The Von Lee

The Von Lee
Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL
2020

This may look like a former movie theater, but only this entrance remains. Behind it is new construction.

This theater opened as the Ritz in 1928, and was renamed the Von Lee in 1948. It’s a half block from the vast Indiana University campus, on a street that most students consider to be Bloomington’s main drag.

In 1988 I saw at least one movie here, maybe two. I had a girlfriend at IU and we could walk here easily from her dorm. I remember the auditorium being cramped. But we didn’t think much of such things then. Enough old theaters still operated that it was just how it was sometimes. Newly built theaters offered only three or four screens then. The mega multiplex was several years into the future yet.

You’d think that a university town would have been able to find a community use for an old theater. Well, they did. The Indiana Theater stands a few blocks down this same street. It fell into disuse just like the Von Lee did, but it found fortune in being reused as a performing arts center in 1995. I suppose a town Bloomington’s size can support but one such venue. The Von Lee’s auditorium was demolished in about 2006.

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Photography, Preservation

single frame: The Von Lee

A quick look at the Von Lee Theater, what’s left of it anyway, in Bloomington, Indiana.

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Palace Theater, Crossville, TN

Palace Theatre
Canon PowerShot S95
2011

My sons and I spent one Spring Break in a cabin at Cumberland Mountain State Park near Crossville, Tennessee. We went into town one evening to see what was up, and we came upon this gorgeous theatre sign lit.

The Palace opened in 1938 as a first-run movie theater. It operated that way until 1978 when growing competition forced it to close. It was restored in the early 2000s to be a community center and event venue.

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Photography

single frame: Palace Theatre

The Palace Theater’s sign in Crossville, TN.

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Road Trips

Movies on the Michigan Road: The Skyline Drive-in in Shelbyville

You might be surprised to know that 20 drive-in theaters still operate in Indiana. One of them, the Skyline, is on the Michigan Road, in Shelbyville. And it’s expanding.

Skyline Drive-In

Things didn’t look so good for the Skyline in 2008 when I surveyed the Michigan Road from end to end. I photographed its sign then — and noticed the For Sale sign posted nearby. I figured the Skyline’s days were numbered.

Skyline Drive-In

Joe Gaudin, an independent filmmaker in Shelbyville, bought the struggling venue. Audiences were thin for the first few years, but in time he turned it around. It thrives today. Gaudin told me that his theater draws devoted drive-in fans from a 75-mile radius.

I won’t tell Gaudin’s whole story here — look for an article on the Historic Michigan Road Association’s Web site soon that does. My wife, Margaret, has become our marketing director, and she plans to profile interesting businesses and their owners all along the Michigan Road. Shelbyville was our first stop on that tour.

Skyline Drive-In

But I will say that Gaudin believes adding a second screen will secure his drive-in’s future. He’s working now to make it real, and he hopes to open it during 2020.

Skyline Drive-In

The season hadn’t begun yet when Gaudin met us, and of course work was beginning on the expansion. This is what a drive-in looks like under those conditions!

Skyline Drive-In

Gaudin showed us the projection room. We got to see the modern digital projector, critical to the drive-in’s ability to show first-run movies. But next to it stood the film projector and its lighthouse. This is vintage equipment. RCA manufactured the projector in 1948. I didn’t find a manufacturer label on the lighthouse, but Gaudin said it dates to the 1930s.

Skyline Drive-In

The vintage equipment lets him run old monster and exploitation movies that never made the leap to digital. Those movies create some of the most popular weekends at the Skyline!

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

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Inside the Cadillac Palace Theatre

Inside the Cadillac Palace Theatre
Olympus XA
Film Washi D
2020

I was in an experimental mood with this experimental film. My wife and I were in Chicago and bought tickets to see the new production of The Phantom of the Opera. It played at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, built in 1926 in the French Baroque style.

I made this photograph in the auditorium before the show began. The Film Washi D made good use of the available light, delivering rich blacks and sharp contrast.

The fine folks at Analogue Wonderland gave me this roll of film in exchange for this mention. Film Washi films go in and out of stock at Analogue Wonderland; see their entire selection here.

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Film Photography

single frame: Inside the Cadillac Palace Theatre

A peek inside Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre on Film Washi D.

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Preservation

Photographing two of Indiana Landmarks’ 2019 Ten Most Endangered

Every year, historic preservation organization Indiana Landmarks publishes a list of ten historic places across the state that they consider to be “on the brink of extinction and too important to lose.” This year’s list of the 10 Most Endangered is just out; see it here.

Two of the places on this year’s list have found themselves in my camera’s lens. Traveling the state’s old roads as I do, I’ve photographically documented historic structures in a growing number of Indiana’s communities.

Mineral Springs Hotel

Mineral Springs Hotel in Paoli, on the Dixie Highway, was built in 1896 — before Paoli had electricity. So the owners built a power plant in the basement to light the hotel, and they sold excess power to their neighbors! Named for the area’s mineral-water springs that were thought to cure all ails, the hotel did big business for many decades. As the mineral-springs fad passed, however, the hotel’s fortunes declined. It stopped taking guests in 1958, although businesses populated its first floor for a few more decades. Today it’s vacant, its roof leaks, and many of its windows are broken. Indiana Landmarks hopes to find someone to restore it.

I visited Paoli during my 2012 excursion along the Dixie Highway in southern Indiana. The hotel sits on Paoli’s delightful square. Read about my visit here.

The Crump

In Columbus, the Crump Theater has stood here since 1889. As you might guess from these photos, this is not the theater’s original facade. Indeed, the Crump underwent three major remodelings in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Its art-deco facade was added during the third remodeling.

Crump

The facade is distinguished by pigmented structural glass panels known as Vitrolite.

Columbus, IN

The Crump featured live shows until the 1910s when movies began to supplant them. Eventually the Crump became a movie house, and stayed one until 1997, when it showed its last picture. But by then it was already in deplorable condition with a partially collapsed roof and a non-functioning boiler. The theater has only deteriorated more since then, despite several attempts to save it. The city of Columbus would like to see it saved, and Indiana Landmarks is interested in finding a developer who can restore the building and find a good use for it.

The first two photos are from a 2017 and the third from 2008. Both times I was following the Madison State Road, an 1830s route that connected Madison to Indianapolis via Columbus and was an alternative to the Michigan Road, which ran through Greensburg and Shelbyville to the east. Somehow, I’ve managed never to document my Madison State Road trips, an oversight I must one day correct. Meanwhile, you can see more photos from my visits to Columbus here.

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State Theater

Tree blocking the State Theater sign
Minolta SR-T 101, 50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor PF
Ferrania P30 Alpha
2018

Memo to cities everywhere: stop planting trees near your downtown walkways, as they block clear views of your classic architecture and signage!

This theater in my hometown of South Bend needs an owner and a profitable purpose. It is one of the last two remaining theaters of many that South Bend used to have; read about them here. And see a photo of this theater from when South Bend replaced its main street with a disastrous pedestrian plaza here.

Film Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: Tree blocking the State Theater sign

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