Pickwick Theatre

108 W. Main Street,
Syracuse, IN 46567

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Pickwick Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Built in 1934 in an English Tudor style, it was sold to Alliance Theatre Corp. in 1944, and burned in 1946. It was rebuilt in 1947. This classic movie house in downtown Syracuse still features it’s original Art Moderne style marquee, but its original facade, however, of sleek, Streamline Vitrolite, and a chrome-lined box office, has long since been replaced with 1970’s-vintage faux-rock and the box office has been moved indoors.

Still, the Pickwick Theatre is a Syracuse favorite, and a rare small town old-fashioned movie theater still screening first-run fare after more than six decades in operation.

In 2009, it received a total booth upgrade to 2K Chridstie Digital projection, Digital sound and Real D 3D. The marquee was renewed in 2010.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft, David O. Wright

Recent comments (view all 9 comments)

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on January 31, 2009 at 5:03 pm

This is from Boxoffice magazine in August 1962:

SYRACUSE, IND.-Business has been “very good”, according to Max L. Patterson, since he reopened the Pickwick Theater on August 4. Patterson has also started a program to redecorate the Pickwick, which he has leased from the Glazier Bros., owners of the Pickwick block.

Patterson also operates the Boice Theater in Warsaw. He has been in motion picture exhibition for 16 years.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 22, 2009 at 8:11 pm

The current Pickwick Theatre is the second on the site, the first having been destroyed by fire less than a decade after opening.

Boxoffice reported in its October 7, 1944, issue that the Pickwick Block in Syracuse, Indiana, had been sold by its owner, W.E. Long, to a Chicago theater syndicate. The item included these lines: “The Pickwick block was opened by Long in 1937, and houses one of the most modern and comfortable theatres in the state, air conditioned the year around. The building is 141x150 feet, full basement and two stories in height.”

I can’t find an initial report on the fire that destroyed the first Pickwick, but the July 27, 1946, issue of Boxoffice carried this item, datelined Syracuse, Ind. and headed “Rebuild Theatre in Syracuse”: “Work has started on the rebuilding of the theatre in the Pickwick block, which was destroyed by fire early in the spring. A cocktail lounge and bowling alley in the same block are also being erected. Work is expected to be completed by mid-October.”

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 22, 2009 at 8:24 pm

Rebuilding of the Pickwick must have taken longer than originally expected. Boxoffice said in its issue of February 15, 1947, that the new Pickwick had opened that week.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on November 2, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Thanks for all the pictures posted.Nice looking theatre.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on November 9, 2010 at 5:18 pm

May 1 1970 and the hit “OLIVER” is ending its long run,with “WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE” coming next.

bluesneaky
bluesneaky on June 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm

For a good history with photos to back up the text see the following link http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMBBNM_Pickwick_Theater_Syracuse_IN

The theater was built before 1934 as you can easily tell by the photo of the newspaper clipping detailing a fire that broke out in 1925. It has actually survived three fires.

Here are some clips from the waymarking page:

This theater has a fascinating history. It has been rebuilt 4 times as it stands and has survived 3 fires that burned everything around it to the ground! One of those fires even burned off the second floor of the theater but it still survived. The history dates back to the turn of the century. Pictures date to 1905.

The theater survived its first fire in 1925! Three people were hurt in the fire but no on was killed thank goodness. It was rebuilt and a second story and fancy Swiss type front facade was added to the theater. It was incorporated into a “theater complex” way back in the 30’s! It was known as the Picwick but it was not just a theater, it was a whole block of businesses and with the radically unique styling it was quite the talk in all the surrounding counties. But it wouldn’t last.

Once again fire would strike. In 1946 the entire complex burned to the ground, all that is but the theater which survived its second bout with fire. The lobby was destroyed as was the second story above it but the theater itself made it through. Following the fire the rest of the block was razed. The theater lobby though was rebuilt once again and the theater itself cleaned up and it was open for business again.

Tough life for sure but it wasn’t over. Once again in the 1970’s the “Pickwick Block” catches fire and burns to the ground again, that is all but the theater. The restaurant right next door was totaled as was the drug store next to it all the way to the corner. Some how the theater did not burn but everything else was demolished. So again the Pickwick Block was rebuilt. This time though a new style was incorporated, different but just as radical as its old styling before the 1946 fire.

This time the basement of the old block was saved (remember now the theater is still ok – it needed a little refurbishment and rebuilding of the marquee and the facade which keeps getting blasted with every fire but it survives). The Pickwick Block basement is made into a restaurant and on top of it a small park is made with buildings that face inward to the park. This is how the Pickwick Block stands today. The restaurant is called “The Down Under”.

Check out the photos at the waymarking site. I will try to post some of them here as well.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 16, 2018 at 2:08 pm

The Waymarking page for the Pickwick Theatre for which bluesneaky provided a link above (clickable version) has a gallery with several photos and other items. The most interesting is a rendering of the building as rebuilt in 1936, from the architect of the project, L. H. Warriner (Lewis Harry Warriner.)

While the gallery is quite useful, I don’t know how accurate the text on the page is. It claims that the late Victorian commercial building on the Pickwick’s site, also seen in other photos, was the home of the Theatorium, the town’s first movie theater, but I see no clear evidence in the photos themselves (despite a marquee-like structure on the front of the building very early on) that there was a theater in this earlier building. It also claims that the Theatorium and the Pickwick were “…in the same place, all the same size….”. a claim which is belied by listings on the Film Daily’s yearbooks.

The Theatorium is never listed in the FDY, but in 1927 the book lists a house called the Oakland Theatre, and in 1928 and 1929 there is a house called the Community Theatre. Syracuse does not appear in the 1930 FDY, but the Community Theatre reappears in 1931, its seating capacity listed for the first time (250) but there is an asterisk denoting that it has not been wired for sound. The Community continues to be listed through 1937, always with 250 seats, but always with the notation that it is closed.

The Pickwick first appears in the 1938 edition, with a seating capacity of 1,100. My guess would be that the front of the old two-story building was remodeled in 1937 and an entirely new auditorium was built behind that structure. The Dickensian name Pickwick was likely chosen to match the Tudor revival style of the new front, or vice versa.

There was a house called the Theatorium at Syracuse, mentioned in the October 13, 1917, issue of Motography, when the theater changed hands, but whether it was the same theater as the Oakland and the Community, and whether it (or they) were in the building behind which the 1937 Pickwick was most likely built, I don’t know. Any theater in that building would have been a storefront conversion. The Pickwick auditorium was clearly new in 1937, though I don’t doubt that the 1937 auditorium did indeed survive the 1945 fire and is the theater still in use today.

bluesneaky
bluesneaky on May 20, 2018 at 9:56 pm

Hi Joe,

Id like to get the history right here and on waymarking. maybe together we can get it straightened out.

The comment on the size was not stated well at all. I will get that changed. What was meant was the buildings footprint has stayed the same. I believed it had been the same building from the beginning. Notice the chimney in the pictures. It stays the same throughout the years if I remember right. I know the building was divided up differently throughout the years though. The more devastating fires would have burned out the flooring that originally created a second floor in the building but I am under the impression the auditorium as you called it was not new in 36. About all that remained were the walls after the fire but I thought those were reused in the reconstruction. I can take a closer look at the foundation and bricks the next time I am in town. The building took on a rear “auditorium” look when that second floor was abandoned in favor of the “auditorium” style theater inside. The front of the building however has seen quite a few rebuilds from the ground up.

I also recall my research indicated the theatorium was in that location not a house in town. One thing I seem to recall is seeing a stand alone sign in one of the early years photographs of the street. I’m not sure if it was legible but it was the type one would expect for announcement of the current showings. It looked to be about 3-4 feet tall and about 2 ½ feet wide. It looked as if it was constructed of two pieces of lumber leaning into one another so that it could be picked up and folded flat. Just my memory of the photo… its been quite a few years since I researched this project.

I can account for many of the business back in those days and thought I had the theater location pretty well nailed down. Syracuse is a pretty small town. In any case if its needed I can dig more into tax records and deeds if needed to firm this up.

On a current note, the local paper had a story in it in late winter that the theater was up for sale again. It said they were not planing on closing it but were looking for new owners.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 21, 2018 at 5:31 pm

Information about Syracuse is very thin in the theater industry trade journals, and researching it is complicated by the fact that it shares its name with a much larger city in New York. Except for the single mention of the Theatorium in 1917, I haven’t found the town mentioned until 1937, when the Pickwick was built. Syracuse does not appear in the 1914-1915 edition of The American Motion Picture Directory, which might not signify that the Theatorium was not yet in operation then, as the directory was not exhaustive.

The Film Daily’s yearbooks are not sufficiently detailed to determine if the Theatorium was the same house as the Oakland, or the Oakland the same house as the Community, but Syracuse being as small as it was it does seem likely that these were all sequential names for the same theater. In any case, the early theaters in Syracuse had to have been far smaller than the Pickwick. Assuming that they were on the same site as the Pickwick, they must have originated as a storefront conversion and occupied only a portion of the ground floor of that building.

Indiana Memory says that the Oakland was on the site of the Pickwick, but doesn’t mention the Theatorium or the Community Theatre. It also mistakenly says that the house first burned in 1927 rather than 1925, which reduces their credibility.

That the Pickwick would have used part of the original brick walls of the Victorian building does seem likely, but it also seems likely that much of the Pickwick’s 1937 auditorium would have been new construction. The upper floor of the back part of the building was probably removed entirely and the walls cut down quite a bit. Also, judging from the early photo with the group of men standing in front of the original building it looks to me like it was not as deep as the Pickwick building is. For one thing, the early building does not extend to the part of the side alley that runs steeply uphill, but the Pickwick’s building does. The chimney does look like it was in the same place, but that place was about halfway back on the original building while it is less than a third of the way back on the Pickwick’s building.

Also, though there was probably a lot of wood used in the construction of the original building on the site, that facade in the old photo doesn’t look much like wood to me. The nature of the detailing and of the finish looks very much like the cast iron that was used on tens of thousands of buildings in the last half of the 19th century and even into the early years of the 20th century. Builders could select from a vast array of pre-cast structural and decorative modular elements featured in catalogs and have them delivered to the building site. Just bolt them together and attach them to the rest of the structure and there’s your front, as fancy or as plain as you please.

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