America Theatre

157 N. College Avenue,
Fort Collins, CO 80524

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 27, 2023 at 7:39 pm

The America Theatre was not in the building at 167 N. College, now occupied by the comedy club, but in the building immediately south of it, at 153-157 N. College. I also think that the facades of both buildings are misleading, as is often the case in old urban neighborhoods. Buildings can be gutted and entirely new facades put on them without demolishing the basic structure, though in this case I suspect that the building which actually housed the America Theatre has had its roof lowered, which means nothing remains of the theater but the side walls and perhaps the lower part of the back wall. The fly tower is of course gone, along with any other traces of the building’s theatrical history

Here is a major problem with the comedy club building: satellite view shows that it simply isn’t deep enough to have held a theater. About 2/5 of that lot is parking, and was already parking in a 1956 aerial view (the earliest aerial available online.) LoopNet’s page for 167 N. College says it was built/renovated in 1885/1914 and calls it the Briggs Building (though there is another building of that name in Fort Collins, at Oak and Mason street, built in 1951/1952.)

The building to the south of this Briggs Building, at 153-157 N. College, also has a LoopNet page, which calls it the America Building (!), and says it was built/renovated in 1904/2016. This building is definitely deep enough to have housed a theater. It is currently occupied by an assortment of small businesses, some of them arrayed along a passageway cut through the building to the alley in back. Despite LoopNet noting only a 2016 renovation, the conversion of the structure to a commercial arcade was done around 1955, the year noted on plans and drawings of the project prepared by local architect William B. Robb, listed in the finding aid for his collected papers. The closing date of 1953 provided by rivest266 is probably correct, despite the continued listing of the house in the 1956 FDY.

The theater entrance having been in the north bay of the building, as revealed by the vintage photo, the address would have been about 157 N., currently the address of a business called Elite E-Sport. The historic address I’ve seen for the Orpheum Theatre was 163 N, but that number is apparently no longer in use.

JackCoursey on August 27, 2023 at 11:24 am

The status needs to be changed on this to Demolished. There is a comedy club currently residing at this address but the building in no way resembles the photo on file nor does the interior suggest that it was ever a theater in the classical sense.

rivest266 on August 31, 2019 at 9:09 am

Reopened as the New America on September 19th, 1927. Grand opening ad posted. More to come.

rivest266 on August 29, 2019 at 4:41 pm

The newspaper article said that it became the Empress theatre on July 1911. Empress theatre openingEmpress theatre opening Fri, Jul 28, 1911 – 3 · () ·

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 27, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I have a suspicion (but no firm evidence) that either the State or the Trail was at 148 W. Mountain, in the building now occupied by the Trail Head Tavern (Street View), which still sports a theater-style marquee.

The first America Theatre was supposed to have been at 150 W. Mountain. It’s possible that the address of that building the theater was in was shifted to 148 at some point, or it might be that the America (which might have become the State), was in the building next door to the tavern, now housing the Steak-Out Saloon (with secondary sign saying Scrivner’s Grocery & Market.)

Even if the State was in the building at 150, the Trail might still have been in the building at 148, of course. The building isn’t very wide, but it’s deep enough that it could have accommodated 400 seats, though probably with very little leg room.

But until somebody finds an old city directory or telephone book or other source with the addresses, or somebody who remembers seeing the theaters themselves turns up, we can’t be sure which theaters were where.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 26, 2013 at 4:13 pm

The news that the Empress was originally the Orpheum is interesting, Ken. The photo of the auditorium on the page you linked to also appears in a book called Cinema Treasures: A New Look at Classic Movie Theaters, by some guys named Ross Melnick and Andreas Fuchs (whoever the hell they are.)

The Orpheum is listed in the 1913-1914 Cahn guide with John Cort as the New York representative of the house.

Near the bottom of this web page from the Fort Collins Historical Society is a paragraph about the Orpheum. The theater opened on November 21, 1907.

The Orpheum appears on a list of small town movie theaters that was published in the September 10, 1910, issue of The Billboard.

I haven’t yet found any sources specifically naming the Trail Theatre, but the July 11, 1947, issue of The Film Daily has this item that probably refers to it:

“Fort Collins, Colo. — W. F. Aydelott has started construction of a 400-seat subsequent-run theater.”
Fort Collins also had the Opera House, built in 1881 and converted into a dance hall in 1917. I don’t know if it ever operated as a movie house, though one source said that movies of the San Francisco earthquake and fire were shown there in 1906. Today the building houses shops and offices as the Opera Galleria, at 123 N. College Avenue.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 25, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Yes, there is definitely a second floor there.

I wonder if the State Theatre that appeared in the 1933 listings was the original America/American Theatre? According to the page that said the Empress was in a one story building there was a third movie house opened at 150 W. Mountain Avenue around 1925. If the writer was right about that, at least, that must have been the America. The State is still listed in the 1943 FDY, with 375 seats.

In any case, the Empress was renamed the America in 1927, and is still listed with 891 seats in 1943. The Lyric was listed as closed. All three houses were controlled by Fox Intermountain Theaters.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 21, 2013 at 11:31 am

This web page with a history of Fort Collins from 1900-1919 says that “[t]he Empress was a one-story brick structure with a facade with two central double door entrances, clerestory windows, and an overhanging hood sheltering the entrance area of the theater.” The building now at this location is brick, but looks very modern and is two stories tall, so the Empress building must have been either altered, or demolished and replaced with a new building.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 21, 2013 at 11:16 am

The Empress Theatre in Fort Collins changed hands in 1927, according to this item from the July 15 issue of The Film Daily:

“Opposition Bought at Ft. Collins

“Fort Collins, Colo. — Frank Fairchild, Max Kohn and Gus Kohn, who operate the Lyric, have taken over the Empress. The house is closed for remodeling.”

The September 15 issue mentioned the theater again, but said that its name was being changed:
“Change Theater Name

“Fort Collins, Colo. — The Empress, which is being remodeled by the new owner, C.&F. Amusement Co., proprietor of the Lyric and the America, will be renamed the New America.”

The September 23 issue had this item:
“Reopen Colorado House

“Fort Collins, Colo. — The New America has reopened after being closed three months for extensive alterations.”

The name C.&F. Amusement Company in the September 15 item makes me suspect that the July 15 item had misspelled the name Cohn as Kohn, and this in turn makes me wonder if a Gus and Max Cohn in Fort Collins were the same Gus and Max Cohn who had, in the 1910s, been connected with the Bell Circuit of theaters in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Lyric Theatre that C.&F. operated in 1927 was not the house currently listed here as the Lyric Cinema Cafe, but an earlier house that was apparently located at 137 E. Mountain Avenue. It was in operation at least as early as 1917.

As for the Empress still being listed in the 1928 Film Daily Yearbook, when the name had been changed the previous year, I can only surmise that the editors of that publication didn’t read The Film Daily. Perhaps they mistrusted it because of its frequent misspellings.