New Grand Central Theatre

702 North Grand Avenue,
St. Louis, MO 63108

Unfavorite No one has favorited this theater yet

New Grand Central Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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.

Contributed by Charles Van Bibber

Recent comments (view all 5 comments)

JAlex
JAlex on April 24, 2004 at 11:44 am

New Grand Central opened on March 31, 1913. Built by Rex Amusement Company which was operating the Central Theatre downtown. The New Grand Central was the first movie house in the area which eventually became St. Louis' movie theatre district.

The Skouras Bros. took over the house in 1920. At this time the “New” was dropped from the name.

Architect was the firm of Helfensteller, Hirsch & Watson.

The last use of the house was on October 1, 1935.

In 1936, Fanchon & Marco announced plans to convert the facility into an art house and rename as Guild Cinema. However, early in 1937 these plans were dropped as bids received were two times F&M’s original estimate.

Demolition permit was issued on Dec. 30, 1948.
A realistic seating capacity is 1850.

plasticfootball
plasticfootball on March 13, 2008 at 12:39 pm

The following is certainly “fuzzy” information, but it’s the kind of thing that often jogs people’s memories and brings certifiable facts out of the woodwork, so here goes. The old Arcade Lanes bowling alley on Olive Street in University City, MO had a “party room” that contained at least two rows of old wooden theater seats, and I asked the owner of the Arcade where they had come from. He said they were from an old theater on Grand that had been “near the Fox” and was torn down in the ‘40s or '50s. The “Grand Central” name didn’t ring a bell with him, but it’s the only theater that fits the description. I was hoping to acquire some of these seats—or at least direct them to a good home such as the City Museum—when and if the Arcade closed, but unfortunately the bowling alley and (presumably) the theater seats were destroyed by fire a couple of years later.

Lak
Lak on April 6, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Does anyone know where to look for interior photos of these buildings? Is there an archive somewhere?

Lak
Lak on November 19, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Are there any existing photos of the interior of this theatre?

JAlex
JAlex on November 1, 2012 at 2:00 pm

As noted on the NYC theatre page, the ad is for the St. Louis operation.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater