Lafayette Theatre



Architects: Marr & Holman, Louisville, Kentucky
Location: Northeast corner Sixth and Main Streets, Lafayette, Indiana

Karl H. Kettlehut, A. E. Kemmer (steel)

Cost: $100,000 +
Renovation: 2003-2006 by New York LLC and the Wabash Valley Trust for Historic Preservation

The Lafayette Theatre was built in 1938 by the Loeb Realty Company to be leased by the Fourth Avenue Amusement Company of Louisville, Kentucky. The Family Theatre, operated on the site from 1906-1938, was demolished to make way for the Lafayette. The new theatre was designed by architects Marr & Holman of Louisville, Kentucky, and built by Lafayette contractor Karl H. Kettlehut.

The Lafayette Theater opened on September 1, 1938, showing “Four’s A Crowd.” The building incorporated the most modern features available, with its Art Deco style, full air conditioning, an advanced sound system, and many other innovations. It had a seating capacity of 1,251 in the vibrantly-colored auditorium.

The theater remained one of Lafayette’s most popular movie-houses until it closed in 1990. After over ten years of neglect and water damage, the Lafayette has been stabilized and is now being renovated by a partnership between New York LLC and the Wabash Valley Trust for Historic Preservation. The Lafayette Theatre is planned to reopen as a dinner and entertainment theater, featuring second-run and classic movies as well as small live performances.

In addition to the Lafayette Theatre, two buildings across the street have been renovated during the last year: the former Weast Music Store at 609-611 Main Street and the Pottlitzer Bros. Building on N. Sixth Street. These three renovations have greatly improved this block of Downtown.

The gallery below contains the most current images at the top.
5-11-05 The Lafayette looks almost as shiny and new as it did on opening day in 1938

The Grand Opening 5-18-2006

The Journal and Courier of May 19, 2006, reported, "In a spray of multi-colored confetti, streamers and bubbles, the Lafayette Theatre reopened Thursday... On a count of three, the nine New York LLC partners and Mayor Tony Roswarski used their gold scissors to cut a film strip unrolled from a large reel. Multi-colored confetti, streamers and bubbles flew from the balcony as The Big Swing Band started its first song." The building was packed, not only with men in tuxedos and women evening dresses, but also with people on the "Unseen City Tour" which featured the Theatre. The opening was free to the public and featured lavish hors d'oeuvres and desserts from the Cajun Connection, Seattle Beanery and Shoup's Country Foods as well as martini glasses with flashing ice-cubes. Jay Reynolds, a principal with New York LLC, stated "The future is extremely bright--not only for the theatre, not only for Main Street, but for the community as a whole." The Journal and Courier continued, "The theater has already been booked for future proms, weddings and banquets. Reynolds hopes it will also be used for art film ventures. But one thing is certain, Roswarski said -- the theater will be used. ' This corner again is alive and vital, and people will come,' he said. 'I'm looking forward to coming here just like I did when I was a kid.' " While the interior colors may be more subdued than the original "electric and ultramarine blue, in combination with shades of orange and maroon," the Lafayette Theatre has regained the vibrance it had in 1938. What was called "the worst eyesore in Downtown" by the newspapers five years ago has once again become an attractive destination in Downtown Lafayette.

5-18-06 The lights are on and the red carpet is out  
  Bar in the former concession stand
Ice sculpture with the flashing ice-cubes in the foreground The lobby returned to its former elegance
The original light fixtures were restored (top of picture) Note the glowing glass-block column
View through the expansive windows from the lobby into the renovated theater View from the balcony showing the tables, dance floor, and the exceptional performance by "The Big Swing Band."
  The mezzanine
One of the theatre's original streamlined Art Deco wall sconces Sign in front of a business down the street

Views from the Renovation

6-20-05 The Lobby takes shape as plasterers replicate damaged sections of the cornice and patch the walls The interior of the Auditorium begins to look clean and new as drywall goes up
The ceiling under the balcony had suffered heavy damage and was almost completely gone The new ceiling redefines this space and the powerful form of the balcony
View toward the balcony, note new drywall  
5-11-05 The restored marquee is complete with neon stripes and bulbs that "race" in patterns The glass block windows of the mezzanine have been restored above the marquee
The black glass and chrome facade of the entrance has been restored, along with the inlaid red formica doors The restored marquee and entrance area drastically changes this area of the Main Street sidewalk
New concrete bollards prevent large trucks from hitting the marquee and protect pedestrians at the entrance 1-5-2005 The newly restored neon letters of the LAFAYETTE marquee shine through the sleet
10-9-04 View of building with new facade panels View of restored formica entrance doors
9-4-04 The building with its new replacement panels where the Rostone had decayed (above the marquee--grayish stone material) View of marquee with LAFAYETTE neon letters and signboards removed for restoration
Restored main entrance doors with original inlaid black and red formica  
8-12-04 All of the Rostone has been removed from the front facade and the new panels are being installed  
The new panels can be seen through the scaffolding Detail of the marquee corner. The marquee will soon be restored with neon and racing electric lights
View of the monumental west wall. The rear of the building was originally painted to match the terra cotta, note the black stripes still visible The new exit doors have been painted to match the pattern of the original formica inlay on the entrance doors
View of front doors being stripped in place (the exterior colors were "toned down" in later years) View of the partially-stripped front doors with original inlaid formica
7-23-2004 Work is progressing on the Lafayette Theatre renovation The marquee is to be disassembled and refurbished and the facade is being restored
Rostone panels being removed from main facade. A similar-looking material will replace the Rostone and hopefully prove more durable 7-19-2004 Scaffolding goes up on the front facade
  Detail view of damaged Rostone (a 1930s imitation stone product made in Lafayette) panels on front facade
Sneak Preview, May 8, 2003 Lobby prior to clean-up, 2003
Original inlaid red and black formica hidden beneath layers of paint on the front doors Detail of the inlay
View from the balcony View from the stage area, note first floor seats removed by previous owners
Damaged plaster at edge of proscenium opening The Mezzanine, windows are above the marquee
Sneak Preview, May 8, 2003 Announcing the plans for the Lafayette Theater's future

The Lafayette Theatre in 1938

Rendering of the Lafayette Theatre, c.1938 Image used in opening day advertisements, 1938
From the Journal and Courier, August 31, 1938  

From the Journal and Courier, Wednesday Evening, August 31, 1938:

Finishing Touches Being Put on Modern and Attractive New Moving Picture House at Sixth and Main;
Brief Public Opening Ceremonies Set for 12:30 P.M. Thursday

Modernistic Style
The exterior architecture is strictly modernistic. Severely plain, in keeping with present architectural trends, the building is nevertheless attractive, and arrests and holds attention.

The entrance doors are of formica, in red, set off with black inlay. Inside the doors is a vestibule, with walls in gilded inlays, while doors leading into the foyer are paneled with carved linoleum making for a novel and unusual effect.

Foyer Attractive
The foyer… is decorated in contrasting colors, bright hues being set off by lighter shades. In the center of the main foyer is a glass column, with interior lighting. Walls on either side of the foyer are in wood veneer.

The theater will seat a total of 1,251 persons. The main auditorium has three sections of seats, divided by two aisles, while in addition there are also aisles on either side. The seats, of bright red plush, are of the latest design, comfortable, and with an abundance of knee room.

 Decorating Scheme
The decorative scheme in the auditorium is in electric and ultramarine blue, in combination with shades of orange and maroon, making for effective colorings. The whole is enhanced by decorative figures on the side walls.

Lounges, Rest Rooms
All aisles, stairs, and both foyers are covered with thick carpet; the foyer on the mezzanine floor is handsome, furnished with comfortable furniture and both foyers have drinking fountains in deep maroon... All hardware and lighting fixtures throughout the building are of aluminum, in modernistic style... The stage draperies and hangings are also of the latest thought and design, and effectively set off the proscenium arch opening, as well as the entire front portion of the auditorium…

The building, as another feature of its modern touch, is equipped with the newest in air conditioning, cooling and heating, permitting even and comfortable temperatures, with proper humidity, the year ‘round. Nothing has been left undone to make patrons comfortable, and to give them a feeling of relaxation, beauty and refinement.

The structure is fireproof to the “nth” degree, embodying features toward this end which engineers have conceived… In the Lafayette theater patrons with accordingly find every piece of equipment, embellishment and arrangement which go to make for the most modern of moving picture houses. It is the last word in theaters for 1938.

From the Journal and Courier, Thursday Evening, September 1, 1938:

Palatial “Lafayette” Has Premier With Mayors in Ceremony; Marks New Era in Entertainment Here.

Lafayette’s new theater, the modern “Lafayette,” was formally opened Thursday afternoon, marking a new milestone in the entertainment history of the city. The classic new movie house cost in excess of $100,000... Following brief ceremonies, the theater was thrown open for its first public showing of moving pictures… Nearly 1,000 persons were in line at that time.

Opening Ritual
Charles A West, Lafayette’s city attorney, acting for Mayor W. N. Teal, who was called out of the city, and Mayor M. B. Morgan, of West Lafayette, made short talks, and cut gold and black ribbons in front of the entrance doors. The ceremonies were broadcast over Purdue station, WBAA, with Henry Miller as announcer…
The foyer was filled with beautiful baskets of flowers, sent by well-wishers. Shortly after the doors were opened the large auditorium and balcony, seating 1,251 persons was well filled, with other patrons still arriving.

Busy Last Moments
A force of some 30 persons was kept at work all through Wednesday night and Thursday forenoon, performing last-minute tasks… Throughout the night workmen were laying carpet, painting, placing furniture, cleaning, re-arranging furniture in the foyer and doing other tasks.
Tearing down the barrier which enclosed the front of the theater revealed to the public for the first time the handsome and striking front. Black and red aluminum are combined in effective and arresting manner, made especially attractive at night by hundreds of lights under the marquee…

The Loeb and Hene company planned to entertain all its employees at a midnight show at the Lafayette, Thursday night.