Empire Arts Center
415 Demers Avenue,
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Firms: Buechner & Orth
Functions: Community Arts Center
Styles: Italian Renaissance
Previous Names: New Grand Theatre, Grand Theatre, Paramount Theatre, Empire Theatre
The New Grand Theatre, designed by Buechner & Orth in an Italian Revival style, opened on November 10, 1919 with 948 seats as the first structure in town constructed specifically for showing movies rather than live performances. By 1926 it was operated by the Finkelstein & Rubin chain. It was the first theater in town to add sound in 1928, was heavily remodeled in 1930 after becoming a Paramount-Publix Theatre. It was remodeled again in 1954 when it was the first theater in town to add CinemaScope and stereo sound, changing its name to the Empire Theatre in January 1955.
It remained essentially the same until it closed in 1994 and was donated by Midcontinent Theatres to the local arts council in 1995. It was renovated to preserve the flavor of all three of its incarnations (especially its original Baroque and 1930s Deco touches), while reducing the seating to accommodate a newly expanded stage and new orchestra pit.
Currently, it hosts a variety of live stage events, meetings, and some movies (usually presented on 16mm or via video projection, as the theater has not yet been able to afford to acquire 35mm film equipment to replace what was removed when it closed as a first-run movie house).
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