Monday, March 31, 2014

Salute to 1921!

Today, a salute to two great movie palaces that opened this week in 1921:  the Allen and Hanna in Cleveland,   Because it's one of my favorite theatres, here's a link to some pictures of the Allen:

Since the pictures allow the Allen to speak for itself I won't babble on about it too much.  The Hanna is pretty swell too, but I couldn't find any pictures of it, and I doubt that anyone really wants to read lengthy descriptions of its interior. 

It seems odd that two fairly major theatres would open in the same week in one city, and even more odd that they would have opened in April.  Most big palace theatres opened in the fall, because they were trying to present themselves as a high-class form of entertainment.  They mimicked the "legitimate" theatres and opera houses. Since those venues typically started their season in the fall, the movie theatres followed suit. (Eventually people realized that stage shows are deadly dull and opera is all in Italian and who wanted to smell all that garlic anyway? and so the fall opening became less of a big deal.)

But open in April they did, and thankfully Clevelanders have had the good sense to keep both of them functioning for nearly a century.  Speaking of centuries... the Century in Baltimore opened in 1921 as well.  As did my very favorite theatre, Richmond's one and only Colonial (see picture on the right sidebar).  And the Stanley in Philadelphia, the State in Minneapolis, the Chicago in (surprise) Chicago, the Tivoli in Chattanooga...the list is pretty long.  1921 was a very good year for moviegoers.

It's common, among movie palace weirdos, to think of the late '20s as the real pinnacle of the idea.  Without a doubt the late 20s theatres were bigger and more grandiose, certainly more exotic--but I'll vote for 1921 every time.  The fad was for Adamesque decor, one of the most pissily formal, but also stunningly elegant, styles ever to leave a decorator's drafting table.  And an awful lot of those theatres were Adamesque.  (Richmonders clearly fell in love with the idea, because when the National opened two years later, it borrowed the Adam style from its older sister.)

Theatres seemed to come in waves.  1921 was probably the first real boom year for big picture palaces, though quite a few sprang up in 1917 and 1918.  That seems weird, given that we were at war, but maybe it was a pleasant diversion from the idea of war.  No such thing happened in the next war, though.  I suspect that we took World War II much more seriously than we took World War I -- which for most people on the home front was more of an opportunity to show off their patriotism, rather than the later war, which people understood was a pretty serious threat.  

1926 and 1928 were also big theatre building years.  I don't really know the historic economy well enough to say whether that was part of the cycle or not, though certainly after 1930 not too many things got built at all unless they were already under construction.  

It must have been an exciting time.  The war was over, prosperity was here to stay, skirts were going up and new buildings were popping up all over the place.  

Here's the Colonial's interior, just to give you one last glimpse of 1921.

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Thanks! Now, go get a drink, sit down and enjoy the show.