318 N. St. Paul Street,
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Previously operated by: Joy's Theaters Inc.
Previous Names: Circle Theatre, Showcase Theatre, Uptown Theatre, Little Theater
The Circle Theatre opened on December 25, 1923 as a live theatre, and was operated by E.H. Hulsey. It operated for 15 years as a legit house with the Circle Player, followed by the Little Theatre. On April 1, 1934 it was renamed Uptown Theatre. It was closed in 1938 after running into deficits throughout the decade.
On August 31, 1943, Joy Theatres Inc. of New Orleans opened its 63rd location at the former Circle Theatre and it was renamed Joy Theatre. It was a third/fourth run ultra discount movie theatre. By June 1948, there was no more Joy, as the theatre was closed.
It hade several mixed uses over the years, including storage, office space and church services. On April 27, 1977, it was demolished.
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Two downtown theaters utilized the nameplate, Joy Theater. The first can be found under the Strand Theater in Dallas where the Hippodrome was renamed the Joy followed by the Wade, Dallas, Downtown and finally Strand. This entry is for the Joy Theater that began as the Circle Theater.
The first live theater to be built since 1893 in Dallas since the Opera House, E.H. Husley opened the 1,100 seat Joy Theatre’s original nameplate, The Circle Theatre on Christmas Day 1923. Hotel magnate Conrad Hilton had always wanted to try show business and operated the Circle for one year breaking even. The Circle was home to the Circle Players and under new management, their slogan was, “If you can’t go to Broadway, we’ll bring Broadway to you.” Again, new management the following year under John L. Corvo spoke to the challenges of the business environment. Late that year, original owner E.H. Hulsey was back in charge and took a chance on motion pictures.
Hulsey started with a high profile road show of MGM’s “Ben Hur.” After selling out the first show, Hulsey would soon position his Circle as one of the potentially major movie houses in the South when he invested $25,000 on Warner Brother’s Vitaphone synchronizer bringing sound pictures to downtown Dallas. He got Warner’s “Don Juan” which did phenomenal business. “The Better Olé” was next and the Al Jolson short sparked with audiences. Hulsey allowed Saenger Amusements to book the films. But Hulsey sold his lease to new owner Raleigh Dent. Dent made what would turn out to be a business decision that would change the fate of the Circle Theater forever.
Determining Vitaphone releases to be too sporadic, Dent had the Vitaphone equipment removed in 1927. The Arcadia Theatre on Greenville Ave. in Dallas installed the equipment in time for a preview screening of Al Jolson’s seminal “The Jazz Singer” and the rest, as they say, is history with every Dallas theater on Theater Row converting to sound pictures except one: The Circle.
The Circle’s next shot at cinematic glory came when it booked a high profile road show of Paramount’s blockbuster to be, “Wings” to be accompanied with a 20-piece orchestra. But Paramount decided to revamp the road show with a Vitaphone disc instead of the live accompaniment and the Circle lost the booking at the last minute to the Melba which placed the Vitaphone equipment just in time to secure the booking.
Businessman and Neiman-Marcus co-founder Herbert Marcus backed the Circle financially in 1928 under the direction of James R. Saville who took over for Aldis Bartlett and changed the flagging theater’s name to the Showhouse. But there would be no more profitable years for the Showhouse which struggled mightily during the Depression era. James J. Hayden hit some high points with his stock company but closed down the theater in January 1932. It re-opened in 1934 under film veteran J.S. Groves who installed a cooling system in the auditorium and changed the name of the theater to the Uptown Theatre. Finally, in 1937, the theater got its biggest live theater boost when The Little Theater moved into the space and the theater got its fourth name, The Little Theater. That situation proved challenging as street noise infiltrated performances constantly in the non-soundproofed facility and the space was deemed to be dirty and technologically challenged. The Little Theater moved out in 1938 and the Circle was used sporadically including occasional shows and sermons.
On August 21, 1943, Joy Theatres Inc. of New Orleans opened its 63rd location at the former Circle Theatre and it was renamed the Joy Theatre. The first program was “Leopard Men of Africa” and “Tanks a Million.” It was a third/fourth run ultra-discount movie theatre. By June 1948, there was no more Joy, as the theatre equipment was removed and the theater went dark. It was used just a month into its vacancy by a crook who drilled a small hole from it to the neighboring drug store as the crook made off with narcotics and cash. From there, the space was used for more productive but non-cinema related things including storage, office space and church services. In 1951, a million dollar renovation turned the Circle/Joy into an office building ending any hopes of its auditorium housing a theater. On April 27, 1977, the Circle/Joy was demolished.
While the ultimate fate of the theatre wouldn’t have been different had a decision to stay with sound film in 1927 been made, there’s no question that the Circle would have been more fondly remembered as a Cinema Treasure in local theater history. And certainly it might have avoided having five names doing business as the Circle, Showcase, Uptown, Little Theater, and Joy.
reopened as Uptown on April 1st, 1934. Grand opening ad posted.