1911 4th Avenue,
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The Empire Building held many businesses in pre-WW1 Rock Island including the Empire Confectionery, the Empire Flower Shop, and the Empire Ball Room. But it was best remembered for the Empire Theatre. Edward T. Dolly’s Empire Theatre featured five acts of vaudeville and four reels of silent film at each show beginning on August 27, 1911. The projection booth was sealed off from the rest of the building. Dolly signed a five-year lease. The theatre had 1,300 seats all on the main floor and Dolly, who designed the venue said that it was “safest theatre in the world” with “no death trap balconies”.
The theatre would work in public speeches and both wrestling and boxing matches. In 1915, Charles Berkell took on the venue to early success but the theatre’s crowds dwindled. In 1916, it eliminated both films and vaudeville and films in favor of legitimate plays which appears to end the theatre’s run at the end of its five year lease.
A main part of the theatre was in the midst of being transitioned to a skating rink when – On August 9, 1916 – the Empire Building was the site of a big fire that gutted the rear of the building but the asbestos curtain spared the theatre. The skating rink would finally open but the building was leased to Robert P. Galbraith who converted the space for Galbraith Motors in 1920. The Empire Building has since been demolished.
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