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Theaters of Upper Alton, Illinois

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser


Electric Theater at Rock Spring Park     |     Ouatoga/Mars/Gem Theater     |     Uptown/Cameo Theater


Rock Spring Park, Upper Alton, ILThe Electric Theater in Upper Alton was located at the Rock Spring Park. In 1896, Joseph F. Porter, President of the Alton Railway and Illuminating Company, purchased land from Harry Marsh along College Avenue, just west of Upper Alton. This land was known for a rock spring, which was reportedly used by Indians and early pioneers for drinking purposes. Porter planned on creating a summer resort, with his electric streetcar bringing guests from around the Alton area. He planted trees, shrubbery, and flower gardens, and built a dam to create a small lake at the park. Through the combined efforts of Joseph Porter and William A. Sauvage, a small summer theater with a stage was built at the park (on the east side of the lake), where live performances were held. Over two thousand people attended the grand opening of the park in June 1907. At the theater, live performers thrilled the audience. Radcliff and Belmont, the world’s greatest rifle shots, performed their feat by shooting small objects in every position imaginable. There were also musical comedians, clowns, trapeze performers and contortionists. The theater had a capacity of 950 people, and was managed by J. Edgar Collins. In the summer of 1907, the Electric Theater was partially destroyed by fire, owing to the exploding of the film. No one was injured. The damage amounted to about $500. The building was razed.

In 1907, William Eliot Smith (co-founder of the Illinois Glass Works in Alton, who owned property next to the park) and Joseph Porter combined their land and decided to give the property to the city of Alton to use as a community park.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, April 17, 1900
Mr. William M. Sauvage and Mr. Joseph F. Porter today announced they will establish a summer theater at Rock Spring Park to be opened about June 1, where plays will be given during the summer. A theater to seat 1,000 people and with standing room for as many more will be built on the east side of the lake and will be approached by way of a rustle bridge over the lake. Tables will be provided where ice cream and soft drinks can be served and the place will be handsomely fitted up. Mr. Porter has leased a strip of ground east of the park to make room for the theater.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, June 18, 1907
It is estimated that over two thousand people visited this beautiful spot Sunday and Sunday night. The park begins to look like a real White City. The theatre, the electric theatre, the Arcade, the Merry-Go-Round, the Dance Hall, the Wonderland, the Shooting Gallery, the Parlor Bowling, the Novelty Balls, the Ring Stand, the Curio Shop, the Studio, the refreshment stand, were all well patronized, affording all kinds of amusement for the visitors. Hundreds of people witnessed the free balloon ascension at 5:30 p.m. This daring ride by Prof. Hill is considered to be one of the best ascensions ever seen in Alton. The electric wire walking is a great feature. Prof. Hills daring feat, the slide for life, is a sensational act and should be seen by everybody. The slide for life, the balloon ascension, the electric wire walking, and many other high-class attractions are free. The Rock Spring theatre presented one of the strongest and best vaudeville performances ever given in Alton, every performer handling his part very cleverly. Radcliff and Belmont, the world's greatest rifle shots, do a very clever act, shooting at small objects in every position imaginable. Their equal has never been seen in Alton. Stemm and La Grange, musical comedians, present an exceptionally good repertoire of musical selections, playing on various different kinds of instruments, bringing forth applause from everybody who hears them. The Great Wagner, clown, trapeze and contortionist, does one of the best trapeze acts ever seen in this country, introducing something entirely new and never before seen in this city. Miss Helen Stewart, lightning change artist, in singing and dancing specialties, brings down the house. Delzell sisters, song and dance artists, are very clever indeed, and present the audience with a unique and up to date sketch of real good songs and clever dances. Francisco and Crosse do a very clever sketch entitled, "Morning Exercises." It is funny, especially the dancing feature, which is exceptionally good. The Majestic Trio, in a roaring afterpiece, "The Dutch Judge," hold the audience in real tears of joy and laughter. All in all, the performances given in this theatre by the above people are really recognized to be the best vaudeville attraction ever placed on the stage of any theatre at such a small admission price. The theatre is built on a large scale, amply able to take care of the best attractions, and the management assures the public that there will be no time lost in securing at all times the very best attractions obtainable. The theatre was filled to its seating capacity at the Matinee and night performances yesterday. The seating capacity of the theatre is 950 people, and there was a little room left, which was also filled. The Temple theatre orchestra is engaged to render music for the theatre for the season.

J. Edgar Collins, general manager of the Rock Spring Theatre and other concessions, including the Electric Theatre and the Wonderland, is a manger of years of experience and seems to know just what particular kind of attractions suit the public, judging from the comments passed on the performances given in Mr. Collins' theatre. It is an ideal spot to spend the evening, cool breezes and plenty of attractions is the talk of Rock Spring Park.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, June 20, 1907
Fun! Fun! Fun! Big amateur performance Friday night at Rock Spring Theatre. High class vaudeville at Rock Spring theatre tonight. Children 10 cents. Adults 20 cents. A prize will be given to the winner in the amateur contest at the Rock Spring theatre Friday night.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, July 8, 1907
A good list of attractions is being offered this week at the Rock Spring park theatre. Ahearn and Baxter, acrobatic comedians, are giving an excellent entertainment. The "Huntress," who will give a second week here, will show how he "makes up" as a woman in making his appearance on the stage. There are still some who do not believe that the "Huntress" is the man who claims to be the "woman" seen in the acts on the Rock Spring park theater stage. There are two juvenile performers in songs and dances which are highly pleasing to women and children especially. Morris and Morris, the two English eccentrics, is one of the best turns ever seen in Alton. The Rock Spring park attractions are proving very successful. The White Hussars band concert yesterday entertained a large crowd.


Source: New York Clipper, August 10, 1907
At Rock Spring Park (W. M. Sauvage, manager) Prof. Hill with his balloon is the feature attraction this week. The Rock Springs Theatre had a splendid bill week of July 28, including Jeanette Adler and company, Romaine and Campbell, Claude Austin and Hutchison and Lusby. Note - a new concern has been added to Rock Springs Park, called 'The Congress of Novelties.'




Ouatoga - Mars - Gem Theater, Upper Alton, ILOn April 9, 1913, William A. Clark of Upper Alton opened the Ouatoga Theater, at 1662 Washington Avenue in Upper Alton. The theater was just south of the W. A. Clark Drugstore, which was located on the southwest corner of College and Washington Avenues (where Walgreens is now located). The Ouatoga was Upper Alton's first indoor movie theater. It was managed by Mr. Reilly. On the second floor of the building was the Ouatoga Hall, which was rented to the Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, and the Junior Order of Mechanics. The name of the Ouatoga was changed to the Mars Theater in 1921.

In 1923, Frank Davis bought the Mars Theater and remodeled the building and re-opened as the 250-seat Gem Theater. Movies were silent in the early days of the Gem, with admission being 25 cents for adults, and 10 cents for children. They showed a lot of westerns with Tom Mix and Bill Hart. Frank’s son, “Bud” Davis, became manager of the Gem. He and his three sisters played their violins in the orchestra pit of the theater. The Gem was a popular place for the Western Military cadets. Every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon they came to the theater for entertainment. On Monday nights, the theater gave away a dish, which for those who attended regularly, soon added up to a full set of dishware. Frank Davis sold the theater to a St. Louis businessman who also owned the Norside Theater in North Alton. The building was torn razed in 1997 when the new Walgreens was constructed.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, April 8, 1913
All is ready for the opening of the Ouatoga Theatre in Upper Alton. Manager Reilly having given the final touches to the arrangements. The opening of the little playhouse in Upper Alton is an event in the amusement world of Alton, this being the first theatre in Upper Alton. Manager Reilly will select with much care the pictures and the acts that will appear in the theatre, and will make of it an educational theatre where high class attractions, both in pictures and otherwise, will always be found.

The opening bill at the new Ouatoga Theatre is as follows: The Monopol Film Company presents "As in a Looking Glass." Greatest dramatic production ever conceived. Miss Marion Leonard was never seen to better advantage than in this forcefully dramatic picture. The character she plays is so side in its scope, so full of storm and sunshine, that it gives her an almost unexampled chance to use her great power of departing emotion. The spectator sitting before the screen is held from first to last by the strong affecting story so truthfully acted and by the indescribable beauty of its backgrounds that have been photographed into lovely pictures.


Ouatoga Theater, Upper Alton, ILSource: Alton Evening Telegraph, August 13, 1921
The Ouatoga Theater, Upper Alton's only movie house, has been closed and every indication is that it will remain closed as far as theatrical purposes are concerned. The new owner of the property, Frank Hussey, says there absolutely shall be no Sunday picture shows in the Ouatoga while he is the owner, and his position in this matter has caused all negotiations for the lease of the theater to be called off, as those who would like to conduct the theater business in the Ouatoga claim it would be useless to attempt such a thing if the best night of the week in the movie business must be sacrificed. W. H. Weigler of Staunton, who managed the Ouatoga theater a short time for W. A. Clark, before the latter sold the property, has closed up the theater and has left Alton, as he could make no agreement with the owner as to the Sunday night shows. Mr. Hussey said the theater was run one Sunday night after he had taken possession of the property on the first day of August, but Mr. Weigler was the manager of the theater at that time and he did not desire to cause any trouble as to the one night's run when the old manager's lease had not expired. After the one Sunday night, Mr. Hussey made it known to Weigler that the place positively could not be used on Sunday night for a theater. W. M. Sauvage was carrying on negotiations with Mr. Hussey for the lease of the Ouatoga. It was stated that Mr. Sauvage was very anxious to get hold of the Ouatoga, and it was good news to Upper Alton people generally when it became known that he was considering taking over the Ouatoga. The Sunday night question, however, blocked the whole deal. Several other people have been in Alton during the past ten days to lease the Ouatoga and to put up aMars Theater, Upper Alton, IL first-class picture house in Upper Alton, but the Sunday night question was a dead ender, and all negotiations for the lease of the show house are off. W. A. Clark, the man who built the Ouatoga and who has been conducting the business for a good many year past, sold the theater along with the business corner to Mr. Hussey, the purchaser taking charge the first of August. Mr. Hussey bought the property for investment. He is the son of a Baptist minister, the Rev. Simeon Hussey, was raised in Upper Alton, and is a Shurtleff college graduate. The young man is a teacher in Grover Cleveland high school in St. Louis. He is said to be among the leading instructors in the city. Hussey said today that his position on the Sunday question would no doubt result in the abolishing of the Ouatoga in Upper Alton. In fact, Mr. Hussey said, he has already made plans for using the property for other business purposes. The closing of Upper Alton's picture house is causing much comment there. Business men in that section of the city consider it a serious blow to the Seventh Ward. Programs were given on Wednesday and Saturday afternoon at the Ouatoga for the Western Military cadets and the picture show served to keep the cadets in Upper Alton on these two afternoons when they are out of school, officials of the institution not permitting the cadets to go down town or to get on a street car or other kind of carrier. With this rule in vogue, the Upper Alton business houses get the patronage of the cadets. With the cadets to go down town to a show, this will take the ice cream and candy trade of the cadets down town too, it is asserted. Hussey says he has been approached by numerous Upper Alton people who are very much interested in keeping the picture house going in the Seventh Ward. He says he feels that many owners of amusement places that are run on Sunday would like to close up their _______ on that day if all the others who run those places would do so, and he says he's going to be one of those who closes up whether the other fellow does or not. Mr. Hussey says he believes the time is not far away when the blue laws will go into effect the country over. He says he has offered many inducements to those who wanted to run the theater to run it through the week with no Sunday show, but he says they are all afraid of the proposition with no show on the night of the week they consider the best.


Gem Theater, Upper Alton, ILSource: Alton Evening Telegraph, August 15, 1921
A deal is on for the leasing of the Ouatoga Theater to a syndicate that owns a chain of theaters through the country, and it was stated today by George Hall of the Hall Realty Company, agents for the Hussey property, that the deal is far enough along to guarantee its completion. A poster was placed on the theater this morning announcing the fact that it would open for business Thursday. Mr. Hall, who handles the property for the Hussey family, says there is a possibility of an arrangement being made by the syndicate taking the lease to run religious pictures on Sunday night. He thinks this arrangement could be made although it is understood that the syndicate is willing to take the theater with the understanding that there are to be no Sunday shows at all. It is believed religious pictures would be a great drawing card for the theater on Sundays, and that many people would attend then who never do otherwise.




Uptown/Cameo Theater, Upper Alton, ILThe Uptown Theater in Upper Alton opened Saturday, January 18, 1936. It was located on the west side of Washington Avenue, about where O’Reilly Auto Parts is today. Opening day featured a four-hour gala entertainment, with two motion pictures, comedy, news, seven acts of vaudeville, and an 11-piece orchestra. Seating 627 people in leather cushioned seats, the theater was constructed on property formerly owned by Dr. J. P. Hale. The brick building was 130 feet long and 42 feet wide, decorated in front with glass and a canopy over the ticket booth. The interior was finished in “modernistic style,” including air conditioning and steam filtered heat. Joe Goldfarb was the owner of the Uptown Theater and the Starlight Drive-In Theater in Alton. Goldfarb came to the Wood River area in 1910, and was employed at Standard Oil. In 1921 he moved to Upper Alton to take over the ownership of a meat market. He also opened a dry goods store in 1922, and built the old A&P Store on Washington Avenue in Upper Alton. Goldfarb died in April 1975.


Uptown/Cameo Theater, Upper Alton, IL


For thirty-one years the Uptown entertained young and old alike. In June 1967, the theater changed to the Cameo Theater. The building was razed in October 1988 to make way for a Hardees Restaurant (which has since been razed to make way for the O'Reilly Auto Parts).


Cameo Theater Opening, Upper Alton, IL












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