419 N. Water Street,
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One of the first theatres in Decatur designed specifically for showing motion pictures was the Empress Theatre, opened in 1911, and built for businessman Charles Thatcher, whose own home previously occupied the site of the theater, at the corner of Water and North Streets. On September 2, 1912 it became part of the Balaban & Katz chain.
The highly ornate, Beaux-Arts style theatre was unlike any built at the time in the city, which contained a balcony, stage for live performances, and a ballroom on the building’s third floor. The Empress Theatre was the first movie house in Decatur to show a sound movie, “The Jazz Singer”, in 1928.
The Empress Building also housed other businesses, including a candy store, soda shop and drug store. The theatre was, like many of Decatur’s movie houses, rumored to be haunted. One of the ghosts was supposedly of the Empress' builder, Charles Thatcher, who died in 1923, and was later said to be seen sitting in the balcony watching the show.
After the Empress Thetare closed in 1962, it was demolished not long after to make way for a parking garage.
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