Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

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Feb. 23 show

What do you do with vacant, historic movie theaters?

The Tivoli Theatre in Spencer, Ind., pictured here in 1929, opened on New Year’s Eve 1928. Image courtesy Owen County Historical and Genealogical Society.With the Academy Awards gala this weekend, Hoosier History Live! will spotlight an aspect of our movie heritage. Specifically, we will focus on the challenges that confront towns and neighborhoods with historic movie theaters that, while glorious in their heyday and built with marquees, balconies and platforms or pits for organs and pianos, have fallen on hard times.

That's particularly been the case for many vintage theaters built with only one screen, limiting their ability to compete with newer, multiscreen cinemas in shopping centers.

Among the historic theaters that have been in the news recently - and that we will explore during the show - is the once-lavish and beloved Rivoli Theatre on the near eastside of Indianapolis. Built in 1927 on East 10th Street, the Rivoli had a seating capacity of 1,500. Its sad post-heyday fate has included a long stint as an X-rated theater, then an even longer stretch of sitting vacant and deteriorating alarmingly.

The Rivoli Theatre, on East 10th Street in Indianapolis, is pictured circa 1930. Efforts are afoot to save the structure. Image courtesy Indiana Historical Society, Bass Photo Collection.Our in-studio guests will include Mark Dollase of Indiana Landmarks, who in his off-duty life has been a key organizer of the Rivoli Center for the Performing Arts, a non-profit that now owns the theater. (The city of Indy recently announced that a $300,000 federal grant will be used to repair a portion of the Rivoli's roof, merely one of a long list of needs for the vacant theater.)

Mark and Nelson also will be joined by Jeannie Regan-Dinius of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, who, with her husband, once owned the historic Huntington Theatre in Huntington. In her capacity as the DNR's director of special initiatives in historic preservation, Jeannie has been assisting a range of landmark theaters across the state, some with uncertain fates and others undergoing restoration.

The latter include the Tivoli Theatre in Spencer, which opened on New Year's Eve in 1928. Located on the town's courthouse square, the Tivoli drew crowds from surrounding communities and featured stage shows and concerts, as well as movies. A few years after a fire, the Tivoli closed in the 1990s and has been vacant.

Last summer, though, a restoration of the Tivoli began, thanks to funding from the Cook Group. The Damm Theatre in Osgood, Ind., is named for German immigrant Louis Damm, who purchased it in 1922. "The Whole Damm Family" literally operated the theater from 1922 to 1989. It reopened in 2008 with funding from the Reynolds Foundation, and it currently is open weekends. Hoosier History Live photo.Details of the Tivoli, past and present, will be shared by a third guest on our show, Spencer resident Jason Kinney, a board member and the historian for Owen County Preservations Inc., which owns the Tivoli.

Jason, who also is the president of the Owen County Historical and Genealogical Society, has been researching and providing historical photos for the extensive restoration of the Tivoli's auditorium.
Nelson and his guests also will explore the vintage Fowler Theatre, which has been restored in the Benton County town of Fowler, and a bygone movie palace, also called the Rivoli, that was torn down in Muncie.

In Bloomington, though, the Buskirk Chumley has been restored; during its Act One life, it was known as the Indiana Theatre for decades after it opened as a silent movie house in 1922.

Among the single-screen survivors and success stories are the Devon Theatre, an Art Deco-style theater in Attica that opened in 1932, and, perhaps one of the best-known, the historic Artcraft Theatre in Franklin.

In Indianapolis, the Rivoli initially was owned by Universal Studios and cost $250,000 to build during the 1920s. Located in a sprawling building with four storefronts, the Rivioli featured a decorative lobby with terrazzo floors made of marble, balconies, an orchestra pit and state-of-the-art acoustics. The Tivoli Theater in Spencer, Ind., is undergoing renovation, thanks to assistance from the Cook Group. Hoosier History Live! photo, 2007.During the late 1970s, the Rivoli became a venue for live music, then an adult movie theater.

Since its closing in 1992, the Rivoli's once-ornate interior has deteriorated to a state of "advanced decay," according to a recent Indianapolis Star article. In addition to the grant money for a new roof over the auditorium, Mark and others involved with the Rivoli Center for the Performing Arts are seeking more than $3 million to renovate the landmark.

In Fowler, the town's historic movie theater also had deteriorated. When the community learned in 2001 that artifacts from the theater's interior - and even its marquee - might be sold separately, a nonprofit, the Prairie Preservation Guild, formed. The Fowler Theatre reopened, with an all-volunteer "army" that continues to undertake tasks ranging from ticket taking to running the projector and selling concessions.

An issue expected to confront many vintage, single-screen theaters concerns the upcoming distribution of first-run movies only in digital formats. Many lovers of historic theaters worry that owners in small towns won't be able to afford the steep costs of converting their projection areas to digital.

Roadtrip: 'America's Music' in Vincennes opens March 4

A blues musician at left and a gospel singer at right are part of a collage for the America's Music event in Vincennes, Ind., in March of 2013.Chris Gahl of VisitIndy will suggest that we take the Roadtrip to Vincennes for the kickoff of "America's Music: A Film History of our Popular Music, from Blues to Bluegrass to Broadway."

The opening film and discussion, presented by Tribeca Film Institute and Vincennes State Historic Sites, will take place Monday evening, March 4, at 6:30 p.m. in the Shircliff Auditorium at Vincennes University Campus and is free.

On the following day, March 5, Greg Gilpin will perform in the Skelton Center on the university campus at 7 p.m. For more information about the entire series featuring documentary film screenings and scholar-led discussions of 20th-century American popular music, visit America's Music or Indiana State Historic Sites.

History Mystery

On the north side of Indy, the Vogue Theater opened in 1938 and was a popular neighborhood movie house for decades. Later, it became even better known with its recreation as a nightclub. The Vogue is now one of the most popular venues in the Indy metro area for dancing and contemporary music, with its movie-style marquee serving as a landmark on North College Avenue.

Farther south on College Avenue, a neighborhood movie house once was a popular destination near East 42nd Street. The movie theater opened in 1926 and was designed by the architectural firm that also created the Circle Theatre in downtown Indy. The movie house near College and 42nd closed during the 1970s. Unlike the Vogue and the Circle, it was demolished.

Question: Name the bygone movie theater that was a familiar site for decades at College and 42nd on the north side of Indy.

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.

This week's prize is two tickets to the Indiana Wine Fair on Saturday, April 27 in Brown County, courtesy of Story Inn, as well as a gift certificate for The Sanctuary, the Art of Nancy Noel in Zionsville, courtesy of Visit Indy.

What fun!

Hoosier History Live! fifth-anniversary party was a blast

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard speaks to the gathered history lovers at the 5th-anniversary Hoosier History Live! party, hosted by Indiana Landmarks, on Feb. 21, 2013. Hoosier History Live photo by Richard Sullivan.Thanks to all who came out (and there were plenty of you!) to the Hoosier History Live! five-year anniversary soiree on Feb. 21 at Indiana Landmarks Center in downtown Indianapolis. More than 150 history lovers attended, including dozens of on-air show guests, some of whom attended in period garb.

Having outgrown the Morris-Butler House, we were happy to find that the much-larger Cook Theater in the renovated former Central United Methodist Church was just right for our growing group of history-philes, who noshed on hors d'oeuvres, enjoyed beverages and celebrated our five-year milestone with a pair of tasty birthday cakes, brought in with candles and song.

The event was a fund-raising success, as many attendees joined the ranks of Hoosier History Live! donors, whom we count on to stay on the air, on the web and in your in-box!

We look forward to being around for next year's sixth anniversary - and on into the future with our ever-growing body of history journalism.

Dan Ripley's Antique Helper

Thanks to Antique Helper, corporate sponsor for the Hoosier History Live! fifth-anniversary party!


Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
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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Indiana State Museum logo.

Story InnIndiana Landmarks logo.

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Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support: Aesop's Tables | Indiana Authors Award | Indiana Historical Society | Indiana Landmarks | Indiana State Museum | Lucas Oil | Story Inn.

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.

March 2 show

Hoosier women pioneers in media

The state's first statue erected to honor a woman is in Turkey Run State Park and pays tribute to a journalist. The Woman's Press Club of Indiana celebrates a milestone, its 100th anniversary, this year. And the challenges confronted by women in Indiana media - from reporters and radio newscasters to newspaper owners - have been researched by their counterparts today.

Logo for 100-year anniversary of the Woman's Press club of Indiana.So, as Hoosier History Live! salutes Women's History Month, we will focus on women journalists who blazed trails in our state, including some who attained national renown more than 100 years ago. Nelson will be joined in studio by two past presidents of the Woman's Press Club who have won multiple awards for their media work:

  • Julie Slaymaker, an Indianapolis-based freelance writer with an extensive background in print and radio. Her credits range from covering the rape trial of Mike Tyson to writing profiles of such Hoosier newsmakers as Susan Bayh and Judy O'Bannon.
  • And Ann Allen, a former newspaper owner based in the town of Akron in far-northern Indiana. Now a magazine and newspaper writer, Ann is the former owner and editor of the Akron News (later the Akron/Mentone News), the author of six books and a correspondent for the Rochester Sentinel.

In addition to discussing the challenges that they have confronted (as a staff member at an Indy radio station in the 1960s, Julie says she was told she could not be a news reader because women did not have "credibility" delivering newscasts), Julie and Ann also will share insights about Hoosier women of earlier media eras.

They include Juliet Strauss (1863-1918) of Rockville in Parke County, who eventually became one of the country's best-read magazine writers. She wrote a monthly column called "The Ideas of a Plain Country Woman" for The Ladies Home Journal after beginning her career at The Rockville Tribune newspaper. She also fought to save Turkey Run State Park from developers, which explains why women journalists across the state arranged for her statue to be placed there.

Julie, Ann and Nelson also will discuss Kate Milner Rabb (1866-1937), a columnist for The Indianapolis Star who helped start the Woman's Press Club, and Hortense Myers (1913-1987), a legendary political reporter for United Press International who was the first woman inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. (Julie and Nelson are board members for the Hall of Fame, which inducted Rabb posthumously last year.)

Some history facts:

  • The Woman's Press Club of Indiana was founded in 1913 at a famous, bygone site that we explored on a recent radio show: the L.S. Ayres Tea Room.
  • Our guest Ann Allen's recent newspaper work has included a first-person account of putting herself on a food stamp budget for one week to a story about the disappearance of an Akron man that remains an unsolved mystery.
  • During World War II, Hortense Myers was recruited to handle the sports desk for a wire service. She resorted to a byline ("M.H. Powner") that disguised the fact that a woman was writing about sports.

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