Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fourth Street, Louisville

Up through the 1960s, Fourth Street was bustling with activity. There were several local department stores, grand movie theatres, unique and charming record stores and bookstores. Like so many American downtowns, by the early 70s, it simply curled up and died. In the years since, many valiant attempts have been made to resurrect it with varied and usually frustrating results. At one time part of Fourth Street was closed off. That didn't work. The latest concept is Fourth Street Live, which apparently has had some degree of success.

We'll start the tour with the very last of the big movie palaces, The Louisville Palace, now fully restored. Originally the Loew's/United Artists, it was designed by the reknowned theatre architect, John Eberson. This is one of his rare, so-called 'atmospheric' theatres. It creates a feeling of sitting outdoors in some exotic plaza on a summer evening, complete with stars twinkling overhead in an azure blue ceilinged sky. Some pictures of the interior can be seen here. To say they don't make 'em like this anymore is an understatement. In the early 60s, the balcony was closed off to create the Penthouse Theatre. Cleopatra played there for ages. When the Rialto across the street closed (see below), its Cinerama screen was relocated to the United Artists, and it became one of the vew few D-150 theatres in America (though it never played a D-150 film). I saw Star!, Fiddler on the Roof and Hello Dolly! here in 70mm.

This non-descript storefront had once been the entrance to the chic Mary Anderson Towne Cinema. The Mary Anderson was known for employing 'usherettes' who routinely dressed in costumes relating to the film. For example, during the run of Cactus Flower, they wore nurses' uniforms. This engagement was also memorable to me because a friend and I rushed downtown after taking the National Merit Test. When it was over, we emerged from the theatre to find Louisville was in the throes of a ferocious ice storm. The car was encased in ice a half inch thick. All the way home, we had to dodge downed trees and sparking electrical wires.

Below, the Kentucky Theatre.

Strangely, the facade is all that remains of the Ohio Theatre.

To several generations, the Rialto Theatre was probably Louisville's most beloved movie theatre. It hosted a number of reserved seat 70mm engagements and Cinerama movies like How the West Was Won. Incredible as it may seem, The Sound of Music played here for a solid year. But after the Rex Harrison musical Doctor Dolittle, it was all over. To tear the place down, the excuse being it needed a costly new air conditioning system, was a short sighted decision to say the least. Once the Rialto was gone, Fourth Street began its steep decline. Go here for pictures of its construction and when the Rialto was in its prime. Following are pictures of the exterior during construction and of its demolition.

This is what they built in its place, an undistinguished parking garage.

This was Shakleton's, a high-class music store. They sold pianos, sheet music, stereos and records. It's now used as a lounge for the Louisville Palace next door.

Below, Byck's, which had been an elegant women's clothing store.

Various 4th Street buildings.

This was Stewart's, Louisville's premier department store. If you wanted the very best, this is where you went. When I was a child, we used to make special trips to see the animated displays in the windows at Christmas. It's a tragic loss.

Ads from The Louisville Times, September 17, 1963.
The the Beginning played the Rialto during the Christmas season of 1966. D-150, a 70mm process designed to be shown on deeply curved screens, looked great on the Rialto's Cinerama screen. The only other movie shot in the process was Patton.


ZihuaRob said...

Again, thank you Scott for such an excellent job preserving some lost history. I saw Barbarella and Hello Dolly! at the Palace when it was Loew's, and I bought my drumset, plenty of drumsticks and even a few harmonicas next door at Shackleton's. Saw Cactus Flower at the Anderson. Of course my favorite theater was the Rialto where I saw The Sound of Music, Bambi, The Bible, and Dr. Dolittle. I seem to recall a mystery surrounding the overnight theft of its magnificent main chandelier after it closed but before the demolition began.

Scott Santoro said...

I am pretty sure Barbarella was at the Mary Anderson.