Historic Theaters in Indiana

Tour curated by: Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology

Every downtown had one. They were grand old opera houses and movie palaces, built in the bustle of the city center. In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, these venues served as the heart of entertainment in most communities. Such theaters were great places for first dates or for catching the newest flick. Sadly, these historic treasures have begun to fade away. The creation of “talkies” signaled the demise of opera houses. Either demolished or adapted for a new use, the opera house has disappeared from our downtown landscape.

The heyday of the single screen theaters has also waned, because they were unable to compete with the multi-screen, big box theaters. Most single screen theaters have ceased their cinematographic functions, becoming venues for other uses. In many cases, owners have stripped the equipment, leaving just the shell of a building.

In 1946, moviegoers could choose from 155 drive-in theaters across the United States. By 1948, that number had boomed to 820, and in 1958, it peaked at an astonishing 5,000 total theaters across the United States. Despite our fascination with cars, even the drive-in theaters have largely been unable to survive.

Discover Indiana invites you to take a journey across the 19th state and learn the stories of a variety of theaters and how they weave into the narrative of Hoosier entertainment!

Please keep in mind that each tour is by no means a comprehensive list of sites in Indiana related to each theme. Please be respectful of private property lines when visiting each of these sites.

Locations for Tour

This 1929 Spanish Eclectic style building was designed by Alvin Strauss, an architect from Fort Wayne. Chicago architect John Eberson specifically designed the theater. Eberson was known for his innovated designs of atmospheric theaters—theaters…

Originally known as the Indiana Theater, the Buskirk-Chumley has quite a history. The 600-seat Indiana Theater was built in 1922 to show movies but soon after it opened its doors, vaudeville and live acts performed on the stage. Bloomington native…

Originally called the Emboyd Theater, the theater opened in 1928 with 3100 seats. Given the $1.5 million price tag, opulence reigned throughout the building. However, not all the extravagance was visible. The Emboyd contained a state-of-the-art…

The Spanish Revival style Indiana Theater is yet another creation of Chicago architect John Eberson. It was built in 1922 with a capacity of 1600 people on the main floor and in two balconies. The corner entry opens into a 3 story open rotunda that…

The Palace Theater (Morris Performing Art Center's original name) was designed by J. S. Aroner, a Chicago architect, in 1922 as part of the Orpheum theater chain. Initially it hosted vaudeville shows, which ran continuously with a new act every…

The Alhambra, designed by Frank J. Schlotter, opened in 1913. The 350 seat theater was built within a local neighborhood rather than a commercial area. It only took 120 days to construct the Alhambra with a final cost of $18,000. Schlotter utilized…

The Huntington Theater was constructed in 1904 as a vaudeville house. It had 1100 seats, including 400 in the balcony. By 1911, the Huntington started showing movies and continued doing so until 1999. A major remodeling occurred in 1939 when the…

Unlike many of the larger scale theaters around the state, the Circle Theatre was designed in the Neo-Classical style instead of the Spanish Revival Style. Since it was constructed in 1916, it predates many of these other theaters, and the full…

The 1927 Indiana Theatre is the largest theater ever built in Indianapolis. Architects Rubush and Hunter designed the six-story building faced in white glazed terra cotta in the Spanish Baroque style. The central bay of the exterior is overwhelmed…

Eagles Theatre, named for its location within the Eagles Building, opened in 1906. It was designed by Arland W. Johnson of Toledo, Ohio and occupied the first, second and third floors of the building. There were approximately 700 seats on the main…

Madame CJ Walker was the first African American woman to open the field of cosmetology as a new and lucrative industry for black Americans. Her experimentation with hair preparations for African American women eventually led to the establishment of a…

George T. Schreiber designed the Scottish Rite Cathedral in the Tudor Gothic style. Construction began on the limestone building in 1927 and lasted until 1929. Centralized within the Scottish Rite is a 210 foot tower that holds a 65 bell carillon.…

This massive building, constructed in 1909, originally was the headquarters for the Ancient Arabic Order, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. Indianapolis architect Oscar Bohlen created this Middle Eastern styled building with minarets, brick banding,…

The Elco started out in 1924 as the Lerner Theater. This 2000-seat theater was designed for vaudeville by K. V. Vitchum, a Chicago architect. The exterior was covered in glazed terra cotta and had a series of columns, urns, and decorative cornice and…

The Rockville Opera House was built in 1912 of yellow brick. Designed in the Mission Revival style, the Opera House originally held live performances and was later adapted for movies. Now known as the Ritz Theater, the Rockville Chamber of Commerce…

The Palace Theater was built in 1914 to show motion pictures. Its name changed to the Crown in the 1940s. At some point in the theater's history, the façade was altered and now has a large crown projecting from above the marquee. The Crown…

The building that houses the Crump Theater dates back to 1870. It was converted into the Crump Opera House about 1899. The 600 seat Romanesque styled building was remodeled again in the 1920s to accommodate motion pictures. However, the most dramatic…

The 1922 Artcraft Theatre is just off of the courthouse square in Franklin. It originally hosted silent movies and vaudeville. It was also used by the local high school and Franklin College for plays and performances. In the 1930s-1940s the Artcraft…