Broadway Theater: WOW!

I’ve always had a mental checklist of places I wanted to photograph in Cape. High on the list was the Broadway Theater. I shot the exterior in 2001 when it had a cheesy facade covering the original brick. I shot it in 2009 from the outside, but could do no more than peer through the glass at junk and a faded carpet inside.

I told someone, “That place is either one match away from an insurance claim or a strong wind from a roof collapse.”

Phillip Davis is starting a business

About two weeks ago, I saw the doors open and some kind of display on the sidewalk. I walked up and introduced myself to Phillip Davis, who is leasing the building for the next 18 months to sell beauty supplies, clothing and cellphone accessories from what used to be the lobby. He said I could look around, but I couldn’t take any photos without getting the OK from the owner. It took a week, but Phillip and I finally put all the pieces of the project together.

Jim Stone, Shari Stiver and I were supposed to have a mini-reunion the previous weekend, but Shari begged off because of bronchitis. I knew I was going to need a helper on this job and I knew that Shari had been a general contractor doing building rehab in St. Louis, so I asked her if she felt well enough to come down to help. She jumped at the chance to see the landmark building.

Phillip told us to meet Qiunan Tang, a SEMO student from China. He opened the place up, flipped a bunch of circuit breakers and let us have free run. We spent four hours combing every inch of the place and could have spent twice that time except that I needed to shoot something else that afternoon and Shari had to get back to the big city. I’d like to come back and do the job with some additional lights.

Pictures ARE worth thousands of words

There are some stories where you just have to get out of the way and let it tell itself. I’m not going to bog you down with a bunch of history or I-remember-whens. I’ll let you folks do that in the comments. I look forward to hearing your memories. In this case, pictures ARE worth thousands of my words.

This is a composite of six photos stitched together into a panorama by Photoshop. That’s why there’s ragged white space around the edges. I was working with a tripod with a leg that was trying to collapse, so all of the frames weren’t exactly square with each other. I wanted to have the best detail possible, so I locked the “film” speed at 200 and opted for long shutter speeds. Click on any photo to make it larger. I made the panoramas about twice the size of my normal horizontal shots so you can see the detail in the photos.

Let’s just say the Broadway WAS spectacular and it’s still in remarkable shape. The seats are in good condition (plastic arm rests with cup holders have been added); most of the wall sconces are intact and working; the seats in the balcony have been removed and the projectors are gone; the orchestra pit has been floored over with steps that lead to the stage. Many of the rich tapestries that lined the walls are still hanging.

There’s some peeling paint and some plaster has fallen off, but there’s no major leaks apparent, no rodents scurrying around (although birds have gotten into the building and left their deposits in a few spots) and no obvious signs of mold.

Other Cape area movie stories

Photo gallery of the public areas

These photos were taken in 2001, 2009 and 2011. Tomorrow I’ll run a gallery of places the public has probably never seen: the dressing rooms, mechanical areas and basement. There’s almost as much space below the theater as there is in the seating area. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the photo to move through the gallery. What do YOU remember about the theater?

 

23 Replies to “Broadway Theater: WOW!”

  1. Hi Ken, in 1949 was sitting in the Broadway Theatre to see “Little Women” with my Brother and Grandparents. The movie kept going off the screen! The manager came down ,told everyone to keep their seats, just a fuse or something ! A tornado had gone through! My Mother came in the theatre all excited saying lets go ,Our end of town was blown away! Will never forget that day! Was 10 years old then and can remember that, like yeasterday ! Your picture of the inside of the theatre looks great! Very good shot ! Better shape than I thought it would be in !

    1. I’m sure it was because you could go up there and rain popcorn down on to your friends below.

      That’s why they wouldn’t let kids go up there on Saturday afternoons.

      One thing that struck me about the balcony was how low the railing was. It looked to be just about the right height to cause you to go over, not to stop you. I don’t recall of anyway falling from there, though.

  2. My favorite memory is when it was the “$1 Show”. We lived nearby and could walk to the theatre and not cringe when buying a ticket!

  3. Every city had one of these movie house classics – we had two in Fort Lauderdale (the Gateway and the Floridian – downtown, natch). Wonder why all the old movie seats were red. Carpets and drapes were red with gold trim. You can see them in the old Fox in Atlanta and various restored theaters across the country. I love the carpet here, and the details of the moldings on the walls. Naturally, yours in Midwest would have all the backstage stuff in a basement; in Florida, theaters were raised and the backstage stuff was downstairs – on the ground level – very few basements here.

  4. Ken, great photos! Whenever I think of the Broadway Theater, I think of my first and last ‘criminal act’. Mike Seabaugh and I were out riding our bicycles – we must have been 8 – 10 years old at the time. There was a parade on Broadway which we stopped to watch. The Broadway Theater interrupted the movie and let everyone out to watch the parade. When it was over we snuck into the theater with the other patrons and spent the rest of the afternoon watching the movies. They were playing a double feature – Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and I Was a Teenage Werewolf with Michael Landon. I had nightmares for a couple of months after that which is why it was my last ‘criminal act’! This memory also reminds me of how remarkable it was to grow up in Cape at that time. Imagine two pre-teens riding their bikes all over town, gone all afternoon without their parents reporting them missing and leaving their bikes on Broadway without a lock for 3+ hours and still being there!

  5. When I worked at the Southeast Missourian in the advertising department I was given a tour of the basement by the manager at that time. It was like a walk back in history to see the dressing rooms with the star logos on the doors, the make up tables and lighted mirrors,and the orchestra pit that they would raise and lower. It had a ton of old stage props and many other items including some old dresses and costumes. It really was like going back to the early 1900’s. Waiting to see your pictures of the basement.

  6. Yes Ken. I too would love to get a picture tour of the basement. Any chance of that?
    Brad

    PS: Sommers, I knew you and Seabaugh were dirty! I can’t believe you are finally coming clean. You aren’t on your death bed are you?
    B.

  7. Looks pretty close to what I remember in the 1990s minus the water damage. My memories are pretty recent. Use to go as a kid with my parents when Kearsotes operated it for $1 for second run movies. We’d always run into school friends there with their parents. Probably the last thing a family of 5 could go do for $5. Hope someone restores it soon. No offense to Phillip, but I think he business in the lobby won’t sustain the building.

  8. Was trying to remember what movies I saw there..

    Tron (first one!)
    Chinatown

    Shakey’s was right next door at the corner. Pizza and a movie or both.

    Used to go after work.

  9. Now THAT’s a theater!

    I remember going there as a kid when it was the dollar theater; I recall seeing Andre (film about a seal), The Little Rascals, and Radio Flyer. May have seen Free Willy there too… those seem to be commensurate with the time I think it was open in the early 1990s. I remember that gigantic space with the huge dark ceiling. Seems like my family always got there late and missed the first couple minutes of the movie.

    I was wondering how well it had weathered the years; definitely much better than the Esquire. I’d love to see another film there, or just snoop around too.

  10. I’ll always remember in the mid-70’s when the Movies Midway and Earthquake played there. They brought in huge stack speakers and loosened the bolts anchoring the seats to the floor so you would shake along with the films. Even for the Herbie the Love Bug movies they brought in a replica car and parked it in the lobby.

  11. I saw Ben Hur in 1959 or 60…I was 11 or 12 at the time and it was WAY COOL! Big Screen, Red curtians and the cool lights on the side. Bur Hur even had a intermission in the middle of the show! My first sort of adult experiance.

  12. Yes, the balcony was a great “hangout” and I seem to remember caramel corn store next door that was a great after movie stop. I believe the Blairs ran it!
    Joe Whitright “45”

  13. For the book – The balcony provided a great place from which to launch pranks on those below. During the very early 60’s we once replicated a stunt from a “Dennis the Menece” book at a Saturday matinee by making puking sounds and then dumping a small bag of oatmeal over the railing. Great entertainment for 35 cents.

    One summer evening a few years later we took the lid off a large jar of lightening bugs about mid-theatre. They loved the light rays.

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