For years, THS members have watched in horror as this unique JOHN EBERSON art deco masterpiece has battled demolition and neglect. An editorial appears in todays Auburn Citizen to commemorate the theater’s 72nd birthday on SEPTEMBER 15. It was written by long-time Schine advocate and protector TODD GAGLIANESE. This amazing theater has a strong will to live – let’s hope salvation is close at hand!
Posted: Sunday, September 12, 2010 3:00 am |
For weeks on end, The Citizen Advertiser buzzed with congratulatory statements from local businesses in honor of the grand opening of the Auburn Schine’s Theater. “The Auburn” was the third Schine’s Theater in our city and built to be the biggest and best. Ground had been broken in February of 1938 and the rush was on to complete John Eberson’s newest creation that would be the pride of the Schine’s Theater chain by August. The actual opening took place a month later than planned for.
About a week prior to the grand opening the newly hired staff was in training inside the theater. All employees were drilled in the polite and prompt service that was a Schine’s tradition. At midnight on the evening before the opening, a crew of new ushers stood on the front row of the balcony calling out direction to the projectionists who were inside of the film booth as they adjusted sound levels, focused lenses and lined up projectors. Meanwhile, all around new plaster and paint were drying. The carpet had still not been finished being laid down yet. For such a grand undertaking to be completed in the short timeframe of seven months, it was down to the wire now.
The entire town was buzzing with excitement on that warm September day in 1938. Most of the city’s schools and businesses closed at noon to allow everyone to view the spectacle of the pageant of progress. The celebration was in honor of the opening of Auburn’s largest and finest new theater. The festivities began in front of the marquee at the Schine’s Jefferson Theater on State Street. A grand parade of bands, floats, local organizations and businesses formed and began to snake its way along the downtown streets. The theme of the day was “looking towards Auburn’s future.” The spotlight focused on city merchants, local industry and tourism as a key to Auburn’s success in the decades to come. The entire town watched the procession as the focus on the future of Auburn made its way to the doors of the futuristic Auburn Schine’s Theater.
On South Street, large standing baskets with floral arrangements lined the block. A crowd of more than 3,000 people had gathered in the street and underneath the marquee by the parade’s end. Ushers stood firm against the entry doors and locked their arms, forming a human chain to hold back the anxious patrons. The impatient crowd kept pushing at the doors for more than an hour as they waited. Atop the marquee, workers positioned spotlights while the crowd roared below.
Inside the theater, only minutes to opening, wet plaster and paint that had been finished just the day before were still drying in some remote areas. The staff waited nervously as they were given last-minute direction. A man named Mr. Duncan, who spoke with a heavy Scottish accent, hurried as he stitched together the last few sections of carpet in the basement lounge. The bold art deco carpet being installed was manufactured proudly to John Eberson’s specifications right here in Auburn at our very own Firth Carpet Factory on Columbus Street.
The doors were supposed to have been opened promptly at 1 p.m. but due to the mayhem, it was after 2 p.m. before anyone was allowed inside. The opening ceremonies began around 2:30 p.m. Strangely, many people went home after the doors opened, thinking that no seats would be left. The house was packed but not quite sold out at the opening ceremony. Many patrons returned for the evening show, which sold out and many had to be turned away.
Once inside the patrons were treated to an art deco dream world of bright colors, sweeping lines, lighted celestial bodies and bold artwork. The theater lights were unique and built specifically for this decor only. Outer space at this time in history was only a fantasy world. John Eberson’s brilliant, one-of-a-kind design brought the stars, outer space and art deco to Auburn, all in one grand package.
The theater staff was professional, well-trained and very courteous. The building was cooled by a state-of-the-art air-conditioning system that replaced the auditorium air once every three-and-a-half minutes with cool fresh air. The plush Haywood Wakefield theater seats were the last word in style and comfort. A few of the seats were even equipped with stations to plug into the theater’s sound system using headphones or an ear horn to assist the hearing impaired.
To the left side of the stage, a large neon clock with bold “AUBURN” letters glowed brilliantly. A huge monophonic sound system had been installed with two multi-cellular horn speakers that were placed behind the movie screen. The screen itself was equipped with tiny holes to let the sound pass through. The auditorium had been built and tuned to acoustical perfection. Sounds would come from the screen and fill the room. The acoustical insulation placed behind luxurious art deco wall fabric allowed for no echo or distortion. Many sounds rebounded from the auditorium’s scalloped ceiling and then separated. These characteristics produced a directional effect much like modern surround sound. The Schine brothers were quoted that evening to be “very impressed with the theater’s sound and acoustics.”
Samuel Goldwyn himself was a guest of Louis and Meyer Schine, and he was present as they proudly welcomed the citizens of Auburn to their latest achievement.
Telegrams were delivered to the theater that night from Hollywood friends wishing success and congratulating the Schine brothers on their new modern marvel.
Among those telegrams were two received from Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn. (The stars of the opening night feature.) Also received that night were telegrams from both Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
The opening ceremonies were a huge success and the film feature a smash hit with patrons. The Schine’s became the centerpiece of our city that night and remained so for decades.