RetroIndy: History of the Circle Theater


From cinema palace to symphonic music, the majestic theater has anchored Monument Circle since 1916.

Right after the doors of the Circle Theater opened on August 30, 1916, all 3,100 seats were occupied, but not before moviegoers had a chance to marvel at the wonders of the new theater with its ivory and gold trim. gold.

The guests were greeted by a usher in a gray-blue uniform, white gloves with a golden-headed “swagger staff”. They walked the aisles of fresh cut flowers sent by supporters from New York and Hollywood. The reception hall on the second floor had been transformed into an art gallery of paintings provided by the H. Lieber Co.

As the lights in the house dimmed, the orchestra began with the overture “American Fantasie” by Victor Herbert. The audience gasped as the satin damask curtain rose, revealing the stage dressed as a walk-in garden. A quartet singing “Way Down Upon the Suwannee River” came from behind the set.

Guests would surely agree that this grand cinema palace was a much more fitting replacement for the Horace Wood livery on what was then known as Monument Place.

The feature film of the evening was “Home”, starring Bessie Barriscale, Charles Ray and Louise Glaum. Tickets for mezzanine seats cost 25 cents, while floor seats were 10 cents.

Among the many well-wishers was movie star Norma Tallmadge, who sent a telegram saying, “Best wishes and world of success to you. “

For over 100 years, the theater has served as a location for films and shows. Indianapolis first heard Al Jolson on “The Jazz Singer” in 1928. Actor Dick Powell was a regular on the Circle Theater scene before Hollywood attracted him to theaters. The theater has hosted world premieres, variety music shows, game shows and radio programs. Queues of children and their parents lined up for screenings of Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1958, while teenagers lined up along Monument Circle to see The Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night “in 1964..

TV and commuter thefts have shut down many downtown theaters. The Circle was hanging by a thread, showing B-movies and horror films. It closed in 1981.

After a $ 9 million renovation, the Circle Theater, renamed the Hilbert Circle Theater in 1996, reopened in 1984 as the new home of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. As in 1916, guests were in awe of the beauty of the theater. In 1986, the Circle Theater turned into a movie theater again when it hosted the world premiere of “Hoosiers”.

Follow IndyStar visual editor Dawn Mitchell on Twitter: @ dawn_mitchell61.

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