River Park Theater

2929 Mishawaka Avenue,
South Bend, IN 46615

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River Park Theater

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The former River Park Theater opened in 1927 and closed in 1986. The building is now used as a photography studio.

Contributed by Lost Memory

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Lost Memory
Lost Memory on March 3, 2007 at 6:35 pm

This is an 11/03/1998 article about the photography studio located in this former theater.

“South Bend, Ind., Photo Business Occupies Old Theater.

South Bend Tribune
Author: Barbulesco, Dave

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—The concession stand is always stocked when clients come calling.

“People come in and just ask where the popcorn is,” said Dinah Bourdon, who oversees the snack counter in the former site of the River Park Theater.

The Bourdons have been meticulous about holding onto the past since moving the family photography business, Bourdon and Bourdon Studios, into the classic, old-style theater on Mishawaka Avenue 10 years ago. The lobby area is lined with movie memorabilia. The marquee is still intact. Photos are scattered throughout the building, showing how things used to be.

“The original owner (Jerome Vogel) still stops in,” said Dinah, who, in addition to playing host, handles the company’s bookkeeping. “He loves bringing people here and showing them around.”

But the tribute to Hollywood ends once people pass through the entry area. From that point on, Bourdon and Bourdon Studios produces its own version of show time.

The rows of seats were replaced by a full-scale studio, complete with catwalks and a giant curved “monster wall,” which serves as a seamless backdrop during shoots.

An office setting has taken over the old projection room and the business has expanded into the adjoining building, providing space for a darkroom and production area.

“It’s been a real project,” Dinah said.

The physical renovation, however, hasn’t been the most dramatic upheaval over the years. The nature of commercial photography has changed significantly in recent times, demanding that the Bourdons sign on to the computer age.

“We’ve been going heavily into digital,” said Scott Bourdon, who learned the photo trade from his father, Harlan, and came on board in 1978. “One of the more interesting things has been virtual reality for photography, allowing us to actually make the product three-dimensional.

“What we can do now is take a product, shoot it, digitize it and then retouch it on the computer. By using the mouse on their computer, clients can actually spin and turn the product.”

The initial shoot has always been tedious, but the virtual process is even more time-consuming. The product is rotated on an automatic turntable while the digital camera remains stationary, allowing Bourdon to capture every angle.

“We’ll shoot the product up to 36 times at different angles and sometimes at seven different heights,” Scott said.

Still images, however, continue to be the mainstay of the business. But even that process runs through the ever-expanding computer room, which is T.J. Metcalfe’s domain. His role is to drum scan pictures into the system and then alter or enhance them through a variety of computer programs. “A big difference is that we don’t have to shoot everything in one place,” Scott said. “We can shoot at different locations, then combine the images on the computer. The computer also allows us to simulate settings, which cuts down on site trips.”

The final step is transferring the final product onto disc.

“People don’t just want us to send them film anymore,” Scott said. “We can provide clients with CDs and discs or we can send them the end-product by e-mail.”

He added, “A big advantage for us is that we are able to offer all the services in-house. A lot of times people will just come to us with an idea, then we handle it from there.”

Harlan admits he’s still getting a handle on the high-tech end of the business. But changes are nothing new to the 63-year-old. He’s made plenty since opening up shop at his home in 1968 after logging time as a graphic artist.

“I started out shooting weddings and babies,” he said. “But I never said no to a job and I was never afraid to try something new.”

That attitude landed Harlan his first big commercial account and has carried him through 30 years in business. In addition to being able to change with the times, Harlan maintains there’s one more key to his success.

“No matter what, you still have to be a good photographer,” he said.

Some things never change".

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on June 14, 2008 at 4:44 pm

Here is an updated link for the photography studio website that has the two photos of this former theater.

Sontaran6 on March 15, 2009 at 7:44 pm

This was a nice little neighborhood theater, when I moved to South Bend in the 1970s. Unfortunately, no bus line ran between my house and River Park, so I did not visit it as often as I should have. (South Bend’s other public transportation systems consist of feet!) After a while, in the mid-1980s, this lovely little movie house just disappeared, and I hardly noticed — until it was far too late. It’s sad.

TLSLOEWS on November 11, 2010 at 11:00 am

Thanks for the photos.

JimDogggWallace on June 15, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Hi, all! … I lived in South Bend from my birth in 1957 until 1968 (1101 Clover Street), when my family moved to Thomson, Georgia, where I now live … my dad – Al Wallace – transferred with Uniroyal (Ball Band) to Thomson, Georgia … my dad, mom – Barbara Wallace – and I were watching Oprah’s special on The Sound of Music (a rerun) on today, Wednesday, June 15, 2011 … my mom and dad are much older now – as am I – from our years in South Bend … as we watched Oprah’s show, my dad told me I saw The Sound of Music with them at The River Park Theater around 1965 … I figured that I was 8 years old, but sadly I could not pull any memories of the time I saw the movie with them from my mind … I knew of how the internet can connect to yesteryear, so I got up from the couch and wandered onto the computer and found this site (Cinema Treasures) … I also found that the movie, according to Wikipedia, came out in 1965, which told me we probably saw it on the “break” … in looking at the pictures and so forth in this thread, my memory was sparked, and I instantly remembered the stars on the marquee and the front of the theater … I broke out in smiles and yep, a tear slipped down my cheek … I know this may not seem like much to y'all, but to a 53-year-old who is remembering his youth and the younger years with his mom and dad, it was a special time of recalling yesteryear … thanks for this thread, this site, and for the links and comments above … God bless! =) … Jim Wallace

Erasmus on June 18, 2012 at 6:06 pm

I am so happy to see that the RP has been preserved — at least a lot of it. I was a friend of a son (Steve) of the long-time owner, Mr. Vogel. Mr. Vogel and his wife were the most wonderful people you could know. He was always great with our group of kids and always let us in free. When I went there on a date, I would try to get away with paying for the tickets, but he wouldn’t allow it if he caught me in time. The RP always had a good selection of films, too. It wasn’t an “art theater” like the Avon, but it ran movies that you wouldn’t see downtown at the Granada, Colfax, State, or Palace theaters.

kevyzim on July 11, 2012 at 4:55 pm

I am so happy to read of the “repourposing” of this fine little neighborhood theater. I too was born in 1957 and remember Mr. Vogel, though I only knew him from his reputation and not personally. I remember kids matinees during the summer in the 60’s (I vividly remember seeing The Magic Sword and loving the dragon!).

My favorite memory of the RP was when they would show ALL the Beatle films back to back. I remember taking a date and now that I look back on it, it was over 6 hours that we were there with the 4 films!

After the heartbreak of hearing of the Tivoli being torn down to make way for a CVS, I am delighted to read of the reverence being shown this fine old theater. Even though the architechure is not as cool as the Tivoli or State or Granada, this place holds many childhood memories for me and I am very happy to see the pictures and other’s memories shared here!

Studioonesb on March 29, 2014 at 10:56 pm

The theatre remained a carbon arc, single reel house until it closed. Trained there and ran a few shifts there, it was the only house that still used carbons.

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