Empire Theater

1521 Vine Street,
Cincinnati, OH 25202

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hanksykes on April 18, 2012 at 1:05 am

I probably should have mentioned that Empire Th. was another cinema belonging to Henry Levy.

hanksykes on April 16, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Henry Levy died Sept.25,1938 aged 58 while on vacation with his family in Washington D.C. Levy owned two more theaters, Nordland in Clifton and Forest in Avondale, until he sold them to the Libson Chain between 1934&1935.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 2, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Here’s an item published by The Moving Picture World in April, 1912. The theater name and the street are right, but the address doesn’t quite match up, and it was three years after the Empire was supposed to have opened. However, the Empire’s site does include the lots at 1523-1525 Vine as well as 1521, and I don’t know the original source of the opening date of 1909, so I’m posting the item here, just in case the 1909 opening date that’s found all over the Internet is wrong:

“Estimates are being received by Architects Rapp, Zettle & Rapp, for the erection of the Empire Moving Picture Theater, to be erected at 1523-25 Vine Street, by the Empire Theater Co.”
Possibly a small theater from 1909 was replaced by a new, larger building in 1912?

Joeallen on June 11, 2011 at 1:49 pm

On this street view pic, you have to hit the look right button a few times. See the building with the big mural on the side? The Empire was in the empty lot between that building and the check cashing place.

Joeallen on October 2, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Here is a pic of the Empire when it was actually in operation…
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Joeallen on October 2, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Wrong theatre, bro.

Bill Eichelberger
Bill Eichelberger on November 11, 2009 at 3:37 am

This is the mural that Hank Sykes was talking about.
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blgwc on February 20, 2009 at 8:28 pm

A friend of mine who used to go this place frequently during its last days said you’d have to go home and wash your hair after seeing a movie here…

hanksykes on August 16, 2008 at 9:47 pm

Now that this site is an empty lot, students from the University Of Cincinnati have added a colorful mural to an adjacent brick wall depicting many neighborhood images of this old German area. Included is a painting of the last Empire vertical signage.

hanksykes on February 27, 2008 at 12:17 am

Also a cinema belonging to Henry Levy was the Liberty Th. in Northside on Spring Grove Avenue.

kencmcintyre on May 28, 2007 at 5:03 am

Demolition was in July 2003, according to the Cincinnati Post:

Demolition should be completed by Friday on a former Over-the-Rhine movie theater that made headlines this year when a developer who had promised to renovate it skipped town after receiving a city loan.

The city hired a Green Township contractor this week to raze the Empire Theatre in the 1500 block of Vine Street after heavy rains over the weekend collapsed the roof of the 94-year-old structure.

“I would hope by Friday we’re hauling debris out,” said Tom McAlpin of Allgeier & Son Inc., the company demolishing the old theater.

stubaby on August 19, 2006 at 11:30 pm

CORRECTION ( possibly) to my previous post. Have not seen “Little Man Tate” for some years,and after some reflection, realised the shot with the Empire Theatre in the background may have actually been something I saw in an article on the film and/or Jodie Foster, a shot that exists but may not have really been used in the film. Will have to rent film again to be sure… however, the photo does exist… just not sure it was in the film. Sorry if previous post was in error!

stubaby on August 19, 2006 at 2:19 pm

Just recalled, in the Jody Foster film , “Little Man Tate” (largely filmed in cincinnati) there is a great shot of Jody and her “son” walking past the boarded up Empire Theatre, still exhibiting the blue, white and orange remnants of its former Art Deco glory – and the deteriorating marquee that once lit up the night on Vine Street in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood! I believe still photos of this scene from the film exist, but have been unable to obtain one.

stubaby on August 19, 2006 at 12:26 am

In the 1950’s, I lived on Republic Street right across the alley directly behind the Empire Theatre. I spent some of the happiest hours of my childhood on weekends and summer days watching double and even triple features… continuous run! You could come in, and stay all day and most of the night if you wanted to. And many did, especially on the hotter days when the “Ice cold air conditioning” of the neighborhood theatre was the only bearable place around. We kids (and there were lots of us in those “baby boom” years) filled the front rows… adults sat farther back, and groups of teens necked and socialized on the side rows. Ushers periodically prowled the aisles, keeping the kids reasonably quiet, or at least in their seats… occasionally removing a miscreant! (I cannot recall being “kicked out of the show” myself, but imagine it happened at least once or twice. Saw all the old William Castle horror films: “House On Haunted Hill”, “the Tingler”, sci fi like “The Mysterians”, “The Blob”, “I Was A Teenage Werewolf”; westerns like “The Horse Soldiers” (John Wayne), “yellowstone kelly”, “North to Alaska”“ war films like "Pork Chop Hill” etc.All with tons of cartoons and “Previews of Coming Attractions!” A hot dog and a small (really small) coke was 25 cents, a small bag of popcorn 15 cents,
candy a nickle or a dime. Comedy/tragedy masks adorned the dark draped walls, with dim lights behind the eye holes – rather eerie to an 8 year old! Ditto the small aisle lights attached to end seats every 5 rows or so, behind the face of a lion or some sort of scary creature. The seats were hard wood, and the floor sticky with spilled soda, candy and (in the rear) littered with cigarette butts.
The mens room was absolutely creepy, down a concrete flight of stairs into a cell like room with a barred window high up on the wall. Always smelled of urine and tobacco, and always some creepy old guy, smelling of whiskey, hanging around smoking in the can. We kids NEVER went there alone, always in twos or threes… and it always made our hearts race, especially when watching horror movies. Still, kind of a thrill. All in all, the Empire Theatre , at least to this child, was a true “Cinema Paradiso!” And the neighborhood was crowded, white working class and busy… not the sparsely populated, drug infested decaying urban sore it has become in recent decades. I had always hoped it would someday be resurrected after its final closure in the early seventies… recently there seemed to be some hope, at least that it would be resurrected in some form (a nightclub) But it was not to be. And now it it gone. Like so very many others. I feel sad for the children of today… they will never know such a place! – stubaby

meheuck on May 4, 2006 at 11:14 pm

The following was written by VIDEO WATCHDOG publisher and lifelong Cincinnatian Tim Lucas at the old Mobius Home Video Forum board (a server crash lost all posts prior to a year and a half ago):

The Empire closed in the mid-‘70’s as a movie theater. At that time, it was basically a ghetto theater open only on the weekends; on Saturday and Sunday, you could see a whole day of movies there for only 75 cents! A friend of mine and I decided to give it a chance and went there together around 1973. We saw JEREMY, THE SCARS OF DRACULA (a cut print), and TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS. A nice memory. I’m glad we went. After closing as a theater, it reopened as a makeshift church and stayed that way for a couple of years. It’s been boarded up ever since [until its 2005 demolition].

Joeallen on January 21, 2005 at 12:03 am

Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Pettus-Brown freed from jail

By Dan Horn and Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writers

A federal judge freed LaShawn Pettus-Brown from jail today, throwing out his conviction for spending taxpayers' money on himself instead of Cincinnati’s Empire Theater project.

The ruling stunned federal authorities and was a blow to city officials who blame Pettus-Brown for derailing a project that cost the city more than $180,000.

“I am absolutely flabbergasted,” said Mayor Charlie Luken. “I’m sure everyone at the city is.”

In her 13-page decision, U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith agreed that prosecutors proved Pettus-Brown defrauded the city when he took money intended for the theater renovation project and spent it on meals, shoes, limousines and rap concerts. The renovation of the vacant 88-year-old landmark into a nightclub was touted by city officials as a key step in turning around Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine.

Beckwith said prosecutors failed to show that the fraud violated federal laws against wire fraud and money laundering.

She reversed a jury verdict that found Pettus-Brown guilty of those charges in November. She ordered his immediate release from a Kentucky jail, where he has been held for nearly a year.

“The court is not excusing the defendant’s conduct,” Beckwith wrote in her decision. “It is readily apparent that the defendant perpetrated a calculated and sophisticated fraud on the city of Cincinnati.”

She said her decision to dismiss the charges rests on a “technical and narrow, but nonetheless important, legal point.”

Federal prosecutors, who said they may appeal the judge’s ruling, had argued during the trial that Pettus-Brown committed wire fraud when he electronically transferred money from the city to accounts in New Jersey, Australia and Japan.

They said the money Pettus-Brown sent to those accounts came from fraudulent vouchers he submitted to the city as the developer of the theater project. But Pettus-Brown’s lawyer, Kelly Johnson, said the wire transfers occurred after his client obtained the city’s money and were never part of the alleged fraud.

The distinction is important because federal law requires prosecutors to prove the transfers were part of the fraud – not just a means to spend the profits of that fraud.

And that, Beckwith said, is where federal prosecutors failed.

“The evidence at trial showed only that these wire transfers were the mechanism through which the defendant spent or disbursed the money he stole,” the judge wrote.

Since the money laundering charges involved “the proceeds of wire fraud,” the judge also dismissed those charges.

“Obviously, I’m very pleased with the judge’s opinion,” Johnson said. “This is the position we took from the beginning.”

Pettus-Brown could not be reached late today, but Johnson said he expected his client to be released soon.

pianoman on January 15, 2005 at 2:02 am

Todd Swormstedt of the American Sign Museum, wanted to buy it for his museum-but – too late. The Sign Museum is in Cincinnati, OH.

Joeallen on December 8, 2004 at 8:46 am

I have a picture of the Empire in the ‘50’s if you want it. Just email me at and I’ll reply with it.

Joeallen on October 28, 2004 at 10:27 am

Actually, the Empire has been demolished for a while now. The roof caved in and the city decided it would be in everyone’s best interest to finish the job. It is now a vacant parcel in a ghetto section of Cincinnati known as “Over The Rhine.” In its day, though, the Empire was a very popular place to go to the movies.

gteabo on January 30, 2004 at 1:59 pm

Fugitive caught after his date Googles him

Dan Horn
Cincinnati Enquirer
Jan. 28, 2004 02:51 PM

CINCINNATI – After eluding authorities from coast to coast for more than a year, LaShawn Pettus-Brown finally made a mistake last week in New York City:

He made a date with a woman who knew how to Google.

Pettus-Brown’s life as a fugitive began to unravel when the woman decided to find out more about her prospective date by running his name through the Google Internet search engine.

A few mouse clicks later, she learned that Pettus-Brown was wanted for a lot more than dinner and a movie.

The Google search turned up an FBI warrant for Pettus-Brown’s arrest in connection with alleged wire fraud related to a project to rehab a historic theater near downtown Cincinnati. The woman, who has not been identified, contacted the FBI and told agents where he would be Friday night.

Pettus-Brown was arrested a little after 10 p.m. at an Applebee’s on Long Island.

“He acknowledged right away he was LaShawn Pettus-Brown,” said Jim Turgal, spokesman for the FBI in Cincinnati. “He did not resist.”

He is being held without bond in New York and is expected to be returned to Cincinnati soon.

The end of his year on the run means authorities can proceed with their case against Pettus-Brown, who is charged with wire fraud. It also could be important to their ongoing investigation of what went wrong with the Empire Theater project.

The city lost more than $184,000 on the project after investing heavily in Pettus-Brown’s failed plan to rehabilitate the 90-year-old theater. The FBI has said that nearly $93,000 of the money the city paid Pettus-Brown is missing.

Neither the FBI nor the U.S. attorney’s office would discuss how Pettus-Brown supported himself while on the run, or whether he used any of the missing city funds.

Some city officials have described his arrest Friday as a “sting operation,” but FBI officials say that’s not the case.

Instead, Turgal said, the agency received several tips via the Internet that indicated Pettus-Brown had recently moved from Los Angeles to New York. He said those tips ultimately led agents to the Applebee’s.

Turgal would not comment on whether one of those tips was from the prospective date. But he said information obtained from a Google search assisted in the arrest.

Based on that information, Turgal said, FBI agents in New York set up surveillance of a train stop near the Applebee’s in Long Island. He said agents followed Pettus-Brown to the restaurant and arrested him.

“We had surveillance there to see if the tip was good, and lo and behold, the tip was good,” Turgal said.

Internet search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, can turn up a variety of information about people and their interests. Using the Internet as a personal private detective is gaining in popularity in the dating world, as a way to check the backgrounds of potential suitors and to track down former classmates, relatives or genealogy information. The practice is becoming so commonplace that the word Google is being used a verb.

Although Pettus-Brown is jailed without bond, he can ask for a bond when he returns to Cincinnati. “We hope to get him back within a week or two,” said Fred Alverson, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Cincinnati.

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