Nickelodeon Theatres??????

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salus
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Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by salus » Wed Jul 04, 2018 2:26 pm

Are there any Nicklodeon Storefronts that still survive? Any that you can tell they were used for films?

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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by linquist » Thu Jul 05, 2018 9:29 am

How old are you talking about for Nickelodeons? In my small town there were four theaters by 1908. I do know that one of them was converted to a tavern in the 1920s and the building is still plying that trade but whether it looks like a nickelodeon on the outside is quite questionable. As a nickelodeon, it was quite nondescript and its still rather that way as most bars/taverns are.

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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by greta de groat » Thu Jul 05, 2018 9:33 am

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is housed in a nickelodeon theater:
http://nilesfilmmuseum.org/?tv=5785178517536768

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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Thu Jul 05, 2018 10:08 am

Plenty of businesses exist in old nickelodeon storefronts. The key to spotting them is looking for the half-circle arch of electric lights over the entrance, a common design. One of my favorites is in DC:

Image
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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Thu Jul 05, 2018 10:42 am

Courtesy of Google, here's another really well-preserved one that I spotted on the south side of Chicago once:

Image
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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Brooksie » Thu Jul 05, 2018 11:48 am

The Echo Theatre (1910) in Portland, Oregon. The format of this one was unusual. You entered through the main street doorway (hence the lights and fancy arch) and walked down a long passage to the theatre, which was at the back of the building.

The auditorium still exists and is used as a live performance venue, and the old theatre sign is just visible on the back wall.

Image

Image

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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by salus » Fri Jul 06, 2018 5:17 pm

Wow!!!! Some great pictures of them

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elliothearst
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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by elliothearst » Fri Jul 06, 2018 7:17 pm

Very cool photos!

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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Rodney » Sat Jul 07, 2018 5:02 pm

The "Rex" Theater in Louisville Colorado was built in 1910 as the Isis Theater, but the name was changed to match the name of a local coal mine. The building is still there, about ten blocks from my house. It stayed in business as a movie theater until the late 1970s, when it was closed and was converted to a restaurant. It's had some major remodels recently, but the almost awkwardly high floor (relative to the sidewalk) shows that the basic structure is the same. Now it's the Waterloo, a quite decent pub-style restaurant.

Here's the original Rex:
Image

And what it looks like today. The front was completely rebuilt, and a roof-top patio added, but the arch and dentil molding have been kept (or more likely replicated in modern materials).
Image
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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Hamilton's Grandson » Sat Jul 07, 2018 5:50 pm

I haven't been to the ECHO yet only the Hollywood in Portland. Will have to put that on the to do list next time I am in the Rose City.

Thanks for the pic,
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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by salus » Sat Jul 07, 2018 9:08 pm

Where did people see shorts before the Nicklelodeons?

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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by silentfilm » Sat Jul 07, 2018 9:45 pm

salus wrote:Where did people see shorts before the Nicklelodeons?
In Vaudeville Theaters, as part of a longer program. Or a traveling exhibitor would screen films at the local Opera House/auditorium or in churches.

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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sun Jul 08, 2018 9:32 am

There's a whole NitrateVille Radio about early exhibition...

http://nitrateville.com/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=25529" target="_blank

The short answer is, before nickelodeons there were storefront theaters. You would literally take an empty storefront, line up chairs and a screen at the end, and voila, a movie theater. And when you were tired of it or competition was outdoing you, you'd turn it back into a haberdashers.

Nickelodeons were a step up because they were purpose built for movies. They also tended to position themselves as better and more wholesome than those sordid little storefront theaters. In Chicago a guy built one at Division and Milwaukee and called it The White Front, meaning it was bright and clean and a suitable place to take the womenfolk. It must have worked, because a few years later that immigrant entrepreneur, Carl Laemmle, had his own studio, Universal.
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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Jack Theakston » Sun Jul 08, 2018 9:03 pm

Mike Gebert wrote: Nickelodeons were a step up because they were purpose built for movies. They also tended to position themselves as better and more wholesome than those sordid little storefront theaters.
Ah, here we have a conundrum in definition. Most nickelodeons WERE pre-existing storefronts, augmented by the catalog-ordered pre-fab, pressed steel facades and ticket booths. Most charged five-cents for an hour's programming. Most nickelodeons had a mixture of one-reel films and song-slide shows (both leased media rather than owned by the proprietor), and their bread-and-butter could best be described as "payola" today. But not all nickelodeons fit all those bills.

If we limit the scope down to the U.S., you have two major modes of motion picture exhibition between the years of 1896 and 1904-05, when the concept of the nickelodeon storefront theater takes place:

a) the aforementioned traveling exhibitor. Many of these would buy projectors, films directly from the company, and set up anywhere they could. That meant anything from an open field, up to a town hall or church, to a local hall, to an opera house (a term that if you are familiar with the period, could itself be anything from a storefront bar with a stage to a fully-augmented theater with fixed seating and a stage, but seldom a Grand Opera House.) Most of these traveling showmen didn't last more than the turn of that century. The equipment they hauled with them was light, set up specifically for motion pictures, rather than slides, and carried the unit show with them. An average traveling showman would have a limelight lamphouse, a projector head, and the film, which would be projected off of a reel into, at best, a basket—at worst, a burlap bag. Most of these films didn't last more than a few minutes, and when they were worn out, were chopped up into small strips and sold as souvenirs (I believe J. Stuart Blackton recounted a particularly great story about being jailed by a local sheriff on charges of fraud because the sheriff had stared at said frames for hours and didn't see them move.)

and b) Legitimate vaudeville houses (ie. theaters that specialized in modular traveling acts lasting, on average, fifteen minutes, shown in billing order from least to most popular) after the initial touring season of the late 19th Century, almost unanimously as a "chaser" (the last act on the bill, usually the least popular, because the penultimate act was the headliner.)

Nickelodeons were a scaled-down version of the latter. Many towns in the U.S., particularly on the railroad lines, had "halls" that doubled as saloons or lodges for fraternal orders. Many of these halls that had enterprising managers booked acts that were one to three units long, and stayed for a short period (usually in the hotel owned by the same proprietor.) The proprietors of nickelodeons in most small towns in the U.S. were usually local businessmen who were attracted to the format by the traveling exhibitors. It is not uncommon to look through newspaper accounts that show that these halls were the formative spots that movies were shown.

Once it was apparent that movies were the cheaper show to run, local proprietors dispensed with the touring acts, set up storefront theaters, and hired a pianist and a vocalist (sometimes more, depending on the bravado of the proprietor) to sing songs to illustrated between reels of films. The projectionist usually had one, hand-cranked projector, which also had a stereopticon attachment for song-slides during the music numbers. In the days of pre-fab facade construction, this booth was set up above the ticket booth. The projectionist had to hand-crank the film, feed carbon rods in the lamphouse, rewind the film, and project the song-slides without messing any of this up. And believe it or not, the emphasis was on the songs during the show, although the "feature attraction" were the films, as advertised by the colorful posters and often cacophonous pre-recorded voice announcements (from on a cylinder on a horn), blasted above the ticket booth. This is the nickelodeon format—cut-and-dry, shows changed three times a week, and usually an hour's entertainment for a nickel.
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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sun Jul 08, 2018 9:30 pm

I started to wonder about this when I saw when the one on Cermak was built, which was around 1917. Seemed rather late for a nickel show of shorts. But then I think we're lacking a term for what's between nickelodeons and picture palaces. Is there a word for these purpose built, reasonably attractive theaters of the teens which however are nowhere near the size of a glittering Italian Renaissance-looking house with a lobby big enough to hold a convention in? And which are distinguished, often, by the half-moon of lights?
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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Jack Theakston » Sun Jul 08, 2018 11:21 pm

The short answer is that the marker of the nickelodeon was being used even into the 'teens by smaller outfits, especially in more rural areas where they could mail-order it, but that the established "movie palace" as we know it starts about 1913 and has its origins steeped in legit houses as well as nickelodeons.

In the greater picture, again, we're going to go into semantics here because of the early nature of the economy of film at that point. Most towns across the United States by 1910 were still locked into the same format as 1905. However, by the end of the decade, even in large cities, the nickelodeons were getting larger, and vaudeville theaters were increasingly using films to pad out shows.

This next part is entirely open to debate, but probably the three most three milestone figures in the exhibition end of movie history of that period are "Roxy" Rothafel, Sid Grauman and William Fox. Rothafel, Grauman, and Fox started as exhibitors in one fashion or another. Rothafel's business acumen vaulted him from a small-town nickelodeon proprietor to a major player by 1912, where he proved his merit by taking over New York's Regent Theatre in Harlem (still in existence!) and showing that what would become the "movie palace" experience. The Regent was architect Thomas Lamb's early stab at what would be the movie palace layout for an outfit that had expanded the idea past the larger "nickelodeons" (although we'd be hard-pressed to use that term) that were thriving downtown. When Roxy hit the scene, all of the right ingredients were gathered, but it took his artistic flair to make it work. Although there are earlier examples, the Regent is generally considered to be the first, but the economic mold for what we consider the movie palace formula now.

Grauman, likewise, had vaudeville theaters in San Francisco and started toying with movies very early on. He'd already many theaters at his disposal, and many of them were the gingerbread opera house style that became synonymous with movie palaces later. Fox, a nickelodeon owner-turned-producer, also had a great vision of expansion for a relatively new business. With the influence of these three impresarios, the expansion and repetition of style really shot off fast with the expansion the production end of films in Hollywood. Now thanks to the Media History Digital Library, you can go through Moving Picture World and see a chronological stream of news clippings that show how quickly the auditoriums got, and in turn, how many previous "opera houses" in small towns were being retrofitted for movies.

As far as the traditional "half moon electric" look of theaters, I would say that as a rule, that style went out about 1912 or so, when the buildings were getting big enough that fully-electric marquees took the place of crude Edison bulbs and sandwich boards. In rural towns, most of the theaters were either in big enough buildings to warrant renovation to the facade entirely, or new, purpose-built structures.

You'll notice the West, which is the Cermak Rd. theatre you posted above, although built with the same half-moon design, is done entirely in brick with cement and electric inlay, more of a nod to the previous moviefront style, and definitely in opposition to the pre-fab, pressed steel style. Also not obvious here, but it's built into a much larger building with multiple storefronts, a hallmark of the later theater architecture.
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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Rodney » Mon Jul 09, 2018 6:45 am

One thing that I'd add is that the longevity of nickelodeons had a lot to do with the presence or absence of competition. If you were in a small, one-theater town (like my hometown), you could literally keep your nickelodeon-sized theater going until the late 1970s, when competition from mulitplexes in nearby larger towns and the inevitable draw of television finally took away the crowds. While in a town like Rochester NY, the opening of the Eastman School of Music's movie palace in the 1920s put most of the nickelodeons out of business, because who wouldn't prefer to sit in a movie palace with a full orchestra and good projection when the cost wasn't that much higher.

In-town competition also affected the size of the musical accompaniment, as people would tend to go to theaters with more deluxe "orchestras" than to theaters with a solo pianist. In a small town, you could keep showing movies with a solo pianist (or even with the owner's daughter putting records on a phonograph, as in one theater in England) until talkies arrived. But in a town where the other theater has piano and drums, you'd upgrade to a piano trio, which might prompt them to get a 12-piece orchestra; all of which goes with replacing the store-front theaters or nickelodeons with purpose-built theaters with an orchestra pits and theater organs.
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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Mon Jul 09, 2018 8:02 am

So I guess it's like the discussion of B movies we had a few years ago. Literally, of course, a B movie only exists in relation to an A movie. Yet the characteristics of Bs-- briskness, unpretentiousness, cheapness, at times tawdriness-- that evolved from that position meant that we continued to use the term for things (like Roger Corman movies) that no longer existed in that exhibition framework, yet clearly had those other characteristics. It seemed a logical way to distinguish The Wasp Woman from Cleopatra.

So we had nickelodeons, but the name stuck to the style that really replaced them, and that style doesn't really have a name (you could say "neighborhood house" or something like that I guess, distinct from downtown picture palaces, but that's not nearly as evocative). True storefront theaters don't leave any traces, once you move out and they become a haberdasher's, but purpose-built teens theaters do.

The one point I might argue with is the idea that the half moon of bare lightbulbs is "crude." Later, of course, it was, and neon was what was chic. But it was the height of modernity then, to some extent probably inspired by the ceiling of bare bulbs in things like Louis Sullivan's Auditorium Theater, and also, I suspect, by beer gardens of the time with their strings of bare bulbs. That look, at least, became trendy enough a few years ago in restaurant design to have become a cliché.
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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Velostigmat » Sat Jul 14, 2018 12:37 am

Aardvark Books at 227 Church Street, San Francisco is a former nickelodeon theatre. It was the Electric Theatre between 1911-1914. The interior is a trip; original tin ceilings survive, you can see where the front wall used to be, and the 1911 lightbulb-studded arch is visible inside. Even the sockets are still there. It's well worth a visit if you patronize used bookstores.

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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Brooksie » Sat Jul 14, 2018 11:35 pm

Velostigmat wrote:Aardvark Books at 227 Church Street, San Francisco is a former nickelodeon theatre. It was the Electric Theatre between 1911-1914. The interior is a trip; original tin ceilings survive, you can see where the front wall used to be, and the 1911 lightbulb-studded arch is visible inside. Even the sockets are still there. It's well worth a visit if you patronize used bookstores.
Thanks to the magic of Google Maps, you can 'walk' inside the store via the following link: https://goo.gl/maps/KRPwhduUxVG2.

Rather nice that there's a poster for Noir City at the Castro Theatre on the back wall.

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Re: Nickelodeon Theatres??????

Unread post by Brooksie » Tue Jul 24, 2018 9:05 pm

Brooksie wrote:
Velostigmat wrote:Aardvark Books at 227 Church Street, San Francisco is a former nickelodeon theatre. It was the Electric Theatre between 1911-1914. The interior is a trip; original tin ceilings survive, you can see where the front wall used to be, and the 1911 lightbulb-studded arch is visible inside. Even the sockets are still there. It's well worth a visit if you patronize used bookstores.
Thanks to the magic of Google Maps, you can 'walk' inside the store via the following link: https://goo.gl/maps/KRPwhduUxVG2.

Rather nice that there's a poster for Noir City at the Castro Theatre on the back wall.
And alas, it seems this will shortly be the only way to visit Aardvark Books. The building is currently up for sale, and is expected to be 'delivered vacant' to its new owner. Let's hope they preserve the interior details.

https://sf.curbed.com/2018/7/17/1758057 ... ore-castro

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