The Empire Theater 11 - 13 South Street was built on the site of the old Glens Falls and Lake George Stage Company barns by civic minded, prominent Glens Falls business men. Some of them were banker A. B. Colvin, Charles W. Cool, brick manufacturer and builder Daniel DeLong and local architect Ephraim B. Potter. Addison Colvin was the first president and the general manager of the Empire Estate and Theatre Company through 1913. James A. Holden was one of the original stockholders and served at times as its manager, secretary, and treasurer. Mr. Holden was active in the business affairs, along with various civic and cultural associations in the area most of his life. He was the New York State Historian from 1911 - 1916.
The architect J. B. McElphattrick of New York City designed the building. It is a three-story building of the neo-classic style of the American Renaissance period. The building included an opera house with a seating capacity for 1200, 2 concert halls, a lecture hall and several dancing halls. The Empire Billiard Room was located in the basement, owned by Peter Kaulfuss in the early 1900s. It also housed an auditorium, a banquet room, kitchen, card rooms, parlors and toilette rooms.
The interior decorations were by Frederick Kettler of New York City. The third floor ballroom, reputedly the grandest ballroom in the Adirondack region had a decorative painted ceiling, metal ventilation dome and perimeter chaperon gallery.
Opening night was October 6, 1899. The packed house watched as the Hon. A. B. Colvin and his family took their seats in one of the boxes and saw the tapestry drop curtain depicting Sappho and her Friends as the play “Way Down East” started.
For many years the Empire Theater was a successful venue for vaudeville, theatrical productions, and musical performances. George M. Cohan starred in his own plays at the theater. Other well know names include Billie Burke, Al Jolson, Fred Stone, Julie Sanderson, John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, Harry Lauder, Pat Rooney, Bert Lytell, Leon Errol and Victor Moore.
The main booking agent used by Holden was Julius Cohn of Cohn and Grant: New England Chain of Theatres. Some shows were booked through Klaw and Erlanger. Other booking agents were occasionally used and some shows were booked directly without agents. There were various stage shows, including comedies, romance, historical dramas, farce, melodrama, minstrel shows, concerts, and finally moving pictures.
At the turn of the 20th century, the theater competed with local movie houses to show moving pictures, but by the 1940s it was losing money. When the building came up for public auction on July 18, 1946 there were no bidders and the title passed to Judge McPhillips, who held a second mortgage on the property. When the theater could no longer find anyone to lease it the McPhillips family was forced to look elsewhere for a profitable use of the building. In July 1950 the Empire Theater was closed for one year while a $75,000 remodeling job was done by Duplex Construction Company. The theater was transformed into an office building and the most magnificent of theaters in our area came to an end.
Photo from Chapman Historical Museum Archives
Finding Aids, (synopsis of boxed records), Folk Life Center, Crandall Library
Bridging The Years
Chapman Historical Museum archive files