Abandoned theater in Kentucky

State Theatre, Elizabethtown Kentucky
Date added: January 03, 2023 Categories: Kentucky Theater Art Deco
Right side of the State Theatre

Constructed in 1942, the State Theater is one of many movie theatres in the Commonwealth of Kentucky; however, it is a significant reminder of entertainment in Elizabethtown and Hardin County in the mid-20th century. This theatre is the only remaining structure constructed solely for the purposes of showing motion pictures, and it is one of two structures in Elizabethtown-Hardin County which exhibit the Art Deco style of architecture. It is a product of the demand and needs for entertainment during World War II, and it reflects local, state, and national trends in theatre construction and Art Deco style of architecture.

The growth and development of the motion picture industry occurred in the early 20th century and affected the types of establishments and venues throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the United States. The evolution of the movie theatre and motion pictures clearly demonstrated the progressive and vibrant nature of the nation and affected the way Americans viewed the world. According to the United States Census of Business, the motion picture industry thrived in the early 20th century. From the kinetoscope, vaudeville, and "silents" to the "talkies," Americans witnessed innovations in motion pictures and theatre construction. Early 20th century entertainment affected commerce, industry, aesthetics, and technology.

By the 1930s, the motion picture industry had flourished. According to the 1935 United States Census for Business, Kentucky had 206 motion picture theatres. These Kentucky theatres had total receipts of $4,848,000, approximately 62 percent of total amusement receipts. By the 1940s, the motion picture industry had reached its maximum development. "Movie attendance peaked in the 1940s as the public embraced messages of patriotism and romance, and theatre chains responded to the demand". By 1948, the number of motion picture theatres in Kentucky had increased to 297 motion picture theatres, and the total receipts were $14,971,000, approximately 55 percent of total amusement receipts. By the early 1950s, Kentucky and the United States witnessed a commercial expansion of television and experienced a reduction in movie attendance and the closing mof ovie theatres. Throughout the mid-and late-20th century, the motion picture industry has adapted its services and establishments in order to compete with the popularity of television and other forms of entertainment.

The evolution of the motion picture theatre.not only occurred in large urban areas, but it also affected small, rural communities nationwide. In the early 20th century, Elizabethtown-Hardin County became a regional entertainment center and represents the growth and development of motion picture theatres.

Created by the first Kentucky legislature in 1792, Hardin County historically has been a rural community with strong agricultural economy. However, Hardin County has experienced significant growth and development. Hardin County not only includes the county seat, Elizabethtown, but it also incorporates the Fort Knox Military Reservation and the Cities of Radcliff, Vine Grove, West Point, Sonora, and Upton. With the development of the Fort Knox Military Reservation in the early 1900s, Hardin County has witnessed substantial population growth and commercial, industrial, and residential development throughout the county. Today Hardin County is Kentucky's fifth largest county in population.

Elizabethtown is the county seat of Hardin County and was incorporated in 1797. Elizabethtown was the largest city in Hardin County until World War II, when it was surpassed in population by the City of Radcliff with the growth of the Fort Knox Military Reservation. However, Elizabethtown historically has served as the county and regional commercial center. Residents of Hardin County as well as the Lincoln Trail region have traveled to Elizabethtown and recognized this city as the regional shopping, entertainment, and business center.

Located today on U.S. 31W, Elizabethtown's central business district thrived throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Its strategic location and strong local and regional economic bases promoted the growth of commercial establishments in its downtown area. In addition to financial institutions and retail establishments, entertainment ventures were also significant contributors to Elizabethtown's thriving economy and viable downtown area.

In particular, downtown Elizabethtown became the hub for motion picture theatres in the early 20th century. Due to World War I and the Depression, local officials and residents demanded and recognized the need for enhancing the availability of theatres and amusement. In the early 20th century, Elizabethtown become a local and regional entertainment center and possessed several motion picture theatres. According to the 1948 U.S. Census for Business, Elizabethtown had two motion picture theatres, and three theatres were located in other areas of Hardin County. According to a local newspaper, the Hardin County Enterprise, on February 17, 1942, Elizabethtown was a leading city in entertainment:

Thus Elizabethtown, long known as a trading and commercial center, takes its place as one of the outstanding amusement towns in Kentucky, ranking in the seating capacity and excellence of its theatres next to Louisville, Lexington and one or two other of the larger cities.

Spacious, comfortable theatres which offer a variety of clean, wholesome entertainment are assets to any town, and are the cause of many visitors, some from miles away, coming in.

One of the first motion picture theatres was located in the Masonic Temple on North Mulberry Street (U.S. 62) in downtown Elizabethtown. Constructed in 1913, the Masonic Temple included the Masonic lodge, offices, and theatre and auditorium for the showing of motion pictures and the performing of plays and pageants. According to local historians, "many of us old-timers recall paying a dime for a ticket to watch the stars of the silent screen -- with a pause between each reel, and the tempo of the piano music by Miss Lena Johnson reflecting the action of the show". Today this structure is utilized for offices and, consequently, has lost much of its association with the business of entertainment in Elizabethtown and Hardin County.

To offer residents further choices in entertainment, Cresap Hays and Frank Joplin constructed a movie theatre on South Main Street in downtown Elizabethtown in 1929. Located behind the Joplin Hotel, this theatre only operated for a short time because ". . . the town wasn't large enough to support two movie houses". Due to the lack of documentation, its appearance and type are unknown. However, it is documented that this movie theatre was later converted into a grocery store and subsequently demolished.

Because of World War I, Great Depression, and onset of World War II, entertainment was an essential element in the daily lives of Americans. In Elizabethtown, developers recognized the need for entertainment and constructed two movie theatres for the local and regional citizenry. The first theatre was the Grand Theatre which opened in early 1942 and was constructed by J.M. Hobbs and Kermit C. Stengel. Located on the public square in downtown Elizabethtown, the Grand Theatre was a popular movie theatre for local citizens. According to a local resident, Carroll Gene Sherrard, "Friday nites [sic] were Grand theatre nite because they had a western, a regular feature, and a "Charly Chan" [sic] plus a continued serial with chapters 1 thru 15!" The Grand Theatre was later converted for other uses and subsequently demolished.

The State Theatre was the last movie theatre constructed in downtown Elizabethtown, and it served as a rival and alternative to the Ritz and Grand Theatres. Constructed by T.J. Murphy and Son of Bowling Green, the State Theatre was completed in 1942 "... before June 6, at which time all construction of amusement projects has been ordered stopped by the War Production Board" (New Theatre). Owned and operated by the Kentucky Amusement Company, the State Theatre held its grand opening on Thursday, June 11, 1942 with the showing of "The Fleet's In" starring Dorothy Lamour, William Holden, and Eddie Bracken. Located on West Dixie Avenue (U.S. 31W) in downtown Elizabethtown, the State Theatre became an important establishment and landmark for the local citizenry. The Elizabethtown News on June 12, 1942 described the State Theatre and its opening as follows:

With a Neon [sic] sign flashing, and bright lights burning, Elizabethtown took on something of a metropolitan air last night in the opening of the new State Theatre, owned by the Kentucky Amusement Co., and situated on W. Dixie Avenue.

The Hardin County Enterprise described the State Theatre opening as follows:

The opening on Thursday night was attended by the largest crowd that has ever witnessed a show in Elizabethtown. All of the 1,000 seats were filled before the first show began, and hundreds waited patiently in the lobby for three hours to see the second show. Cars were lined up on both sides of West Dixie for several blocks, and when we left at 9:45 a long line of customers was standing on the sidewalk, waiting to purchase tickets.

The State Theatre operated for nearly forty years and finally closed as a motion picture theatre in 1982 with the showing of "E.T." This theatre was later converted and utilized for a country music performance hall. Since 1988, the State Theatre has been vacant and has stood as a reminder of the growth and development of entertainment in Elizabethtown and Hardin County. Today the State Theatre is one of the only remaining examples of a commercial structure built solely for use as a motion picture theatre. The Joplin, Grand, and Ritz theatres no longer exist, and although the Masonic Temple still stands, this structure was not constructed solely for the showing of motion pictures.

Building Description

The State Theatre is located in downtown Elizabethtown, Kentucky and is situated on U.S. Highway 31-W. The property is bounded by the highway on the north side, an alleyway on the south side, and commercial structures on the east and west sides. The State Theatre was constructed in 1942 and is one of the few examples of Art Deco-style architecture in Hardin County. The building is constructed of brick in a common bond pattern. Significant architectural features are the large marquee, neon signs, and stepped-roof parapet which are typical features of Art Deco theatre architecture of the 1930s and 1940s.

The front facade includes in-laid geometric designs which surround and emphasize the grand vertical marquee tower. Carrara glass accents portions of the front facade such as the ticket booth on the right of the building and the storefront-style window on the left. There are two entrances to the State Theatre. One entrance is on the far right next to the ticket booth which leads directly upstairs. This entrance was used by the black patrons of the theatre. The main entrance includes two sets of wood double doors that lead into the lobby. The lobby has terrazzo flooring and another set of wood double doors which lead into the theatre.

The State Theatre contained approximately 950 two-toned cushioned metal theatre seats including the balcony area. Today there are 503 seats remaining. The ground level contains three sections of seats with two aisleways. The interior of the theatre is painted in various shades of green and burgundy. There are large murals on each side of the stage which feature Grecian goddesses who hold the masks of comedy and tragedy above their heads.

From the lobby, there is a stairway on the left that leads up to the balcony. The balcony is divided into two separate sections for white and black patrons. There are 277 seats in the balcony. It is carpeted in what is believed to be the original carpet. At the back of the balcony is the projection room. It still contains old preservable projectors and film reels.