Theaters Kept Up With Change to "Talkies"
Today's version of theater entertainment has evolved from one quite different than what first appeared in Anderson 126 years ago. In the late 1880s the word "theater" had a different connotation than it does today. Movies had not arrived and "theater" was a new name for "opera house."
Costing $80,000, Anderson's first theater was the Doxey Opera House which opened June 15, 1883. Built by Charles T. Doxey, it was located at 41-47 North Meridian Street. It featured classic stage extravaganzas that traveled the country. That same address today would by 927 Meridian Street, as the city was under the old Philadelphia street numbering system until 1900.
The Doxey Opera House burned in November, 1884, and was rebuilt by Doxey on the same site. When it re-opened in 1885, it was called the Doxey Music Hall and was described as a beautiful Thespian Temple. However, eight years later, fire again destroyed it and it was not rebuilt.
In 1884, another theater opened in town. The Olympic Theater was on the north side of Eighth Street just west of Meridian. Located at 4 1/2 West Eighth Street, the theater was on the second floor. After fire gutted the interior on March 10, 1893, it too passed from the scene as apparently it was not a paying proposition. The city was in need of a theater and one grand theater it got.
A Grand Opera House
When The Grand Opera House opened on October 22, 1895, it had a seating capacity of 1,400. Featured were elaborate theatrical productions, symphony concerts, as well as one-man shows. The region's abundance of natural gas brought business to Anderson along with a number of wealthy people, many of whom owned boxes in the theater and had their names engraved on the boxes. The Grand lasted until the 1920s when it closed due to the rising interest in movies.
In 1896, the Casino Theater opened at 42 East Ninth Street and advertised as a "variety" house. With its opening, the age of variety shows, also known as vaudeville, was begun in Anderson. Vaudeville was so popular that more theaters opened with some featuring three shows daily. Vaudeville was a heard life for the performers but it was even harder on weekends when they had four shows a day.
The Bijou Theater, 124 East Ninth, and next door the Park Theater, 122 East Ninth, on the east ground floor room of the old Doxey House Hotel, were opened next.
By the turn of the century, other theaters were making an appearance. The most notable was the Crystal Theater which opened May 19, 1905 at 116 East Eighth Street. All seats were 10 cents for the matinee. In the evening the lower floor seats were 20 cents and the balcony 10 cents. Others opening between 1912 and 1918 were: Nickelodeon, 17 East Ninth; Cozy, 1022 Meridian Street; Orpheum, 912 Main Street; Princess, 1038 Meridian; Royal, 746 Main St.; Star, 932 Meridian; Starland, 1115 Meridian; Isis, 19 East Ninth; Indiana, 920 Main St. and the Meridian, 933 Meridian Street.
Several of these began as vaudeville but converted to film as the era of silent films found its was to Anderson in the early teens, while others were opened strictly to show the new Hollywood "flickers," or as some called them, "picture shows."
Up On The Roof
Before leaving vaudeville, there is one more theater to mention. In 1914-1915, the Airdrome Theater appeared at 29 West 11th Street. This was an open air theater on the south side of 11th Street, between the Kimball-Hayes drug store at Meridian and in back of the little frame house west of the alley that housed the old traction station. Kids would find their way to the roof of the old drug store to see the shows for free after dark.
It was the heyday of the old silent movie houses as more opened after the end of World War I. Those theaters, beginning in 1919, were the Riviera, 1135 Meridian Street; a new location for the Meridian, 1035 Meridian Street; Madison, 8 West Eighth(the very first of the many Tarzan movies was shown here starring Elmo Lincoln); New Capitol, southwest corner of 13th & Meridian Streets; Victory, 1035 Meridian; Granada, 110-114 East 11th Street(this was the old Grand Opera House converted to a movie theater in 1924); Fawn, 924 Main St.; Regent(formerly the Isis), 19 East Ninth and the Ritz, 918 Meridian Street.
During the period of the "silents," it was an extra feature to have girl singers as accompanists to liven up the movie. They went on one at a time, presumably to make their voices last through the evening. Artificial sound effects were also used to enhance the viewer's experience.
But all of that became unnecessary with the advent of sound. The silent film died with alarming suddenness as each studio rushed into production with its first "all talkie" movie. By the end of 1929, theaters everywhere were equipped with sound installations, including the Riviera. The first talking movie to come to Anderson was The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson at the old Crystal Theater. Released in 1927, the movie played in Anderson the following year. The sensation caused by the "talkies" resulted in the construction of Anderson's two finest theaters.
The Paramount Theater, 1124 Meridian Street, opened its doors August 20, 1929. It was Anderson's most popular theater during 1929 and 1930 with its romantic Spanish style and a star-sky overhead. Then, the State Theater opened on May 30, 1930. It featured a huge heating and cooling plant and the most modern sound system and projection room in Indiana. They are the only theaters that remain in the downtown today.
In 1928, the Kaybee Theater opened at 2307 Columbus Avenue. Its name was changed to the Colonial Theater in 1937. Another name change occurred when the former Starland Theater became the Times Theater, March 29, 1942.
There are two additional theaters that should be mentioned. The first is the Lyric Theater located on the north side of the public square on Eighth Street, and the other is the Wynn theater located on the west side of Main Street three doors south of 10th Street. Both were around during the silent film era but exactly when is uncertain.
If you are counting, there are 36 theater names and locations mentioned. The majority were located on Meridian Street where 16 made their home in a four-block area between Ninth and 13th Streets. The next most popular area was East Ninth Street with six in the two blocks between Meridian Street and Central Avenue.
By Stephan T. Jackson, Madison County Historian