Bremen Theater

1929 Bremen Avenue,
St. Louis, MO 63107

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Bremen Theater

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One of several theaters opened by Orrin T. Crawford which made up the St. Louis Amusement Co. and later Franchon & Marco Chain and then Arthur Theaters.

The Bremen Theater had 600 seats on the main floor and 200 in the balcony. It was located on the edge of a North Side city park.

The theater was later operated by the Kaimann family. There was a big stink with the stagehands union and the owners and picketing of the theater. The courts ordered the union to prove that a stagehand was needed since the theater only showed movies.

The theater also suffered some in a family fued that led to a suicide of William Kaimann. His wife and son operated the theater until it’s closing in 1968. During it’s last few years in operation, it was open on weekends only.

Contributed by Chuck Van Bibber

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

Kerry Manderbach
Kerry Manderbach on June 18, 2011 at 9:32 am

Patrickgenna, as a Northsider I was raised in that area, and don’t have too much of a problem whenever I’m in “the hood”. I do keep my wits about me I’ll admit, lol. For those unfamiliar with that area, caution is the keyword. Next time I go up that way, I’ll grab some newer pics of what’s going on…

patrickgenna
patrickgenna on July 12, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Hey digiitalcool, an update on the Bremen building’s condition would be nice,…so images would be great. PatrickGenna

evian257
evian257 on May 3, 2012 at 4:32 am

My grandmother owned the Bremen. My mom, sister, and I lived with her, and I remember going there with my sister as kids in the 60’s. We weren’t allowed to mingle with the public as we were both under the age of 10, so we sat in the balcony, which at that time was closed to the public. Sometimes the projectionist’s kids were there, too. I remember the projectionist would let us come into the booth and rewind the film reels by hand. He’d also let us peek through the little windows for the projector and watch the movie from there. We weren’t allowed to use the public restroom either, so we had to walk all the way down the aisle to the door to the left of the screen and use the bathroom back there. I always thought it was so spooky back there I usually asked my sister to go with me, even though I’m the elder! I also remember how the screen had been slashed at some point, I think in the lower right corner, two parallel horizontal cuts maybe twelve to twenty-four inches long, about two to three inches apart, with a short vertical cut that connected the two, I think towards the left end of the slashes. North St. Louis was already a pretty dangerous place, even almost 50 years ago. Good thinking on Grandma’s part to keep us away from that! On Monday mornings we’d ride down to the “picture show” as she always called it, to pick up the weekend’s receipts and deposit them in the bank. She’d always let us pick a candy bar from the case and sometimes a soda from the machine. It was the type where you put your cup under the nozzle and push the button to choose your flavor; you could press multiple buttons and mix the flavors – cherry/orange/Coke is yummy stuff for a nine year old, lol! I was sad when she sold the show, but she was already well into her seventies by then, and selling the theater allowed her to pay off her house. Long afterward there were still reminders of the old place; we had the usher’s broom and long-handled dustpan, the ticket-taker’s chair from the ticket booth, at least a gallon sized can of Popsit Plus popcorn oil, and she must have had several dozen pads of theater schedules which we used as note paper for grocery lists, etc., for the next ten years.

Noir
Noir on September 14, 2013 at 8:17 am

I never saw it open. I saw it as a church. I knew it had been a theatre because of the big space outside, indentation in the brick for posters or windows and I remembered it having a barrel vault roof from the outside(viewed from the side)—I think. The bricks would fall off sometimes onto the sidewalk.

It was “what it was.” It was not comparably dangerous for people who lived there, and had to live there everyday. People who live under a mandated different reality—must have additional skill sets like military personnel. It was as safe as it could be under the disparate economic circumstances imposed in varying levels the last 4 centuries. The theatres can be restored but the people who live there or someone from the outside has to fund it. The majority of people there, 97% behind in assets, 7% movement every 50 years means, maybe 18 sets of 50 years for closure at this rate. So outside funding is the best option.

Noir
Noir on September 14, 2013 at 8:24 am

The old Bremen Theatre was not far from what looked like the 4 times larger German Turner’s Gymnasium that was down the street. It was nice—both the old and new one. I do not know if movies were ever shown there, —sometimes?

The theatres were closed. Missionary churches in the camp zone were maybe the only people who lived there and worked there—-showed a little movie to children on a weekend in the summer some time. Lacking money, they still tried to keep the children’s hope and spirits up. Children and Churches—-could not repair the building. Children did try to clean up the area.

These children were invisible, forgotten and grew into successive generations of adults, without the financial assets or top notch property financed education to move up the ladder. They’re deficient educations could not fund superior rebuilding funds and investment income.

The city never had the money to repair the old Bremen theatre. At best people could move to another area at the same low income level. Without a huge jump in assets, and money and jobs—no change. It was more like a third world, perpetual great depression-just for them. A surrounded, ghetto war torn situation—but in the USA not Warsaw 1945. This is a norm in the USA. Not many theatres in Jewish areas made it in European German occupied WWII ghettoes.

Preservation was blocked. These US urban areas, the economic and educational hostilities never ended. Whitney Young’s Urban Marshal plan—that might have preserved these historical neighborhoods and theatres as non-profit treasures did not happen. The Hi-Point single theatre on Skinker south of WAshing ton Univerity—-like another world or reality than North St. Louis—has been saved and in operation for decades. Where people have money options exist.

Lacking major opportunities like the small ammunition war factory that employed 35,000 WWII on Goodfellow/Bircher or thousands employed at North St. Louis GM plant, Emerson Electric, Carter Carburetor and others all closed or moved—preservation money is missing.

The economic investment—that would have included the old Bremen theatre, ( rebuilding)— has not taken place in 40, 50 or 60 years and counting.But people who live there were hopeful and did the best they could with what little they had to preserve the building as long as they could. Multiple groups for decades in the past Northside Ministries,many churches—Holy Trinity, Lutheran, 61 Initiative—preserved what they could.

Noir
Noir on September 14, 2013 at 8:44 am

The old Bremen building survived a long time.
Why the Bremen theatre building was still there?

1) Police station was up the street for years,til late 1980’s maybe 1990, later used to store parking meters. When the police retreated to a super substation on North Jefferson, reduced costs and shut down all the neighborhood police stations the police were more distan, so more buildings and people were vulnerable. A population with low property values, no one with money moving in or investing, few job opportunities, leaves little money for schools and city services—like police, or fire protection—that are funded on property taxes. Unwanted property brings in few taxes. Little money available for the old Bremen.

2) The parks acted as a segregated barrier Windsor Park 3 blocks up farther north vs Hyde Park as many streets and other areas. Various dividing lines, oasis' existed across the camp landscape during many decades.

3) A few people with access to education, union jobs, family contacts, who could cross the color line(Caucasian) to job access, were sprinkled in on one or two streets up against Highway 70, south from East Grand College Bissell Hill, back down Blair Ave to Hyde Park where the Bremen Theatre buildinis located—on the street called Bremen.

Resources only appear if it comes from Downtown to the south or from far outside: Areas near the old Bremen stuggled to hang on—but everyone fled. Old North St. Louis with Crown Candy and White Castle Hamburgers is a little farther south across from Little Sisters of the Poor. An old diner sandwich shop was down there maybe north of Parnell and North Market colored white and blue tile—but a car ran into it and wipped it out in 1980’s. The 14 Street Pedestrian mall of a few old stores were almost vacant for decades.-except for Crown Candy—which I like very much. Great people, great ice cream, great rueben sandwiches-the German way, chocolate from molds, decor———-again like most of North St. Louis a place where 99.999999% of the outside population of 2.5 million would never venture.

This was home for hundreds of thousands of American adults and children-at the bottom economically so outside of the old Bremen theatre being a church on Sundays they did not have the money to do more for the old building and no one else came to help restore it. Long term economic deprivation has very negative impacts on buildings like the Bremen and human beings. The old Bremen theatre might collapse on someone or drop a brick on their head or a deprivated human transfixed near the old Bremen might throw a brick.

4)Bremen street was was one of the rare streets in North St. Louis to be not only temporarily blocked off, but money was paid to permanently block off the street— as the traffic plan changed in the area to protect this street and Hyde Park. Security corridors were created with one way in and out of areas if security check points or gates or police could be stationed there.With few financial resources, police had to be highly leaveraged. Near there—-the Army National Guard Summer 2012 did training exercises with armored personnel vehicles—practicing in the camp zone.

5)The City Alderman of the area, 1 of 28 for the city of St. Louis, called councilmen or women elsewhere lives on this block with the the old Bremen theatre

6)The Alderman who lives on Bremen Street with the Bremen theatre——his son was Mayor of the City of St. Louis, 1993-1997.

This is why the building is still there.

The private investment never materialized for the old Bremen theatre.

Bremen Street: this was an old German neighborhood. The last old German fellow who was born there, read the old German newspapers there, moved out in his late 90’s, maybe in 1989-91. This was also and old Polish neighborhood. Piekutowski European Sausage may still be on N. Florissant around the corner from the old Bremen theatre—excellent. The Bishop of Krakow visited there in 1960’s –long before he became Pope of Vatican City. He might have come back to visit in 1990’s when he ws in St.Louis.

All the above factors, preserved for a time: Hyde Park Pizza-(1970-1980-1990’s)remember the 1950’s car out front, Hyde Park Donut, upholstery shop?, the Hardware store on the opposite corner from the old Bremen theatre. These closed or changed hands in 1990’s or 2000’s. A family from outside Red Bud, IL I think turned the pizzaria into Cornerstone Cafe. Outside money is necessary for preservation.

This was the front line for building preservation the last 50 years.

Noir
Noir on September 14, 2013 at 9:00 am

The Bremen Follow the money, financial resources of the people in the neighborhood and you can predict what will happen to the theatre and the building. Over half the people are living below the poverty level and most barely above it in 2013. Fifty years has passed. They are in survival mode with no resources to rehab the old Bremen theatre. They are structurally, institutionally, extended family-friends-and personally—-cutoff from the resources of the general society.

So, the Bremen could not be rehabbed without money. Many owners of the old theatres after they moved away opened them only on weekends in the 1950’s or 1960’s. Some exquisite unique German buildings existed a block or two down Bremen Street but no one could ever get the money to rehab them.

If major complete rehab and maintenance investments are not done on buildings since WWII and the late 1940’s they decay. If a building built in 1910 is still standing 100 years later and has had little major financial investment in 50 to 60 years—— someone here and there did something to try to preserve the building. I remember when the building was used as a church.

Leave a typical building out in the suburbs for 70 to 100 years with little or no maintenance for 50 years plus. It will have caved in or bowed out long before these St. Louis Red, double or triple brick structures. Most of St. Louis' great architecture is in the City of St. Louis, but those with financial resources to preserve these areas abandoned them.

The miracles are the hundreds of thousands of people who lived in these “zones” and preserved the buildings to this degree. The time warp of disparate financial assets, income, opportunity, promotions, infant mortality, healthcare, life expectancy, and expectations ——the vast difference versus the rest of the society————made it a “dangerous place.”

It was not a dangerous place for people who lived there everyday. There was a different level of knowledge required. This is a normal part of American life for these areas to be created. Childhood did end very early—-and theatre going was not part of it for many children.Clearly, it impacts how they see the world as young adultsVacant empty buildings show no films. The Bremen theatre found itself enveloped into one of these areas.

What ever is going on with the people in the neighborhood when people lose their jobs or cannot obtain jobs, income, assets it impacts all the business there and the buildings—even the old Bremen.

evian257
evian257 on September 17, 2013 at 8:28 am

Kaimann, by the way, is spelled with two “N’s”. The family temporarily altered the German spelling of their name, dropping the terminal “N” during WWII so as not to be associated with Nazi Germany.

The “feud” was actually a case of embezzlement by my great-uncle Clarence. The story, as told to me by my grandma, is that her husband Will (my grandfather) discovered his brother Clarence had been siphoning off money from the business. They drove out to O'Fallon Park, where my grandfather confronted his brother, shot him, then turned the gun on himself. Uncle Clarence survived; my grandfather died the following day, two days before his 53rd birthday. That was in January 1944. (I just read a comment under O'Fallon Theater that these events actually occurred in that theater, rather than the park. Further research on my part is in order.)

Clarence went on to become moderately wealthy. He owned the North Twin Drive-In on Highway 367 (Lewis and Clark) just north of the Halls Ferry circle. He also owned the property on which Christian Hospital NE sits; there’s a commemorative plaque with his name on it in the main lobby.

evian257
evian257 on September 17, 2013 at 9:01 am

Update to previous comment.

The shooting and suicide did indeed take place in O'Fallon Park, as per my grandfather’s death certificate.

Kerry Manderbach
Kerry Manderbach on September 17, 2013 at 4:05 pm

The sandwich place referenced above was Super Sandwich Shop, located on North Florissant @ St. Louis Ave. Across the street was Northwestern Bank (which had replaced the Hi-Way Theater on 2705 N. Florissant), and on the other corners were an ice cream shop (now a shuttered liquor store) and Clark gas station (now a Phillips 66).

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