Loew's State Theatre

715 Washington Avenue,
St. Louis, MO 63101

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Loews State 1961

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The Loew’s State Theatre may have had the strangest lobby of all Missouri theaters. Although its graceful marble lobby was elegant, it also had an alley in the shape of an L running thrugh its center.

Entering the Loew’s State Theatre for the first time, one would have been surprised to find he couldn’t directly enter the auditorium from the lobby. He had to climb the marble stairs, cross the upper lobby and descend another marble staircase.

The history of the alley doesn’t explain why theater architect Thomas Lamb or owner Marcus Loew designed the $1.2 million building this way.

It started in the 1850’s with Isaac Walker, who owned this parcel of land. Walker recorded a deed on June 24, 1858, specifying that a 20 foot wide alley should run east and west through his land. Walker owned this property until 1919, when Marcus Loew purchased it to build his palace.

On June 30, 1919, the T.P. Barnett Company, representing Loew, asked for elimination of the alley. To do this, the entire block would have to be rebuilt because the L-shaped alley would allow service entrances for the stores adjoining the theater building. The city decided the alley belonged to Marcus Loew, and he needn’t enforce Walker’s deed. Loew could eliminate or move the alley if he wanted to, but for some reason, he built the theater around the alley.

The first sight to greet patrons of the Loew’s was the black marble ticket booth. Inside, they would see a contrast to the black marble booth in the white marble, rotunda-shaped lobby. Gilt blaconies overlooked the lobby, and fountains flanked each side. A crystal chandelier overhead illuminated the while marble grand staircase which led to the upper lobby.

The entrance foyer floor slanted upward slightly toward the stairs. This technique in the theater design draws the patron toward the stairs, which he must ascend, anyway, to reach the auditorium. Upstairs, the lobby was decorated with a mural of a sailing ship and rowboat framed by marble pillars. It gave one the impression of looking out a window and seeing such a scene. The furniture of the upper lobby included sofas, chairs and tables in addition to chandeliers which tended to be egg shaped. The other wall was heavily paneled.

Lamb always used much wood panelling in his architectural designs. The practice was also seen in the panelled Louis XVI salon in the Loew’s Midland Theatre in Kansas City, built two years later. The panelling made the Loew’s theater elegant – as did the ceilings of the ladies' room, which were covered with quilted satin.

The railings of the theater’s balcony glowed with polished brass, while most of the ceiling was covered with gold leaf. The central chandelier in the auditorium held over 1,000 crystals. Also noteworthy in the auditorium were large paintings of the Muses framed by Corinthian columns.

Part of the nationwide Loew’s Inc. chain, the State Theatre was built in an unusual site – downtown. The theater district stood on Grand Avenue as the Great White Way. In an August 22, 1924, interview with the St. Louis Post Dispatch before his theatre’s grand opening, Loew said his downtown choice for a site was controversial. But, he said, he was sure people would come, and they did.

On August 21, 1924, the opening night offered a varied program, including the Loew’s State Symphony, an organ solo, a cartoon, topics of the day, a featured presentation (“Revelation”, starring Viola Dana and Monte Blue), in addition to personal appearances by 16 celebrities. The last event included the organ solo by Tom Terry, who played “Pomp And Circumstance”.

The opening week program summed up the policy of the Loew’s State Theatre, which was described as follows, “The superior construction of this theater offers the combined advantage of the utmost in comport and convenience for our patrons and the most complete facilities for the ultra-modern presentation of pictures and the allied arts.”

The Loew’s State Theatre continued to do well for the next half century. On August 10, 1974, the theater celebrated its 50th anniversary. Patterned after the theater in New York, the Loew’s has a twin in New Orleans, also called the State.

The St. Louis Loew’s State Theatre had a personality of its own. A parrot and a macaw lived in the lobby and greeted patrons. They stayed there for over ten years until someone taught the parrot unsavory language. A fish pond stood in the lower lobby with minnows in it. One minnow reportedly got a peanut stuck in its mouth and nearly drowned, until Officer Frank Schlueter pulled out the peanut with a bobby pin. This even made newspaper headlines.

After 53 years, the Loew’s State Theatre closed its doors a final time. The theater, in its later years, had changed its movies from first run to second run and ethnic films. The Loew’s didn’t even publicize its Sunday, August 28, 1977 closing, most people there who were watching the movie didn’t know this was its final day.

The last movie to show there was appropriately named “Autopsy”. In May 1983, the Loew’s State Theatre was slated for demolition, and on Monday, May 16, the wrecking ball did away with the auditorium. The lobby on the other side of the alley remained until the entire block was demolished making way for the Americas Center (The Convention Center). Before the wrecking ball hit, almost everything of value had been removed, including the marble walls, seats, and chandeliers.

Contributed by Charles Van Bibber

Recent comments (view all 24 comments)

Patsy
Patsy on September 2, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Chuck: Thanks for the nostalgic explanation of “fun days back when”! Aloha

TJ
TJ on December 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Chuck1231 – I’ve emailed you before, but have not gotten a response. I’m seeking info as to when those photos were taken. The lady in the ticket booth is my Mom, but it is difficult to guess the age of the photo. Also, the ticket taker is Ed “Candy” Gibbons. I spent many a day, watching movies over and over – many times from the projection booth. What fun! Thanks, Tom

TJ
TJ on December 30, 2012 at 9:14 am

Chuck, First off – thanks for responding, and I have no idea why I wouldn’t know you! It seems that I was always down there, although I was in the Navy in ‘65. Red Velvet Cake! I have her handwritten recipe for that, and treasure it as if it were gold. Rather than clutter up this site with reminiscences, could you email me @ tom(dot)amy(dot)jones(at)gmail(dot)com, please? I remember Candy being sooo ticklish. Spinelli, Berger. Would love to “talk” to you. Thanks.

Stephenvb
Stephenvb on November 25, 2013 at 6:24 am

This is a dedication to our loving father whom was called home by out heavenly father on November 11, 2013.

Our great grandmother managed theatres in St. Louis so theatre was in dad’s blood. Then while in high school he was in the DECCA program his Junior and Senior years and went to school a half day and worked at the Loew’s State in Downtown St. Louis. Dad loved the movie theatres and started researching them early in his life. He was most fond of the Loew’s State. Mr. Bovin was the City Manager for Loew’s in St. Louis. The two built a special bind. Others there were Nick Manzella the manage and John Muich the assistant manager. Dad wanted to be a pilot above all things though. He did his college and then his flight school, met our mother in college. Through pulling some string by people that could dad was able to get a job with TWA. His life was happy, a beautiful career and a wonderful loving wife. They had three children, Stephen Philip, Christopher Charles and Zachary Benjamin. Mon developed cancer while carrying Zachary and passed away three months after Zachary was born. It was very difficult for all three of us boys but it was extremely hard on dad. He had to do local flights so that he could be home with us as much as possible. We must say we had the greatest dad the heavenly father could put on this earth. As we got older dad was able to work international flights. When we were not in school we would make as many trips with him as possible. Dad joined an online site called Cinema Treasures and it worked out great for him. When he had layovers in his destination cities he would research theatres. Dad joined Cinema Treasures not very long after it went live inline. He joined on October 6, 2003 and over the years has contributed more than 5,000 theatres, 14,000 comments and almost 4,000 photos to the site. Dad lived for his sons first, flying second and the theatres were his one and only hobby. He made some special friends on Cinema Treasures, Patsy from down south, Ken from New York,, Randy Carlisle the great photographer from Texas, Don Lewis from the Dallas Fort Worth area (Don is also a airline worker with Southwest) but they all are contributors to Cinema Treasures. There is also Ken Roe from the United Kingdom who was a wonderful friend to dad. Out Mom was born and raised in the UK. Being a pilot dad had his favorites to fly to. His number one spot was Hawaii. That is where mom and dad were buried. They are there is spirit and we well be able to feel that spirit when we go over there. Mom and Dad had their condo new Honolulu on the ocean and he spent the mainland cold months in HI. We have family and friends in St. Louis, Salt Lake City and of course Hawaii so we had to have services at all three places before dad was finally buried. Dad got me started on Cinema Treasure but I don’t know if I will ever be able to fill his shoes. But I will try. Mahalo to all those that have helped me so far, especially Joe Vogel and Ken. Ken I can’t count the times that when we were around dad and he would read your comments and just bust out laughing. You touched his heart in so many way. I know there are many others but those mentioned in this dedication are the one that dad talked about most of the time. His love through my spirit goes out to you all. You are all treasures in so many ways and thru a treasure that your friendships came to fruitation “Cinema Treasures” Mahalo to you all. Dad really fought a tough battle but his body was so weak from the first tumor that he didn’t have the physical strength to beat it this time. I tried to be there for him as much as possible and sometimes I felt like I wasn’t there enough. Being the firstborn there was a special bind between the two of us. I still feel the flow involuntarily when I go through his theatre research, when I see something that was special to him, his photos. Time will help I know. And since we were all sealed together in the Temple I know we will all be together again one day.

Well to all I say Mahalo and Aloha (An eternal Aloha to Patsy from dad)

Stephen Philip Van Bibber, Christopher Charles Van Bibber, Zachary Benjamin Van Bibber

TJ
TJ on November 25, 2013 at 9:58 am

Stephen, Thank you so much for posting this dedication to your Dad, and I am saddened to hear of “OUR” loss. I feel so fortunate to have had but a glimpse into our shared memories of the relationship between your Dad (as a high school student), working alongside my Mother, at the Loew’s State in St. Louis. Sadly, and selfishly, I hesitated too long to respond to his last email. We were both driven to tears – happy tears, yet grieving tears – of treasured moments. I had often thought of continuing our emails, but just could not bring myself to possibly cause another person’s sadness – if that was the case. Please know that my deepest sympathy is sent with this missive – to you and your brothers – and I will always remember you Dad, for bringing back such warm and heartfelt memories of better days. You, me, and this entire community has been so blessed by the service of your Dad’s “hobby.” May he rest in peace. Mahalo and Aloha. Tom

Norman Plant
Norman Plant on November 25, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Stephen, I echo the thoughts of TJ on your father’s passing. I have been fascinated with theaters since the late ‘60s, particularly with those in my hometown of St Louis, and your father filled in many of the holes of my research over the years through his comments and pictures. He will be missed.

Patsy
Patsy on November 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Stephen: Your recent post brought tears to my eyes and when I read…“An eternal Aloha to Patsy from dad” I wiped away a tear. I will truly miss my “Hawaii Guy”. God Bless you and your family.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on November 26, 2013 at 10:46 pm

WOW! So very sorry to hear about your loss. I’ll make no bones about it – your dad and I (and many of us) had our battles here on Cinema Treasures regarding historical accuracy and whatnot. But one thing can’t be denied: his love and passion for cinema and movie theatres – particularly the ones in the great city of St. Louis – was real.

R.I.P. Mr. Van Bibber. May God comfort your family during this time of grief.

Kyle Muldrow
Kyle Muldrow on December 2, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Stephen, I would also like to extend my prayers and sympathy to you and your family. Although I never met your father in person, I knew of him and our mutual love of movie theaters (especially in St. Louis) from this and other websites we posted on (Cinematour.com, drive-ins.com, etc). As my good friend Chris Utley said, your father had true passion for movies and movie theaters, especially in our hometown of St. Louis. God Bless you during this difficult time.

Cimarron
Cimarron on April 11, 2014 at 10:28 pm

Upload of 1935 Marx Brothers showing at State Theater. See photo section.

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