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May 13, 2012

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Downtown changes featured in early 1927

TERRE HAUTE — During March and April of 1927 – about 85 years ago – the owners of interests in four major downtown Terre Haute theaters were negotiating to transfer their interests to representatives of Paramount Studios.

The theaters involved were the American, 817-819 Wabash Ave.; Hippodrome, 721-735 Ohio St.; Indiana, 683 Ohio St.; and the Liberty, 729 Wabash Ave.      

Wabash Theatres Corp., incorporated with $150,000 of paid-in capital, already owned the Hippodrome, which opened in 1915 at the southwest corner of Eighth and Ohio streets. Its seating capacity was reported to be 1,410.

The initial stockholders were Homer Anderson, Harry J. Baker, Theodore W. Barhydt, Joseph A. Conrad, Rutherford N. Filbeck, Fred G. Heinl, E. W. Kemp, Paul Kuhn, John McFall, Joseph P. McKibben, Herman Mayer, Williuam Myers, Joseph Otten, William S. Rea, Ewald E. Reiman, Ray Riekemper and George Schaal.

In 1924, Wabash Theatres Corp. leased the Indiana Theatre, with a suggested seating capacity of 2,000, for 30 years from the corporation headed by Barhydt that built the magnificent entertainment palace in 1921-22.

The Liberty Theater, built in 1919 with a seating capacity of 1,220, was owned by McFall. In 1924, it was leased by Wabash Theatres Corp. for 50 years.

The oldest theater in the group was the American, built in 1914. It seated 990 patrons. The building and grounds were owned by Sigmund Uffenheimer, who also owned one-third of the Terre Haute Amusement Co., the operating company of the theater, with insurance agent Charles Fox.

Two-thirds of the American Theatre’s operating company was owned by the bidders, Charles Reagan, Indianapolis district manager of Paramount Studios, and D.A. Ross, Paramount’s Chicago district manager.

Complete details of the proposed transaction were not revealed, but it was reported that the bidders offered Wabash Theatres Corp. $200,000 to assume the existing leases of the Indiana, Liberty and Hippodrome theaters.

The bidders offered to purchase or lease the American Theater.

There were several downtown theaters operating in 1927 besides the four listed above. Though the Crescent and Orpheum theaters had closed, the Princess (669 Wabash), Fountain (422 Wabash), Savoy (323 Wabash) and Grand Opera House (29 N. Seventh St.) were still thriving downtown.

The Lyceum (1235 Wabash), Alhambra (1172 Locust St.), Rex (838 N. Sixth St.), Swan (1220 Lafayette Ave.) and the National Theatre on National Ave. in West Terre Haute were considered neighborhood theaters.            

The Grand Opera House was taken over by Fourth Avenue Amusement Co. of Louisville on April 2, 1927.

Shannon P. Katzenbach, who served as manager during the entire time that the opera house was owned by Crawford Fairbanks and his estate, was retained.

Engineers from Vitaphone Co. spent a week in Terrre Haute, studying the size of the Grand Opera House building, the height of its stage, the dimensions of the auditorium and balconies, the type of seats and other details.

Vitaphone was a popular new sound film system introduced by Warner Bros. in August 1926. The soundtrack was not printed on the film but issued on phonograph records.

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    March 12, 2010