3616 Olive Street,
No one has favorited this theater yet
The Empress Theatre was built in 1913 as a vaudeville house and then became a legitimate theater. Located on the south side of Olive west of Grand, it eventually became a movie house when vaudeville declined and then reverted to live theater.
The classic front with its arched windows and floor-to-ceiling glass facade for the first story gave a majestic impression.
After vaudeville declined, the Empress' management started a resident stock company in 1952. The company eventually proved unsuccessful, although in some seasons the playhouse made money. The end of its second stock season in April 1953 showed an unusually high profit. Although the playhouse had lost $35,000 the year before because of improvements and remodeling, it was able to pay this back and then some.
A typical season for the Empress would be one with 27 plays, Owned by the Ansell Brothers, the legitimate theater managed the profitable second season by cutting corners and upping the admission from $2 to $2.50. The brothers also reduced the average fee for a visiting star from $6,500 to $1,800 – which ultimately may have caused their downfall.
At the end of the 1953 season, the play that brought in the most box office receipts was “Claudia”, earning $18,500, followed by “Tobacco Road”. “Theatre”, starring Kay Francis, brought in the least amount of money – $6,500. That season television stars such as June Lockhart and Jackie Kelk played there.
The Ansells had big plans for their next season and wanted to introduce musicals to their repertoire.
However, after four seasons, Joseph and Louis Ansell had to close the doors of the Empress for the last time on live theater. The Empress had lost $200,000 during the last two seasons. The Ansells claimed it was hard for St. Louis to support legitimate theater — but not so. The Muny and the American were thriving at this time. Critics attributated the theater’s failure to the inability to attract big name stars.
The theater installed a large screen and went to motion pictures and thrived until the mid 60’s running first and second-run movies.
The Empress is one theater many St. Louisans remember, although it was closed and demolished in the late 60’s.
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater