Since the curtain first rose on January 28, 1922, the grandeur of the Indiana Theatre has captivated the hearts of generations while standing as an iconic downtown treasure and vault of cherished Terre Haute memories.
The Indiana was founded for vaudeville and silent movies by TW Barhydt in partnership with Paramount Pictures. The Indiana’s activities expanded in future decades to become a movie palace and showplace for entertainment’s biggest stars.
Mr. Barhydt’s vision was to create a lasting gift to the City of Terre Haute, which led him to engage Jobn Eberson as “The Man” to build this grand palace which would ultimately become Mr. Eberson’s first prototype that initiated his signature “Atmospheric Theatre” design style which became the gold standard of the 1900s.
In designing the Indiana, Mr. Eberson emulated architectural influcens from Southern Andalusia. The theme of the Indiana represents the “Lifecyle of A Day”. As you journey through Daybreak (Rotunda), Daytime (Lobby) and the Mystery of Nightfall (Auditorium), please take note of the imagery, detail and craftsmanship which Mr. Eberson designed with pride for his “Indiana” masterpiece.
Indiana Theatre Founder
Indiana Theatre Architect
John Eberson's original concept sketch for the Indiana Theatre Lobby
Completed Lobby in 1922
The historically registered Indiana Theatre opened its doors on January 28, 1922 on the corner of 7th Street and Ohio Street. Tickets were sold for a mere 40 cents at the time. The silent film “Cappy Ricks” produced by Paramount Pictures’ was the starring attraction that night, accompanied by the Indiana Symphonic Orchestra. Though some things have changed since that historic night, the magic created then continues today.
The Indiana Theatre not only holds a special place in the hearts of Terre Hauteans; it also holds a unique place in history as the first prototype for atmospheric theater design. Famed architect John Eberson – creator of the atmospheric style of architecture that would later take America by storm – incorporated his atmospheric concepts into the Indiana Theatre by bringing the outdoors in through stylized motifs, color, and lighting. As the original owner T.W. Barhydt put it, the Indiana Theatre is “more than a theater, more than a picture show, more than a great orchestral concert, more than a building of architectural beauty and comfort,” it was an experience all its own.
Eberson stated, "Into this Indiana Theatre I have put my very best efforts and endeavors in the art of designing a modern theatre such as I have often pictured as what I would do were I given a free hand." Through this quote Eberson confirms that the Indiana Theatre embodies his vision of a dream theater that marked the shift to his atmospheric style.
Throughout its history, the theatre has hosted a wide range of events that have included vaudeville, cinema, performing arts and community celebrations of all types. Long time employees remember nostalgic entertainers such as Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Jack Burns, and the Marx Brothers Road Shows at the Indiana Theater. The Indiana Theatre was chosen as the site for the world premiere screening of Disney's McFarland, USA on November 20, 2014.
Through restoration efforts which began in May 2013, the Indiana Theatre’s heritage has been preserved and the Indiana has been reborn as a 1,300+ seat full service event center which can host a wide range of community gatherings that include live entertainment, performing arts, cinema, wedding events, and fundraisers.
The John Schumacher Company of Indianapolis was the builder and the cost of construction was $1,000,000 in 1922 dollars. Construction consisted of 1,665,000 bricks, 7,250 yards of excavation, 24,500 s.f. of cement floor, and 283 tons of steel. All fabrication and plaster work was prepared onsite and the project design and construction was completed in 18+ months. The theater lighting system was the most modern system in the nation. The Indiana Theatre was originally built for vaudeville and silent movies but was adapted to talking movies as vaudeville faded from prominence. Originally, the building façade featured an enormous peacock which consisted of 3,000 lights and “lit up the corner of 7th and Ohio like nothing ever seen before".
On January 27, 1922 dignitaries were invited for a sneak preview of the Theatre. On this night T.W. Barhydt received telegrams from Paramount stars in Hollywood: Bebe Daniels, Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, Jack Holt, Betty Compton, Wallace Reid, and Adolph Zukor. The Indiana Theatre opened its doors to the public on January 28, 1922. Movie tickets were 25 cents before 6pm and 40 cents after 6pm, a ticket to sit in one of the boxes was 50 cents, and children under 12 were admitted for 10 cents. Theatre staff were dressed for the opening in authentic Spanish attire and live peacocks roamed through the Theatre. A 30 piece orchestra played an overture before the opening silent movie, Cappy Ricks. The first talking movie was shown in the Indiana Theatre on March 13, 1929. The orchestra was directed by Raymond B. Townsley. Old fashioned songs were sung by Jackson Murray and Marion Mills. A fashion show with clothing from Siegel’s department store was part of the opening activities. In addition to the movie Cappy Ricks and the Siegel’s fashion show, there were five acts of Broadway vaudeville, short subjects, and a prologue.
The Indiana Theatre was designed to emulate the warmth and carefree lifestyle of Spanish Andalusia and the spirit of its people. The ceiling styles were drawn from Moorish designs with the lobby figurines and other building features influenced by Southern Italy. The Theatre was designed to take visitors through the Lifecycle Of A Day with vibrant daybreak, daytime warmth and mystic nightfall. The Rotunda colors shift from light pastel in the churrigueresque to fierce reds and golds of a sunrise in the railing, leaving the remnants of dawn in the deep burgundys of the dome sky.
The Lobby Ballroom simulates the more subdued colors and imagery of daytime to transition visitors from morning to nightfall; 38 male & female statues line both sides and an ornate ceiling with even more faces to fill the lobby with life. The Auditorium represents the mystic mystery of nightfall and guests experience the deep tones of reds, blues, and browns. The original lighting system scattered light across the ceiling with special crystal bulb enclosures to simulate a star field. This is in line with the atmospheric design of the ceiling resembling the open sky.
The auditorium was designed without a true balcony; this was intended to make the auditorium reminiscent of a Roman amphitheater built on a hillside. The continuous rise in the seating assured better viewing for all seating. The 6,000 bulb lighting system was greatly hyped prior to the Theatre opening. Lights were rheostatically controlled and could be dimmed to create any color. The opening night program stated “the lighting effects represent in a wonderful manner the Andalusian sunshine in the outer lobbies while one is in the midst of mystic twilight in the main auditorium.” Originally, the projector was in a glass booth in the center of the auditorium, 78 feet from the screen. There was an intercom system so ushers could communicate with others in the auditorium to check on the availability of seats. Part of the system still exits by the Lobby entrance doors.
With a keen appreciation of the theatre’s remarkable architecture and history, we have added a few key features to keep the Indiana Theatre a relevant and vibrant symbol of Terre Haute’s resurgent future. Significant paint and plasterwork restoration has been completed around the building and 300 theatre seats were removed to make way for a flat terrace in the auditorium. The orchestra pit was also covered, except for a section that will be the future home of an antique Wurlitzer pipe organ console. The terrace and covered orchestra pit provide valuable open floor space to make the auditorium more versatile and capable of table seating.
Completed Auditorium in 1921 before the Grand Opening. The Theatre was outfitted with elaborate draperies and a Wurlitzer pipe organ.
The original projection booth was located in the middle of the Auditorium, directly behind the orchestra floor seating. Of course, the booth was highly decorated by Eberson.
March 18, 1921 - The empty lot on the corner of 7th and Ohio begins its transformation.
July 1, 1921 - A mesmerizing display of cranes and pulleys aid in the impressive construction. Horse-drawn wagons are still used to transport materials.
August 16, 1921 - The Theatre begins to take on a recognizable form and will be completed in just a few more months.
Since 1922, the Indiana Theatre has served as a vault of memories that reminds us of Terre Haute’s past glories and the promise of its future.
The Indiana Theatre stands tall as a community asset and iconic treasure that is a stable reminder of Terre Haute’s resurgent self- confidence in its destiny as a great American city.
With a eye on the past and a firm grip on its future, the curtain is rising again on the Indiana Theatre’s role as an important economic catalyst for Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley.
Bringing Back The Magic!