one of the most popular theaters of the city. It is deserving of popularity. It has a combination of beauty and comfort. The color scheme of the Rialto to begin with, is green and ivory. The walls are ivory tinted with delicate frescoing, and along the sides are baskets of green glass, filled with ferns and other greenery, so lighted that the plants appear to be growing in water. The ceiling, both of the theater itself and the entrances—there are two— are covered with a white trellis supporting quantities of, smilax. The lights are globes of a delicate green, set among the leaves; there are six hundred of these globes and the effect of the whole is cooling.

“The theater is cool. The heat of the hottest day is forgotten after one enters the long passage with the mirrors and flowing brackets along the side, which leads into the theater proper. In the lower part of the theater half a dozen big electric fans keep going constantly, while in the gallery one immense fan, measuring sixty inches across, circulates 50,000 cubic feet of cool air a minute.

“The theater seats a thousand persons- There are two stage boxes, also ornamented with white covered vine trellises, and a row of boxes at the back of the theater. In the ceiling of the gallery and in the ceiling of the lower floor big green and gold lamps are set in. The lower part of the boxes are draped with green curtains.

“One of the attractions is a $10,000 pipe organ, operated from the center of the orchestra pit. This pit also has its covering of green and white trellis and its smilax.

“The screen, of crystal gold fiber, is set far back on the stage and the out-of-doors effect is heightened by vine-draped pillars and pots of palms and other green things. Two rest rooms, one on each floor, top off the equipment of the theater.

“Fred B. Leonard, manager of the theater, announces that the fitting of the theater cost between $50,000 and $60,000. Mr. Leonard says the theater, under his management, will become one of the highest class theaters in the Middle West if effort will do this. The opening of the theater saw the Blue Bird feature, ‘Shoes.’ The Blue Bird productions will be used regularly by the management of the new theater.”

The opening of the Rialto had also been briefly noted in the August 5 issue of the same publication.

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