Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays noon to 1 p.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

Saturdays, noon to 1 p.m. ET on WICR 88.7 FM.
And always online at hoosierhistorylive.org!

July 27 show

Historic movie theaters, Act II

The Lerner Theatre in Elkhart, Ind., opened in 1924 with 2,000 seats. Shows included vaudeville, big band and theatrical revues, plus newfangled talking pictures. Image courtesy Lerner Theatre.Consider this a sequel to a popular show last February that focused on historic Indiana movie theaters that now are in a range of conditions, from lavishly restored to long-deteriorating. We also touched on a challenge that could imperil single-screen theaters built decades ago: a looming deadline to convert to digital projection, which involves considerable expense.

To explore additional movie theaters with rich histories, as well as delve further into the digital-era challenges and various issues involved in programming classic or other Golden Age movies instead of contemporary films, Nelson will be joined in studio by two guests. They are Indianapolis-based architect Jim Kienle, director of historic preservation at Moody Nolan, and film historian Eric Grayson, who owns a vast collection of rare movies and has preserved and restored many of them.

New Moon Theater in Vincennes, Ind., now houses a church. Photo by Glory-June Greiff.Eric is known across the state for his vintage-film presentations, including the Vintage Movie Nights series at the Garfield Park Arts Center in Indianapolis.

During our show, Nelson and his guests will explore the Circle Theatre on Monument Circle in Indianapolis; it was built in 1916 as one of the largest silent-movie palaces west of New York. Despite its highly visible location in the heart of the Hoosier capital, the Circle had deteriorated alarmingly through the 1970s. Our guest Jim Kienle was a key figure in the 1980s renovation of what's now known as the Hilbert Circle Theatre, the concert hall of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Jim Kienle.Jim Kienle also will share insights about the Lerner Theatre in Elkhart, which opened in 1924 as a movie house and as a venue for vaudeville shows and big-band concerts. With an auditorium often likened to a European opera house of the 19th century, the Lerner has been the focus of national attention since an $18 million renovation that was completed in 2011.

But what about the long-deteriorated Rivoli Theatre on the eastside of Indy? We will provide an update on the once-lavish theater on East 10th Street that seated 1,500 when it opened in 1927. Its disturbing saga, which included a stint as an X-rated theater, followed by decades of sitting vacant, was spotlighted during our February show.

Also expect Nelson and his guests to explore:

  • The Artcraft Theatre in Franklin, which was built in 1922 and shows vintage movies year-round.
  • The Paramount Theatre in Anderson (now the Paramount Theatre Center and Ballroom) that opened in 1929 and has a restored theater organ and an interior Spanish courtyard.
  • The Embassy Theatre in Fort Wayne, which opened as a movie palace in 1928 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Eric Grayson.At the Embassy on Aug. 9, our guest Eric Grayson will be involved in a gala to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of famous Hoosier novelist and naturalist Gene Stratton-Porter. The event will include the showing of Laddie (1926), a rare silent movie (with its original score) based on her novel, which was published 100 years ago.

Initially known as the Emboyd Theatre, the ornate Embassy was built with nearly 3,100 seats, according to The Historic Fort Wayne Embassy Theatre (IU Press, 2009). Total seating capacity today is 2,470, including the balcony.

Many historic movie houses are far smaller and have just one screen. Their fate is uncertain as the movie industry quickly eliminates film in favor of all-digital distribution, an issue Nelson and his guests will discuss. The Avon Theater in South Bend was torn down in 2012. Photo by Glory-June Greiff.Purchasing and installing digital projectors - estimated to cost more than $70,000 per screen - far exceeds the resources of many historic movie houses in small towns.

Some history nuggets:

  • Even though the Circle has been the concert hall of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra since 1984, the theater occasionally reverts to its original use as a movie house. The Circle was the setting for the world premiere of Hoosiers (1986).
  • In the 1970s, the Embassy closed and was threatened with demolition. Outraged activists in Fort Wayne established a foundation that purchased the landmark.
  • In a Hoosier History Live! show last year about Tipton County history, we explored the Diana Theater, a movie house built in the 1920s by a Greek immigrant to Tipton. Generations of town residents have had their first dates at the Diana, a single-screen theater that retains its vintage ambience.

Roadtrip: Harrison Memorial at Crown Hill Cemetery

The President Benjamin Harrison Memorial under renovation at Crown Hill Cemetery is visited by Bob Milne, superintendent at Crown Hill, and Gary Bravard of Hoosier History Live! Photo by Hoosier History Live.Roadtripper Gary Bravard suggests we take the Roadtrip to one of his favorite bicycling spots as a youth, Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. Established in 1863, Crown Hill is the country's third largest non-government cemetery, with 555 acres.

With its elegant landscaping and beautifully curved roads, and as the final resting place for one U.S. president, three vice presidents, Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley and infamous bank robber John Dillinger, Crown Hill is a virtual treasure trove for history lovers.

Gary spoke recently with Crown Hill President Keith Norwalk, who reported that President Benjamin Harrison Memorial (Indiana's only U.S. president) and gravesite at Crown Hill is getting a restoration, courtesy of a grant received through the Indianapolis Garden Club. A new walkway is being installed, with new steps and new landscaping. After the restoration is complete, visitors will be able to walk all the way around the memorial.

The renovation will be complete by the time of the annual Wreath Laying Ceremony for the Harrison Memorial, to be held at Crown Hill on Saturday, Aug. 17, at 10:30 a.m. in celebration of President Harrison's 180th birthday. Benjamin Harrison was elected to the presidency in 1888 and served one term (1889-93). He was the nation's 23rd chief executive. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

History Mystery

An extensively restored, historic movie theater reopened last April in an Indiana town that's a county seat. The theater opened on New Year's Eve in 1928 and drew crowds from surrounding communities for several decades. Vintage photo of mystery theater in mystery town.But a few years after a fire, the theater closed in the 1990s and sat vacant.

The landmark theater's restoration was spearheaded by Cook Group Inc., which is based in Bloomington - just one county away from the town where the theater is located. Cook Group, the medical supply manufacturer, also has a plant in the "mystery" town.

Question: What is the town?

Hint: The town and its theater were discussed during a Hoosier History Live! show in February about vintage movie houses.

To win the prize, you must call in with the correct answer during the live show and be willing to be placed on the air. Please do not call if you have won a prize from any WICR show during the last two months. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314, and please do not call until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air.

The prize is four entries to the Indiana Experience at the Indiana Historical Society, two tours of the President Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, and two public tours of Crown Hill Cemetery. These prizes are courtesy of Visit Indy.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director

Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant
Michele Goodrich, Jed Duvall, grant consultants
Joan Hostetler, photo historian
Dana Waddell, volunteer-at-large


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Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Acknowledgments to Print Resources, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities, Visit Indy, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Heritage Photo & Research Services, Derrick Lowhorn and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships, grants and through individual tax-deductible contributions through Indiana Humanities. We do not receive any government funding. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially.

Aug. 3 show

Switzerland County and living on the Ohio River

Even though it's of our smallest counties, the history is deep and rich, the views are scenic, and Switzerland County, with its county seat of Vevay, turns 200 this year. Switzerland County's “Musee de Venoge” is a museum and nature park celebrating the county’s French-Swiss heritage. This small house may be more than 200 years old and is an example of the distinctively French post-on-sill style of construction. Photo courtesy Indiana Landmarks.Not only will Hoosier History Live! explore the county's heritage, which involves Swiss immigration, an entrepreneur known as the "Hay King" and a popular wine festival, we will explore the impact of the Ohio River on towns and farms in the far-southeastern corner of the Hoosier state.

For this journey in advance of the Vevay Switzerland County Bicentennial, Nelson will be joined in-studio by three guests who live in the county on the river:

  • Martha Bladen, an artist (she creates collages out of found materials, including canceled postage stamps) who is executive director of the Switzerland County Historical Society. She also oversees museums in the Vevay area. They include "Life on the Ohio" River History Museum and the Switzerland County Historical Museum, which is located in a former Presbyterian church built in 1860, as well as the Agricultural Museum Center that's being developed at a historic homestead.
  • Barry Brown, an expert on the Swiss immigration to the area, which began in the early 1800s with early settlers who intended to introduce grape cultivation to the United States. A history and genealogy specialist at the Switzerland County Public Library, Barry will deliver a presentation titled "Why They Left Switzerland" on Aug. 4 in Vevay.
  • And Kendal Miller, executive director of Switzerland County Tourism, who is a photographer and writer based in Vevay. The town, which is considered to be the home of the country's first commercial winery, hosts the annual Swiss Wine Festival.

A fun fact, courtesy of bicentennial material: "Due in part to its easy accessibility to the Ohio River, other forms of transportation were slow to develop in Switzerland County." No railroad companies ever laid track in the county.

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Hoosier History Live!
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Indianapolis, IN 46227
(317) 927-9101