Grand Boulevard's theatrical character began to form when the Princess Theatre was opened in 1912 as a vaudeville house, just south of Olive Street. Later known as the Rialto, Shubert and Mid City before its closing in 1972, it was also the home of the American Theatre in the late 1950's.
It was razed in 1978. The first theatre in St. Louis to be built expressly for first run motion pictures was the Grand Central at Grand and Lucas which opened in 1913. Talking pictures made their St. Louis debut there in 1927 with a 13 week run of Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer". Competition from its larger neighbors finally caused the downfall of the Grand Central Theatre in 1931 when it closed after a brief fling on its boards by a stock company. The building was razed in 1948 for an inevitable parking lot.
Another early vaudeville house was the Empress on Olive near Grand which had a varied career with movies and stock companies between its opening in 1913 and its closing in 1955. It too was demolished about 1970. The million dollar Missouri Theatre on Grand north of Washington opened in 1921. With a seating capacity of about 3700, it was the first of the city's movie palaces. It was the scene of the premiere of the precision chorus line known as the Missouri Rockettes and of long term performances by masters of ceremonies Brooke Johns and Frank Fay. While its office building remains, the theatre was demolished in the late 1950's.
In the vicinity of Grand and Delmar were the Liberty and St. Louis Theatres. The former was erected in 1915 as the Victoria movie theatre by Fox Studios and during the 1920's it became the Liberty burlesque house after which it had a checkered career as a night club, stock play house and evangelist temple. After a long run as the World Theater, it acquired its present name of Lyn.
The 4500 seat R.K.O. St. Louis Theatre was completed in 1925 from designs by C.W. and George Rapp. It was modeled after the opera house at Versailles, the playhouse of eighteenth century French royalty, especially in its mirrored main lobby. Vaudeville was eventually dropped from the theatre's bill and it continued as a movie house until the 1960's. It was purchased by the St. Louis Symphony Society in 1966 for use as a concert hall and was renovated at a cost of more than $1,000,000. With its capacity reduced to about 2600 seats, the theatre was reopened in January, 1968, as the Powell Symphony Hall.
The largest and last of the great midtown cinema palaces was the sumptuous Fox Theater at Grand and Washington. The $5,000,000 Fox, with about 6000 seats, was the second largest in the world when it was opened in January, 1929. The plush red lobby and gilded interior were the most elaborate and ornate theatre decor of the lavish twenties. It is closed at present.
The Grand Boulevard theatrical district attained the pinnacle of its popularity during the 1930's and after World War II, when, in addition to the theatres, popular restaurants, night clubs and dance ballrooms all contributed to its "bright white way". An earlier and perhaps lesser known "gay white way" of the midtown area was the corner of Jefferson and Washington Avenues which was in its heyday in the early 1880's. Already established as an entertainment center by the famous Uhrig's Cave on the southwest corner of the intersection, the Pickwick Theatre and Illuminated Garden had a brief blaze of glory, across Washington Avenue, between 1880 and 1883.
The exclusive Pickwick, opened by John R. Jennings, presented fine concerts and theatricals to the city's blue bloods. A popular summer feature was the beautiful outdoor garden illuminated by a thousand gas jets. The enterprise failed when the stock company's manager absconded with the payroll and costumes. The theatre rounded outs its career as a conservative lecture hall.