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Theaters in Edwardsville, Illinois

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser




Main Street Airdome For Sale, Edwardsville, IL - 1914The Main Street Airdome, first owned by Mr. Keene, was located at 241 N. Main Street in Edwardsville, where the Chicago Title and Trust Company was later located. Today this location houses offices for attorneys. The Main Street  Airdome opened in June 1908, showing vaudeville, illustrated songs, and moving pictures. The manager was Arthur Gillespie. The roof of the theater was canvas, and one time when it rained and filled with water, kids took a knife and cut a hole in it, letting water pour all over everyone. Gas lighting served as a mark of identity for the theater. The last show was advertised on January 1, 1909 – a special New Year’s Day matinee, and projectionist Andy Roehrkalb, formerly of the Nickelodeon Theater, left to work at the newly-opened Wildey Theater. The Main Street Airdome was put up for sale on June 4, 1914.


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, June 1, 1908
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, June 1, 2, 3, 1908, the Main Street Airdome have a high-class sensational feature billed – The Two Ziemers – the American Knife, Sword and Battle Ax Experts. Miss Ziemer stands against a large board, while Mr. Ziemer throws knives and battle axes around and about her, pinning her so tight that it is impossible for her to leave her position without being released. Cutting ashes from a cigar held in the teeth, cutting an apple or potato on the naked hand, arm, back of the neck, top of the head, side of the face, and last upon the throat. A blood curdling act from start to finish. 2,000 feet of film, 2 illustrated songs, new every day. Vaudeville acts change Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. Moving pictures and illustrated songs every day. Arthur Gillespie, Manager.


Gem Theater, Edwardsville, IL
The Gem Theater, formerly the Main Street Airdome, was located at 241 N. Main Street in Edwardsville. This theater opened on March 17, 1915. The last showing at the Gem, with John Siepker as owner, was on January 31, 1916. For a time, the theater was used by churches and other community events.


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, March 6, 1915
The Gem Theater on North Main Street will open the latter part of next week, according to a statement this afternoon by the manager. The theater was formerly the Main Street Theater. All the center posts have been removed from the interior of the building, and the ceiling has been covered with “beaver board.” Four hundred new seats will arrive Monday. They are the only thing now lacking. They were expected last week, but owing to a mistake in shipping, did not arrive. Andrew Foehrkalb, a union operator, will operate the motion picture machine. The machine is one of the latest type, two-reel feature films being shown without changing of reels. The machine is controlled by a rectifier, which is installed near a window. Persons can see the operation of the rectifier from the street. A heavy steel booth, which is absolutely fireproof, takes the place of a cheaply constructed wooden one. Only pictures will be shown at the theater.


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, March 16, 1915
The new Gem Theater, formerly the Main Street Theater, will be opened for the first performance tomorrow evening. There will be shows every evening, and a matinee on every Sunday afternoon in the future. The theater has been nicely finished on the inside. The ceiling and walls have been decorated and the lighting fixtures re-arranged. All new scats have been installed, and a new booth for the motion picture machine has been constructed of steel. There are plenty of exits in case of fire or accidents, so that the entire audience could leave the building hurriedly. The building will have plenty of ventilation, and in the summer, the large fan in front of the building will supply fresh air.


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, February 9, 1916
Andrew Foehrkalb, former motion picture operator at the Gem Theater, has been transferred to the theater at Collinsville.



The Nickelodeon Theater was located at 214 St. Louis Street in Edwardsville. This two-story frame building had an ornamental tin front. It was the enterprise of brothers Arthur and Robert Gillespie, and consisted of a sheet nailed to the back wall, 150 folding chairs, and a hand-cranked projector atop a rickety, wooden platform rising to within three-foot of the roof, where the hapless operator stood bent double, as he cranked away, grinding out the slapstick epics of the time. The longest feature was made up of three reels, and the entire show, including interruptions for broken film, took an hour or less to run. The Gillespie brothers bought an Edison phonograph with a horn 6-foot long, and 3 feet in diameter. It played off cylinders of three minutes duration, and since no one had yet heard or conceived an automatic record changer, it needed a boy to do just that - Andy Foehrkalb, age thirteen, who was hired to straighten the chairs after the daily performance and help in the theater whenever he was called upon. One sweltering evening at the theater, one of the Gillespie brothers operating the projector started feeling ill, and called Andy to take over, which he did. The film ran off the reel into a hole in the floor, and projectionists thought themselves lucky to catch the end of the film before it disappeared below the hole in the floor – otherwise they had a hard time finding the end to reel it up again. Foehrkalb later left the Nickelodeon for a similar job at the Main Street Theater.




The Oh Gee/Lux Theater in EdwardsvilleThe Oh Gee Theater, located at 112-116 N. Main Street (in the Giese Building) in Edwardsville, was opened by Olin Giese (known to his friends as "Gee") in 1920. The name of the theater was taken from his initials. If you walk along North Main Street and look up, you can still see the name "Giese" above the second story windows of the building. Originally the building was used by William C. Kriege and Company as a general merchandise store. Later it was remodeled and the Oh Gee Theater was opened.

The Oh Gee Theater could seat around 700 people. Due to the opening of the Wildey Theater in Edwardsville, the Oh Gee closed in less than two years. Mr. Giese then managed the Wildey until his death. The funeral for Giese was held on the stage in the Wildey Theater to accommodate the large crowd.

In 1939 the theater was remodeled and reopened by Virgil Merritt and Tony Serra as theOh Gee Theater ad - 1921 Lux Theater. A few years after the Lux opened, it was sold to a group of businessmen that included Clyde Metcalf. Metcalf set up a tiny office just off the lobby where he sold insurance. In the 1950s he placed a television in the lobby. If patrons didn't like the feature film, they could come out into the lobby to watch television, since many didn't have sets at home. George Metcalf joined his parents in the theater-insurance-real estate business in 1957. The two men ran the projectors themselves when they could no longer afford the two union projectionists.

The Lux remained in operation until 1958, with a showing of "The Ten Commandments." The building was then was converted to retail use, which it continues to be used for to this day.




Orpheum Theater, Edwardsville, ILThe Orpheum Theater was located on St. Louis Street, next to the Leland Hotel. The Orpheum, which opened January 13, 1908, was advertised as the coolest theater in town, with no posts to obstruct the view. The building was constructed of fire-proof brick. There was a matinee every afternoon from 2 until 5:30 p.m., and evening shows were from 6:30 to 11:00 p.m. Admission was 5 cents for children, and 10 cents for adults. Mr. Fowler was the manager. This theater was sold in July 1908, and reopened as the Family Theater.


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, January 14, 1908
The Orpheum Theater on St. Louis Street opened last night with a good bill, and from a point of attendance and the excellence of the films, the opening night was a success. The performance commences at 7 o’clock, and lasts one hour, three performances being given in an evening.


In July 1908, J. B. Parker, president of the Family Theater Company, purchased the Orpheum Theater. Renamed the Family Theater, the theater reopened on July 26, 1908, with Ed F. McCrumish of Granite City as the new manager. McCrumish, a tenor, also sang during the illustrated songs. This theater included updated ventilation and carpeted aisles. The theater catered to the women and children of the community, with no performances that would offend the “most fastidious taste.” In 1929, it was stated in an article that Edward Fellis of Hillsboro operated the Family Theater fifteen years ago. This theater closed some time in 1909, I believe.


Orpheum Theater, Edwardsville, IL
Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, July 16, 1908
The Family Theater Company has purchased from Manager Fowler the Orpheum on St. Louis Street, and will shortly reopen it. J. B. Parker of St. Louis, president of the company, was here last night to see what arrangements could be made for interior changes, it being his idea to include Edwardsville in a circuit now forming, and put in first-class stock and vaudeville companies. Ed F. McCrumish of Granite City will probably move here and take charge of the theater.


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, July 22, 1908
The Orpheum Theater, which has been closed for a time, will be reopened Sunday, July 26, under new management, and will be known in the future as the Family Theater. It is the policy of the new management to make this theater a place of amusement catering to the women and children – a place where they may go unattended with assurance that everything will be done for their protection, amusement, and comfort, and where nothing will be shown that could offend the most fastidious taste.

The theater has been equipped with an enlarged stage and new scenery, and four large ceiling fans have been installed, which will make it cool and comfortable. Advanced vaudeville, motion pictures, and illustrated songs will be the offering of the new management. The vaudeville features will be changed twice weekly, and two reels, comprising 2,000 feet of subjects never before shown in Edwardsville, will be offered each night, making a complete change of the picture program nightly.

The vaudeville offering for the opening week will be “The Strollers,” at present the headliners at Mannion’s Park, St. Louis, in their two high-class comedy sketches, “Chums” and “when the Ticker Ticks.” This theater is now working in conjunction with several others, with the same policy, which enables it to secure the very best of vaudeville. The prices will be ten cents for general admission and twenty cents for reserved seats. Two performances each evening will be given – one at 7:30 and one at 9 o’clock. Mr. Ed F. McCrumish will be the resident manager, and will make his home in Edwardsville. Mr. McCrumish, who has been associated for the past fourteen years with different grand and comic opera companies such as the Royal Opera Company of Quebec, Canada, Columbia, Manhattan, Herald Square, Andrews Boston Ideal Opera Companies, B. C. Whitney’s “Isle of Spice” Co., in the capacity of principal tenor, will sing the illustrated songs. A theater with such a policy as the new management proposes will fill a long-felt want in Edwardsville, and will no doubt meet with a hearty support.


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, July 24, 1908
The Humane Society will have charge of the new Family Theater on St. Louis Street Monday night. The theater, which was formerly known as the Orpheum, has been remodeled throughout, the stage being enlarged and four large ceiling fans installed, making this the coolest and most up-to-date theater in town, and a most delightful place to spend an evening. The program for Monday evening will include two reels of motion pictures, a vaudeville offering entitled, “the Strollers,” and illustrated songs rendered by the manager, Mr. Ed F. McCrumish. Two performances will be given beginning at seven thirty. Prices ten and twenty cents. The demands upon the Humane Society treasury have been unusually heavy of late, and as a result the funds are low. Through the generosity of Mr. McCrumish, this opportunity for replenishing the treasury has been offered.


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, July 27, 1908
The Family Theater on St. Louis Street opened last night with an excellent vaudeville company known as The Strollers in Chums, which will be presented for three nights this week. A new bill will be put on Thursday night, entitled, “when the Ticker Ticks.” The vaudeville is good and clean, and in addition, there are some fine moving pictures. The house was packed for both performances on the opening night. This evening, the Humane Society will have charge of the box office, and the proceeds of the evening will be used by them for charitable purposes during the coming winter. The members of the society will sell tickets and have general supervision over the playhouse.

The interior of the theater has been remodeled throughout, and presents a handsome appearance. The stage has been enlarged and fitted with a curtain and scenery, and foot lights have been installed. Four electric ceiling fans have been installed, and add much in making the surroundings comfortable during the hot weather. E. L. McCrumish is the resident manager of the theater. Vaudeville is the chief feature, and the best talent possible is being secured. An entire new bill will be presented each week. There will be two performances each evening, the first commencing at 7:30, and the second at 9 o’clock. No afternoon performances will be given.


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, August 11, 1908
This little playhouse has filled a long-felt want with our amusement lovers. The management, at the time of their inauguration of this theater, made promises regarding the safety, comfort, and caliber of attractions to be offered by them that we were inclined to look upon rather skeptically, but we are forced to admit that every promise has been more than fulfilled. The ventilation is as near perfect as money can make it, the entire upper part of the front of the house being open, and the windows and doors of the stage arranged in the same manner. Two large, 16-inch bracket fans have been installed close to the ceiling, one over the proscenium of the stage and the other near the center of the house. These fans act in the manner of an exhaust, driving the hot air, which naturally rises to the ceiling, out of the openings in the front of the theater, thus enabling the four large ceiling fans to distribute the fresh air entering from the main door and from the doors and windows of the stage.

To the right of the stage is a fire exit, which will enable an audience in case of fire to exit both from the front of the house and over the stage from the rear. The theater is thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned every day, and the aisles have been carpeted, making them noiseless. These carpets are taken up daily and thoroughly cleansed and aired before replacing them for the evening performance. These precautions guarantee sanitary conditions.

Warren Catterlin & Co., the attraction for this and Wednesday evenings, have become great favorites with Edwardsville theater goers. They will present tonight and tomorrow night a playlet, entitled “The Hills of Promise,” taken from the story of that name in the August issue of the “Red Book” Magazine, and written especially for this circuit. On Thursday and Friday evenings, Frederick Walton & Co. will return with “The Fair Auctioneer,” the playlet presented by them last Saturday evening, and which so many are anxious to see. It is a brilliant comedy, and thoroughly pleased the large audiences that were fortunate enough to see it and to obtain admission last Saturday evening.

Such efforts as these are the causes of the success the management of the Family Theater is enjoying, and we regret that their present quarters are not larger to enable them to accommodate the large attendance they so richly deserve and are unable to take care of.


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, November 24, 1908
Tomorrow afternoon will see a special matinee at the Family Theater on St. Louis Street, complimentary on the part of Manager McCrumish to the ladies of the Humane Society. He has offered the society their choice of three bills, and Miss Edna Jeffress, secretary of the society, will select the attraction this evening. The stock company will put it on in their best style, and the ladies of the society are anticipating a large attendance.

There are two reasons why they may do so – first, the entertainment will be excellent, and second, it is in a good cause, as all of the proceeds will go toward the amelioration of the condition of the needy. The doors will open at 2:00, and the performance commence at 3:00. Admission ten and twenty cents.




Wildey Theater, Edwardsville, IL - 1911The Wildey Theater, located at 252 N. Main Street in Edwardsville, was built in 1909 through a partnership of the Edwardsville Investment Company and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. It was designed by architect G. H. Kennerly, and named for Thomas Wildey, the founder of the Odd Fellows organization in the United States. The IOOF Hall was on the third floor of the three-story, brick building. The second floor, called the Music Hall, was used for small concerts and dances. The theater auditorium was located on the ground floor, with two small storefronts on either side of the entrance. The grand opening was held April 12, 1909.

The Wildey could seat 1,150 patrons, which included 500 seats in the auditorium, 300 seats in each of the two balconies, and 30 seats in opera boxes on the sides of the auditorium. The first attempt the Wildey made to add sound to film came in the early 1920s, according to projectionist Andy Foehrkalb. A phonograph disc, six inches long and three inches in diameter, would play pre-recorded sound effects. “This was a novelty,” Andy stated, “and quickly faded out. ‘Talkies’ came into their ownWildey Theater, Edwardsville - 1909 when sound was synchronized with film.” A drawback to this method was that the film inevitably would be destroyed. Before safety film gained wide acceptance, film was highly flammable and brittle. Constant handling and exposure turned the unprotected film to dust. To remedy the lack of synchronization, which resulted from cutting unusable film from a movie, blank film was spliced in its place. Sound was late coming to the Wildey, who continued to show silent films until there were no more being distributed. Foehrkalb further stated in 1971 that he showed stag shows more respectable than some of the things being shown today. “We would have been raided if we had shown movies like they have today,” he said.

In the mid-1930s, the Wildey Theater underwent a major renovation, with the grand opening being held January 17, 1937. A new marquee was installed, and the interior changed from ornate Victorian to modern Art Deco. After 1937, the theater was used primarily for films, although community events were still held there. By 1984, the theater fell on hard times and closed its doors with a showing of “the Big Chill,” on March 8, 1984. The building was sold. Various organizations and individuals tried to bring it back, but it proved too large a task. In 1999, the theater was purchased by the City of Edwardsville. The building was renovated, and on April 12, 2011, on the 102nd anniversary of its original opening day, the Wildey opened its doors to the public. The theater now has live theater, concerts, and films.


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, March 5, 1909
According to the architect, the Wildey Theater, which will be completed and placed in commission within thirty days, will be the equal of theaters in large cities, and as a comparison, it is stated that it has the same seating capacity as the Garrick in St. Louis. The building right now is redolent, with the oror of fresh plaster. Decorators are placing the elaborate stucco work that will outline the balcony and the boxes, and it will not be long until the auditorium, which is a gem, will be ready for the furnishings. The investment company is figuring on a theatrical company of forty people for the opening night, and it is a certainty that the beautiful playhouse will be packed to its capacity on that occasion.

That those who have watched the progress, and those who have as yet not seen the new structure may know exactly how it will appear when finished, the architect, G. H. Kennerly of St. Louis, has penned the following description:

The building is constructed of concrete foundation, brick walls, and stone trimmings, even to the heavy stone cornice. The supporting construction is of steel and iron. Over the main entrance is placed a copper and glass Marquise, or shelter, which is to be brightly illuminated by electricity, to bring out the fine carving.

Through the center of the building runs a spacious tiled vestibule with highly ornamented walls and ceiling, which constitutes the entrance to the auditorium. Tablets are let into the walls for the bills of the current and coming attractions. On either side of this vestibule is a storeroom. These two, and the entrance, take up the front of the first floor of the building.

The vestibule leads into the lobby of the theater, a space exquisitely decorated in modeled plaster relief and painting. To the left is the box office, with ornamental bronze grill and marble counter. To the right is the check or cloakroom, so located that it may be used for the ballroom on the second floor, and the lodge room on the third floor, as well as for the theater. To the rear of the check room are the stairs to the ball and lodge rooms.

From the lobby entrance is obtained to the foyer to the main auditorium of the theater on the first floor, which will be found is spacious and furnished with divans, lounging couches, and the like. Toilet rooms for ladies and gentlemen are provided on either side, with tile floors and modern sanitary fixtures in every particular.

Leading from this foyer on each side of the main entrance are stairways to the first balcony. The gallery entrance is from the College Avenue side, and is entirely separate from the main auditorium and balcony entrances. The seats on the main floor and balcony have large, comfortable space allotted to each, so that once installed, their occupants will not be disturbed by others entering, as there will be plenty of room to pass. The seats are to be well upholstered, and have low backs. There are four boxes, accommodating six persons each, and these will be elaborately draped and decorated and provided with neat reed chairs. All of the floors will be carpeted in dark green Brussels, and all draperies will be in harmony.

The building will be heated with pressure steam - the radiators being recessed in the walls. Special attention has been paid to the ventilation. In addition to the front and rear exits, there are three on each side of the house on each floor, all of them six feet or over in width.

The proscenium is modeled in a beautiful plastic relief with concealed electric lights in plastic rosettes. The entire theater will be decorated in shades of green, with pickings of old gold. The ceilings are paneled over the proscenium boxes, and are to be decorated by a high-class artist with symbolic figures or paintings in addition to the paneling, highly ornamented ventilators, and lighting fixtures, which will be installed.

The main floor will seat 500; the balcony seats 300; the gallery 300; and the boxes 50 – a total seating capacity of 1,150 without aisle chairs.

The ventilating system is unsurpassed, the entire air of the theater can be changed every three minutes. This also applies to the ball and lodge rooms. The cubic contents of air per person is 24.7 feet, which in accordance with the best medical opinion, Dr. Risley, is perfect.

The curtain between the auditorium and stage is of heavy asbestos, and in case of fire, the curtain can be lowered in a minute’s notice, this with fore doors, etc., protecting the auditorium from outside danger, will make the most skeptical at ease. Every electric wire is encased in iron conduits, which eliminates the very often cause of fire by crossed wires, defective electrical work, etc. The lighting system is well panned, so one can read at ease in any part of the house.

Iron fire escapes are provided for the balcony and gallery, and are of ample size and properly placed. The entire house by ordinary means can be emptied in two minutes, according to the architect.

The stage is of a size and equipment to accommodate any kind of production. The proscenium is 32 feet by 24 feet; the gridiron is 55 feet in the air; the stage is 61 feet by 35 in the clear, and is equipped with standpipes and all other appliances. The contract provides for a full set of scenery draperies, curtains, and other paraphernalia. The dressing rooms are under the stage.

The ballroom and banquet hall on the second floor of the front part of the building are floored with narrow, white maple. In addition to the usual conveniences, the ballroom has a well-appointed kitchen. The orchestra stand is arranged like a miniature stage and proscenium. The room is 46 by 50 feet, and will accommodate 200 couples.

The I. O. O. F. lodge room on the third floor, front portion of the building is no less interesting than the other parts. It has ante rooms, reception rooms, committee rooms, a large lobby, all conveniently arranged. In the center of the lodge room is a large dome, finished in plastic relief and decorated in manner to appeal to the Odd Fellow. It is lighted by concealed bulbs. The lodge room is 46 by 50 feet.


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, April 13, 1909
The Wildey, Edwardsville’s new theater, was put in commission last evening, and introduced to an admiring public, “A Girl at the Helm,” a tuneful comedy with half a hundred people in the cast, was the opening attraction, and was a very fair one, but that was merely incidental. People wanted to see the theater, and show their interest and approval. Needless to say, all were delighted.

The pretty playhouse glowed with light, which were reflected softly from the delicate tones with which the interior is decorated. It was a representative audience that thronged the auditorium and filled all of the handsome boxes. Evening clothes, flowers, the flash of jewels combined to heighten the effect of a scene that was intoxicating in its beauty.

The Wildey, as has been said before, is the largest, roomiest, and most convenient theater in this part of Illinois. It is not congested or cramped anywhere. Its aisles are roomy, its open spaces generous. It seats 1156 persons, and the exits are such that two minutes is sufficient to empty the house. The visual angles are perfect – the balcony and gallery being repressed for that purpose.

So much for the main auditorium. Back of the proscenium arch equal care was exercised. The stage is 61 by 35 feet in the clear, and from its floor to the gridiron overhead is 65 feet. A. Emerson Jones and W. H. Konts, the manager and master mechanic of the company which played last night, sighed with satisfaction when they stepped out on the stage and looked about yesterday morning, and forthwith ordered the entire contents of their baggage car brought up. “This is the first time we have been able to use all our scenery since leaving the Olympic,” said Konts.

In the boxes last evening were:
Mr. and Mrs. R. D. Griffin, Dr. Joseph Pogue and Miss Katharine Pogue, Miss Winifred Hadley and C. W. Terry. Mr. and Mrs. L. D. Lawash, Mrs. W. H. Jones, Miss Minnie Jones, Mrs. N. O. Nelson, Miss Charlotte Nelson, Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Brown and family. Dr. and Mrs. R. S. Barnsback, Mrs. D. H. Brown. Mr. and Mrs. George W. Meyer, Mrs. A. G. Taxhorn, Bruce and Hilda Taxhorn. G. H. Keanerly and party of St. Louis. Mr. and Mrs. W. M. Warnock, Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Warnock, Miss Clara G. Burroughs, Mallory L. Burroughs.


Source: New York Clipper, September 2, 1911
The Wildey Theatre, Edwardsville, Illinois, which last season was managed by William Sauvage of Alton, is now under management of the Wildey Theatre Company, and has been since June, although the fact was not made public until a few days ago. This season, once a week on Sunday, is to be the rule, with as few exceptions as possible. The theatre is equipped with a moving picture machine, and pictures are shown at night when regular attractions are not booked.


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