Joie Theater

15 S. Ninth Street,
Fort Smith, AR 72833

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The Joie when it opened in 1921

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The Joie Theater was opened in 1920. Louise Brooks danced at this theater in 1922. It became the main theatre in town operated by Malco Theatres. It was closed in December 1953 when it suffered fire damaged and was later demolished.

Contributed by Ken McIntyre

Recent comments (view all 7 comments)

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on October 4, 2008 at 11:50 pm

Most likely it is gone. Thanks for the information.

fkrock
fkrock on September 7, 2010 at 4:47 pm

I will add some details about the Joie Theater from memory. I believe it went dark about one year before it burned. It was operated by the Malco theater chain that had a monopoly in Fort Smith unil two drive-in theaters opened ca. 1947. Malco was a regional chain that operated theaters in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

I don’t know if the theater closed because Malco’s lease ran out or if it was losing too much money.

The Joie was built ca. 1920. It was the largest commercial theater in Fort Smith. The local Junior High School Auditorium held about 300 more people. It was the leading first-run theater in town. Residents complained that movies didn’t get to the Joie until months after they opened in big cities.

The Joie was built as a vaudeville and silent movie theater. It was reported to have a 20-rank theater organ. I never heard the organ play or saw the organ console. Openings for the organ chambers were very obvious on both sides of the stage. Apparently the organ was not maintained after it was no longer needed for silent pictures.

The Joie was very well built and decorated in the style of the times. As I remember it had a small staircase from the projection booth to the street so films could be moved in and out without going through the auditorium.

The stage was fairly large with a stagehouse and a lot of stage machinery. The orchestra pit looked as if it would have held up to
about 20 musicians.

Up into the late 1940’s touring road companies played two or three day engagements at the Joie. My parents took the family to a touring variety show that included a stripper. She did her thing under blue lights. My parents were very embarrassed although she didn’t show anything you wouldn’t have seen at the local swimming pool. Fort Smith was very much in the bible belt.

Shows were first run A feature movies with a newsreel and cartoon. I don’t remember a double feature ever playing at the Joie. The curtain closed and houselights came up between shows.

fkrock
fkrock on September 7, 2010 at 5:19 pm

More about the Joie Theater: The theater employed ushers in the balcony until quite late to keep the local teen agers from getting too passionate.

The first show of the day typically started at 1:00 PM. Show starts were timed so that the main evening show always began at 8:00 PM. The houselight would go down and the movie would begin projected on the curtain that would open promptly. This made the Joie different from the Malco New Theater several blocks away that was a B movie grind house.

I looked at the theater building after the fire. No major structural damage was obvious. You had to look closely to see any signs of the fire. I understand that it started backstage and most of the damage was in that area. The Joie was built long enough after the Chicago theater fire that resulted in major fire safety improvements. It would have had automatic fire shutters in the roof of the stage house. Ropes that held the asbestos curtain had fusible links that would have melted in heat and allowed the curtain to close
automatically. If the asbestos curtain had closed early in the fire, damage in the auditorium would have been limited.

The building was not boarded up. The glass entrance doors were intact. Looking into the lobby showed little smoke damage. A small store adjoining the main theater entrance had closed. No smoke damage was obvious. The metal stage doors were intact but showed signs of fire damage.

If the theater were economically viable after the fire, it probably would have been repaired and reopened.

fkrock
fkrock on September 7, 2010 at 6:00 pm

One more comment about the Joie Theater: It was one of only two theaters in town that had refrigerated air conditioning. Obviously it had been installed long after the theater was built. All the other theaters in town used evaporative coolers. When sitting on the main floor cool air blew in your face. Apparently the theater did not use the plenum system for cooling that was used for heat. I always wondered if the cool air blew though the former organ chamber grills.

fkrock
fkrock on May 30, 2011 at 11:00 pm

After the Joie Theater burned arson was strongly suspected but not publicly stated because: 1. The theater had grown very shabby inside and badly need renovation. It was essentially original 1920 inside. 2. Downtown Fort Smith was on very limited time. It had severe parking problems. The new Central Mall was in final planning stage. Malco was planning a three screen theater in the Central Mall that would be located 3.3 miles from the Joie Theater. Malco later built a 12 screen theater next door to the Central Mall. 3. Many businesses in downtown Fort Smith were planning on moving to the Central Mall. (After the Central Mall opened, downtown Fort Smith died.) 4. The Joie theater building was very solidly built. Converting it to another use would have cost much money. Many other suitable buildings would become available at low cost in the near future after the Central Mall opened.

The Fort Smith Police Department and the Fire Department made extensive photos of the fire damage in the theater attempting to document arson. These photos still exist. They were unable to prove arson, so the official cause of the fire remained a natural gas leak.

Today the site of the Joie theater is a parking lot. The theater location is defined by the walls of adjoining buildingd on the south and east sides, by an alley on the north side, and by South 9th street on the west side.

arkansawyer
arkansawyer on March 12, 2012 at 11:43 am

This is the Joie Theatre when it was on Garrison Avenue in Fort Smith. It moved over to a new building constructed for it that was on South Ninth Street between Garrison and Rogers avenues.

Here’s what I wrote about the Joie in my book, “Hidden History of Fort Smith, Arkansas:

A Kentucky native who already was managing theaters in Texas, Hoyt Kirkpatrick came to Fort Smith in 1912 to assist his recently widowed sister in running the Joie, then located on Garrison Avenue. Kirkpatrick kept expanding and improving the theater there until he ran out of room. In October 1921, he solved that problem by moving the Joie to a sparkling new venue on South Ninth Street between Garrison and Rogers Avenues.

In addition to motion picture shows, like the New Theatre, the Joie offered first-class space to vaudeville acts. Its acts were on the Orpheum circuit. Not all the wonders of the Joie were on stage. The Southwest American newspaper at the time describes the lobby and auditorium as having elaborate, decorative woodwork. The lobby floor was covered with a “rich gray carpet from Eads Brothers furniture store” and the lobby walls with mirrors. When viewing a movie or live performance, theatergoers could plant themselves in a seat “padded and upholstered in soft, brown leather.” A $4,500 ventilation system kept the air fresh inside.

Other amenities included a cloakroom with an attendant for patrons to check their coats, bags and other outwear and accessories. The Joie even had a playroom called “Baby Land” for children and a former schoolteacher employed there to watch over them. Mothers were encouraged to leave their young children in the playroom so they could enjoy the theater’s entertainment without the distraction of childcare.

“Danger of fire is practically eliminated in the fireproof building,” the American reported in 1921. Sadly, this would prove inaccurate. In December 1953, the Joie was gutted by fire. A few years later, crews demolished what was left of it.

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