Along the Heritage Trail

The orginal 1928 Emboyd usher staff on opening night. (Photo courtesy of The Embassy Theatre)

Alive and well

Embassy Theater an outstanding volunteer effort

By Tom Castaldi
Major films have been shown for decades in the magnificent movie theater still standing at 125 West Jefferson Boulevard. The Embassy Theater is the last of the great movie and stage houses in Fort Wayne, and its restoration marks one of the city’s outstanding volunteer efforts.

Construction of the theater and the adjoining Indiana Hotel was started in 1926, and the theater opened on May 14, 1928. Designed by Fort Wayne architect A. M. Strauss with theater architect John Eberson, the Rococo interior was described by one enthusiast as “a phantasmagoric celestial environment.” In the lobby the visitor was delighted to be among opulent neo-Mideastern arches, Romanesque barrel vaults with Wedgwood icing and grandly colored reliefs. The staircases, columns and floors were intricately marbled, and all are reflected in the Art Deco mirrors and Corinthian lamps that line the lobby.

The theater was originally named the Emboyd by owner Clyde Quimby in memory of his mother, Emilie Boyd. Quimby had come to Fort Wayne after World War I and realized the growing popularity of film and the other new medium, radio. He married Helen Kinkade, the piano player for silent movies at the Jefferson Theatre, who herself would later become a leading theater operator in Fort Wayne. By the 1930s, Quimby owned the greatest movie houses in town: the Emboyd, the Paramount, the Jefferson and the Palace. In 1952, the name was changed to the Embassy Theatre when the Alliance Theatre chain purchased the Emboyd.

The Emboyd was one of the first Fort Wayne buildings to be air-conditioned. Since its first performances, the central feature of the theater has been the grand 1,150-pipe Grande Page Organ. This instrument became the catalyst for an extraordinary volunteer restoration project.

When it looked as if the Embassy was in peril of being destroyed, Bob Hope said in a 1975 letter, “It saddens me to learn that the Emboyd Theatre may hit the skids. It played a big part in my earlier days when I needed food. It is a beautiful place, and I remember introducing Fred Allen one time. He walked out with a wheelbarrow, took out a banjo as though he was going to play, then put it back and walked off the stage. I hope and pray the Embassy can be saved.”

The volunteer effort to save the Embassy began in 1974 when it faced economic ruin. A group of local organ buffs began a city-wide fund-raising campaign. Their campaign was followed by an extraordinary “hands-on” undertaking by everyday citizens to refurbish the entire building. Today, the Embassy serves as the community’s principal concert hall for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and for touring theatrical productions.

It took quite a while for the theatre to receive its first high-quality grand piano. Bob Goldstine, the local real estate developer and Grande Page organ player who was instrumental in sparking the volunteer effort in 1972 to save the historic theater, died in 2001. His 1982 Yamaha C-7 concert grand was acquired for the Embassy at the Goldstine’s estate auction through the generosity of local businessman Mark Suedhoff and resides in the theater’s mezzanine-level music room, where it is played before and during intermission of most shows.

Most recently, with the coming of Harrison Square, focus has been given to the Indiana Hotel at the corner of Harrison and Jefferson streets. The seven stories of former hotel rooms wrap around the Embassy Theatre in an “L” shape. An enclosed sky bridge (named for Goldstine) over Harrison connects the Harrison Square facility to the third floor of the Indiana Hotel, which has been renovated into a pedestrian corridor that links to the Jefferson Boulevard sky bridge leading to the Grand Wayne Center.

The Embassy Theater may be the last of the great movie and stage houses in Fort Wayne; however, it can be counted among the first to continue as an outstanding point of pride for us all.

Tom Castaldi

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi, a retired Essex vice president, hosts "On the Heritage Trail," which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m. and 8:35 a.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM, and "Historia Nostra" heard on WLYV-1450 AM.

Posted: Fri, 12/30/2011 - 10:46 am
Last updated: Wed, 05/23/2012 - 3:11 pm