60 Gibbs Street,
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The Eastman opened in 1922 showing the silent version of “The Prisoner of Zenda”. It was presented to the city as a gift from George Eastman, who had founded the Eastman Kodak company. Carved over the entrance facade is the ‘For the enrichment of community life.’
George Eastman wanted to expose the public to classical music and thought that a movie theater with a well trained orchestra and organist would be a good way to do it. Though not as spectacular as some movie palaces, the Eastman has a lovely oval entrance lobby with a bronze box office, marble columns, wall hangings depicting the story of Psyche and Cupid, and well detailed plaster work.
Throughout the theater the various lobbies,staircases and lounges still contain most of the elegant furniture, antiques, and artwork (including an original mural by Maxfield Parish) that decorated them on opening night. Though not atmospheric, the original scheme for the auditorium was that of sitting in a huge elaborate pavilion open to the outdoors. The sidewalls are of plaster made to look like rusticated stonework and have large murals depicting processions of musicians parading by (still in place today). The main emergency exits are guarded by busts of Bach and Beethoven. During its days as a movie theater the stage setting for the screen was made to look like an Italian garden. A shallow dome illuminated by a huge chandelier dominates the entire space.
As a side note, the light fixtures to hang in the corners of the ceiling above the balcony had not arrived by opening day, so the workmen took a pair of washtubs, wired them for electricity, ornamented and gilded them, and hung them up to do temporary duty until the real thing arrived. 81 years later the temporary fixtures are still in place.
The Eastman was briefly leased to the Publix chain, but with the advent of talkies the theater’s original purpose of presenting good music to the public was not being served. The Eastman became a concert hall in 1930 and has been home to the Rochester Philharmonic ever since.
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