Park Theatre’s History Hearkens Back to Oct. 4, 1916

Park Theatre’s History Hearkens Back to Oct. 4, 1916

Posted by on Sep 23, 2003 | 0 comments

From North Vernon Sun special section

by Barbara King & Bryce Mayer


It was March 15, 1825, that the property known as the east half of the southwest quarter of Section 34 in township seven, north of range eight east containing 80 acres was transferred from the United States to John Newland.

The town of Tripton was located in the west half of Section 34 in township seven, north of range eight east, in Jennings County.

During the time of Ezra F. Pabody and Haggerman Tripp, the land was being platted and sold. June 21, 1854, lot number 92 as shown by the plat in Block F, is 50 feet wide and 140 feet long, faces Madison Avenue and runs back to the alley, said town of Tripton as laid out has become part of the city of North Vernon, situated in the southwest quarter of Section 34, Township seven, north range eight east. June 3, 1868, Lot 92, Block F, was transferred from Hagerman Tripp to Frederick Evans.

On Oct. 7, 1913, Frederick Evans leased Lot 92, Block F to Switow Amusement Company for 10 years at $25 a month. Switow, out of Louisville, was engaged in the construction of theaters for amusement purposes in Indiana, Kentucky and other nearby states.

Construction began in the front, which was a bath house and a barber shop. Joseph H. Miller contracted the work. When bills went unpaid, a mechanic’s lien was put on the property. As a result, the lease between Switow Amusement Company and Frederick Evans was released and canceled. Evans assumed control of the property.

On April 17, 1916, the property was transferred from Frederick Evans to the North Vernon Amusement Company, Inc., of Jennings County. The newly formed corporation’s goal was to construct and maintain what we would call a civic center—where movies, musicals, theatrical entertainments, conventions and assemblies could be housed.

Incorporators were: Edward W. Tech, William J. Hare, Orville R. Platter, R.T. Hudson and Joseph H. Miller, all of North Vernon. The corporation would have a board of directors with five members and the first year it would be the same as the incorporators. Capital stock of the company was $10,000.

The corporators and subscribers to the capital stock met for a special meeting on Aug. 24, 1916, with the following stockholders present:

Name/Shares

  • Beer, R./ 5
  • Burke, Ed/ 1
  • Beer, Mrs. R.C./   1
  • Brolley, Thomas/   1
  • Bemish, Everett/   1
  • Bernhart, G.J./   1
  • Ball, J.T./   1
  • Bridges, C.V./   1
  • Black, H.V./   1
  • Clerkin, John/   1
  • Cullum, H.C./    1
  • Cooper, J.W./   1
  • Dowd, H.H./   1
  • Dixon, Lincoln/   1
  • Eitel, Nick/   1
  • Evans, Fred/   1
  • Eder, Ed W./   1
  • Grossman, Ida M./   5
  • Grinstead, S.H./   1
  • Gautier, R.C./   1
  • Hare, W.J./   2
  • Hughes, C.H./   1
  • Hudson, R.T./   1
  • Hicks, Harry/   2
  • Hargersheimer, J.W./   1
  • Inman, N.J./   1
  • Kenton, J.W./   1
  • Klingner, C.C./   1
  • Kirsh, E.J./   1
  • Kirsh, Mrs. C./   2
  • Miller, Addie/   1
  • Miller, Carrie/   1
  • Miller, Elizabeth/   2
  • Metropole Hotel/   3
  • Miller, J.H./   4
  • Miller, Irene/ 2
  • Miller, Mrs. J.B./   5
  • Miller, Mrs. Anna/   1
  • McNaughton, H.L./   1
  • Platter, F.M./    2
  • Platter, C.E./    2
  • Platter, O.R./    2
  • Prather, Walter/   5
  • Roseberry, Mr. J.T./   1
  • Ryan, M.S./ 1
  • Silver, A.C./   1
  • Tech, Ed/   1
  • Tech, W.F./   1
  • Tolen, J.P./   1
  • Webster, C.A./   1
  • Willman, Henry/   2
  • Willman, Fred/   1
  • Wetzel, Alvin/    1
  • Whitcomb, S.E./   2
  • Willman, Louise/ 1
  • Wilson, W.F./   5

On Oct. 4, 1916, the brand new Jennings Theatre burst upon the scene in all her glory. With 560 brand new opera chairs, forced and natural ventilation changing the air every eight minutes, a telephone installed in the ticket booth, a restroom for women and children just off the lobby,

Jennings County citizens had hit the big time.

Oct. 4 and 5 opened with the North Vernon Follies of 1916. It was an all-home folks cast and chorus featuring Jimmie Withers, Margaret Platter, Dr. King, Gail Tripp, Herman Bertman, Phil Roll, Esther Bertram, the Jennings Orchestra and the Louisiana Quartet.

Jimmie Withers, late of Vogels Minstrels and the Jardin De Danse in New York, had a reputation for putting on successful up-to-the-minute shows, full of fun, frolic and amusement. He exceeded his former record in this production.

The regular picture service started on Oct. 6. The theater had two new Powers 6B picture machines, the same equipment that the Circle in Indianapolis used. The Gold Fiber screen brought out every detail of the picture.

Hellen Ochs and her good friend, the late Richard Andrew, often reminisced about the days gone by at the Old Jennings Theatre. In the years that followed, a lot of local history was made there. Not ancient history, and not earth-shaking historic events, mind you, but some important history, nevertheless. They spoke in their wonderful column “Our Town” that for several years the North Vernon High School commencement was held there on the stage.

A musical “operetta” was presented by the high school. The year was about 1923 and the title was “The Gypsy Rover.” Some of the cast were Bruce Connelly as Rob, Merle Schierling as Meg, Eddie Andrew as Sinfo, Hallie Corya was Marto. Others in the cast included Mike “Keene” Stubblefield, Bob Hanna and Mary Kenton.

The old Jennings Theatre, in its heyday, provided a lot of entertainment for thousands of people, especially on Friday nights during the Great Depression. Mister Frank Houppert usually ran western movies on Fridays for 10 cents. People from towns out in the country would come by the carload. For 20 cents you could see the movie, buy a candy bar and a pop. Someone would throw in a dime to buy gas, which was only 15 cents a gallon.

Everywhere you go, if the theater is brought up, someone has a story to tell. Stella Kirchner recalls when she and her husband were newlyweds, they didn’t have very much, but on special occasions they went to the show.

I remember as a little girl in the 1930s, how at Christmas they would load us up on the buses and bring us in to the show. I thought it was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to me. I remember one year it was Shirley Temple in “Heidi.”

On Sept. 20, 1938, Albert Thompson, president of the Ritz Amusement Company, leased the theater from the North Vernon Amusement Company. It became the Park Theatre at this time. Thompson also managed the former Ritz Theatre, located on Fifth Street in the old Moose Lodge Hall.

Richard Thompson, says that when his father took over the Jennings Theatre, there was green velvet draped all over the walls and there was a cream velvet curtain that could be drawn in front of the screen. He said his mother feared that the old material was roach-infested and had it taken down.

The curtain was replaced with a gold curtain, but was hardly ever used.

Also, to keep customers inside the theater from being disturbed by the arrival of latecomers, Albert Thompson installed a bright red curtain across the back of the theater to cut down on both noise and light.
People who were hard of hearing could sit in the last row, in the center, and listen to the movies’ dialogue over earphones that plugged into outlets behind a small handful of seats.

Some longtime employees were Lucille Herche Clerkin, Mayfa Runyan, Grace Baker, Mary Wall, Clyde Matthews, Ed Kreutzjans, Bob Creech, Anita Smith and Paul and Ann Johnson.

Thompson replaced the seats with good, new, comfortable ones. Additional restrooms, plus a drinking fountain, were installed.

A large mural hung in the theater. It depicted a young girl lying with a lion at her side. A phone call from Anita Smith and also Trudy Calli told me to find Paul Staublin. I finally did. Paul is manager of the Columbus Inn in downtown Columbus and also has a business in Jefferson County. I finally did catch up with him and, yes, he has the picture of the lion and the girl. He said he would consider selling it to the Park Theatre Civic Centre, Inc.

Albert Thompson managed the theater during World War II. I remember we went to the movies to see the war news in action on film. In the 1940s, after you graduated from high school, you went right into the service. On Saturday nights, they had what they called Midnight Movies.

In 1960, Howard “Doc” Black took over the operations of the Park Theatre. He opened it on Dec. 20, 1960, with a free kid show. The theater closed in March 1962.

…BUT THEN…

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