New Grand Central Theatre
702 N. Grand Boulevard,
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Since it was located on Grand Avenue in the center of the theater district, it seems fitting that this theater would be named the Grand Central Theatre. Built by the Skouras Brothers, the Grand Central Theatre opened on April 1, 1913, it became one of the first theaters on Grand Avenue and one of the first movie palaces. The Skouras Brothers showed much forsight and took many chances in building an $150,000, 1,750 seat theater to show only motion pictures. Before, the majority of grand theaters were vaudeville houses or legitimate playhouses.
It seemed to be the movie theatre’s destiny to be the first St. Louis theater to host the first talkie – Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer”. It later made local history as the first to show the premiere of the all-color talking and singing musical “On With The Show” in June 1929.
The Grand Central Theatre became the New Grand Central Theatre in 1921, when it was remodeled to hold 2,500 seats which were smaller and closer together. This may be indicative of the success of the movie houses during this time. The movie house held a 21 piece orchestra plus a Wonder Kilgen organ.
Inside this movie palace was an ornate interior with gargoyles glaring at the audience, although the audience by no means felt unwelcome from the menacing faces of these plaster characters. Designed by the architectual firm of Helfensteller, Hirsch and Watson, the New Grand Central Theatre continued to bring in crowds. The Skouras Brothers built the Missouri Theatre and later the St. Louis Theatre to accommodate larger audiences. The trend on Grand Avenue was to build bigger and better theaters, each outdoing its predecessor. Thus the crowds began to migrate to the grander, larger and more lavish theaters a few doors or blocks from the New Grand Central Theatre, which closed only ten years after its remodelling.
In the 1930’s it was sold to Franchon and Marco, who owned the New Grand Central’s and the Ambassador’s lease until 1946. After the New Grand Central Theatre was boarded up in 1931, it could not be razed until its lease ran out. In the meantime, it became a warehouse.
On December 31, 1948, the New Grand Central Theatre was reportedly in a state of disrepair. It had closed 17 years earlier and had not been in use since. The stage and orchestra pit were filled with some of the 2,000 plus seats from the audutorium. The torn curtain had fallen onto the stage and across other seats piled on the stage. Outside, the marquee which once had glowed with bright lights had fallen letter by letter. The arched entrance was missing. To the left and right sides of the center opening, merchants had moved in. One side held the White Mills Service 5 cent and 10 cent Restaurant while the other advertised free parking for the Missouri, Fox and St. Louis theaters.
After 50 years of life in St. Louis, the New Grand Central Theatre was razed to make way for a parking lot. The Fox Theatre and St. Louis Theatre (now Powell Symphony Hall) still light the Grand White Way, but it doesn’t glow quite as brightly now as before the Grand Central Theatre turned off its marquee in January 1955.
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