car in front of theatre marquee featuring a big E

Empire Theatre Street View, ca 1930s

After a period of being shuttered, new lessee and manager A. J. Hutcheon endeavored to resurrect the Empire. He invested thousands of dollars in updating the décor and upgrading the equipment. For comfort and a more pleasing aesthetic, he added blue carpeting throughout, as well as three ceiling fans for better air circulation. A new projection booth was built and was fitted with two modern projection machines. In the gallery, a projection light was added. State of the art Western Electric (Bell Labs) sound equipment was installed to bring quality “talkies” to the theatre and a draw curtain was added across the stage. Given the threat of fires associated with projectors and film, a special sprinkler system that fully met the requirements of the Underwriters Association was an important bonus feature. The most significant addition of all however, and the one most appreciated by the public, was the brilliant new marquee. Manufactured by the Kolite Company of Schenectady, NY, it had 600 electric lights, hundreds of yards of neon tubing, and lit glass lettering. The sign was a stunning work of art. South Street was literally aglow with its brilliance.

By the 1940’s, the Empire was losing money. By 1941, it was operated by the Schine Company. It went up for auction in 1946 and was purchased by Judge McPhillips. Two years later, he leased the Empire to former manager of the theatre, Donald Sleight. Sleight had run the Empire for the Schine Company prior to it giving up its lease and closing.

Courtesy Crandall Public Library Folklife Center