Charleston’s McCutchen Theater

McCutchen Theater - Charleston MO - 10-31-2014

There was a flurry of excitement in Charleston in 2007 when a couple of guys from California blew into town with big plans to open a restaurant, revitalize the old Russell Hotel, put in an ice cream shop and bring back the original night club in the basement of the hotel. They were also going to restore the McCutchen Theater to it original glory and show movies from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Just like the plans for the Esquire Theater in Cape, before long the talk and the action died down. The movie house was listed on the delinquent tax rolls in 2007 through 2011 in the Mississippi County Times. I don’t know what, if anything, is happening with the property now.

Theater busted for porn

The Missourian had a special report in the February 22, 1972, Charleston news column: Mississippi County authorities have confiscated an X-rated movie from the McCutchen Theater here after the prosecuting attorney had viewed it twice and received phone calls from residents concerning the film’s content. County Prosecutor W. Clifton Banta, Jr., and Deputy Sheriff Jack Ivy seized the film “Dandy.”

Mr. Banta had viewed a portion of the film Sunday night and returned to the theater Monday night with two ministers and two laymen to get their opinions of the show. [That’s certainly an unbiased cross-section to judge community standards.]

Theater manager Bill Howard said he had not been asked to cancel the showings and that he had a policeman on duty to check identifications so that no one under 18 could be admitted to the show. “He added that he expected no objections to the film since it had played the previous week in Sikeston without any trouble.”

The story said the film is in the custody of the prosecuting attorney’s office. No charges have been filed against the manager or the theater owner, Malco Theaters of Memphis, Tenn.

Film ruled “obscene”

A March 6, 1972, follow-up story reported “An X-rated film shown here recently, Dandy, is obscene and Mississippi County Prosecuting Attorney W. Clifton Banta, Jr., was justified in confiscating it from McCutchen Theater here, Circuit Judge Marshall Craig has ruled.

Judge Craig further ordered that the film be held by the Mississippi County sheriff’s office for possible use as evidence if criminal action is initiated at a later date. Malco Theater officials said they had decided not to take court action even though they felt they could prove the film was not obscene.

The margin of profit at the local theater was such that unless X-rated films, which drew more customers, could be shown occasionally the owners could not afford to keep the theater open, Bill Howard, local manager, said.” [Which also says something about community standards.]

What was “Dandy?”

It took some serious Googling to find out anything about “Dandy.” It was far from a mainstream flick. Here’s one synopsis of the plot, such as it was:

Dandy… eighteen years old, unloved, lonely, and no place to go. Unhappy with her parents, bored with her life, Dandy decides to leave for the big town and make it in the world of modeling. She is abused, used and desired by the fast living men she meets in a wild orgy that moves from the luxuries of their bedrooms to the nude cavorting in their Olympic-sized pools.

“Innocent girl runs to Hollywood and is entangled by a ruthless “Talent Agent” but escapes to the arms of a photographer who falls in love with her.





Endangered Buildings List

Scott Moyers had a story in The Missourian that the Cape commission had released an endangered buildings list. Here are the ones considered most endangered:

  • B’nai Israel Synagogue, 126 S. Main St.
  • Broadway Theater, 805 Broadway
  • Esquire Theater, 824 Broadway
  • Fort D blockhouse, 920 Fort St.
  • Franklin School, 215 N. Louisiana St.
  • Hanover Lutheran School, 2949 Perryville Road
  • Old Jefferson School, 731 Jefferson Ave.
  • Kage School, 3110 Kage Road
  • Lorimier Apartments, 142-148 S. Lorimier St.
  • Sturdivant Bank, 101 N. Main St.

I’ve done stories on almost all of them. Here’s a look back:

Kage School

I imagine the long, cold walk to the outhouse was not fun for this little guy,

Broadway Theater

I spent many a happy hour in the Broadway balcony

  • I was sure that the inside of the old Broadway Theater would be a disaster with the roof falling in and debris all over the place. When I got my first glimpse of the interior, I was transported back to the days of Saturday matinee movies in a grand theater. It’s ragged, but it’s still grand.
  • The basement under the theater was HUGE, but the dressing rooms for the old stage actors were tiny.

Esquire Theater

The Esquire had over a mile of neon lighting when it opened in 1947

Fort D

The building we know as Civil War Fort D didn’t exist until 1937. It was used as a residence in the 1960s.

 101 North Main / Sturdivant Bank

Bank, telephone exchange building, Minnen’s Dress Shop, Cape Wiggery. The old building at 101 North Main Street has been many things and has some interesting connections to other pieces of Southeast Missouri history. Its neighbor, the St. Charles Hotel, home to General Grant in the Civil War, was torn down in 1967.

B’nai Israel Synagogue

The B’nai Israel Synagogue is in an historical triangle that includes the Red House and St. Vincent’s Church.

Jefferson School

Jefferson was a black school in 1953-1955 before the system was integrated.

Franklin School

This part of Franklin School will be torn down when the new building behind it is completed.


Backstage at Broadway Theater

Yesterday you saw the public areas of Broadway Theater. Today we’ll go backstage and into the dressing rooms and basement areas. [Note: the photos are dated 12/16/2010. They should have been marked 2011. That’s what happens when you are working at 3 in the morning. Thanks to Gail Jackson Brown for pointing that out.]

The Broadway was a full-blown theater with an orchestra pit and a stage where vaudeville actors performed.

Dad used to talk about pulling his little wagon loaded with sheet music for the woman who played the piano during the silent movies. Because we all know that Steinhoffs never embellish the truth, none of us ever challenged him. In 2007, I made my usual Sunday night call back to Cape. Mother said she had read the obit of the woman who used to play the piano in the silent movies. She was 101.

Dressing room walls are bare

A lot of old theaters I’ve been in have autographs of actors scrawled all over the walls backstage and in the dressing rooms. The only marks I could see here looked like they might have done recently with lipstick.

If these dressing rooms are typical, an actor’s life was far from glamorous. The rooms were tiny, with a bare bulb hanging from a cord from the ceiling and two bulbs over the mirror.

Rheostats controlled lighting

These  knife switches and huge rheostats were used to control stage lighting.

Frugal, for sure

I think this is my favorite photo from Down Below. This drawer of pencils was pulled out over what I assume to have been a work bench. Some of the pencil stubs weren’t over an inch long. THERE’S a guy who didn’t waste anything.

How to “paint” with light

I’ll go to about any length to keep from using flash. I’m not very good at it and I don’t have the equipment to do it right. Sometimes, though, you have to shoot where there’s no available light available.

There was a little light in the room in front of us, and there was just enough light coming from a room behind us to ALMOST keep me from tripping over a pipe. I perched the camera up on a rickety tripod and set the shutter to stay open for 20 seconds. I had Friend Shari push the button, then I walked around the room shooting off my electronic flash in the dark corners of the room. That’s called “painting” with light.

When I was at Ohio University, about half a dozen of us lit up a building that was about two-thirds of a block long using this technique “just for fun.” (Photographers have a strange idea of fun.) It’s a lot easier in this day of digital photography when you can see your results immediately.

The key is to have enough light to bring out detail without having hot spots. I have one that’s better lit, but I’m holding it for the blooper tape. The shadow of the camera and tripod show up in the frame.

Photo gallery of backstage Broadway

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.

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?