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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Empire Theater

The Empire was located next to the Thomas Funeral Home. It was one of the last theaters of its type with the screen situated as it was, behind you as you enter the theater itself. The Empire also had a balcony, reportedly the home of many budding romances. At one point they also sold a Movie Series Package that provided a strip of 10 tickets for $2. Each ticket got you into a Saturday movie. They had the line-up set in advance with the movie name on each ticket. Among the movies shown as part of the series were "Five Weeks in a Balloon", "Zotz" and some of the "The Three Stooges Meet..." movies. As a Child, you could save the medallions form your milk cartons and redeem them for tickets to the Saturday show. At times various churches used the Empire Theater for their services when their church was going through construction or other mishaps. I believe the Empire also held “live’ concerts at one time. In the late 60’s, my name was on a list of people banned from the Empire and at that time Oak Park Theater. One of my friends lit a cigarette in the balcony and inserted the fuse of a Cherry Bomb, (a very large firecracker) in the cigarette. When it burned down, the Cherry Bomb exploded. We could not go to the movies unless we found someone to open the back door so we could sneak into the theater. The site is now a parking lot for Trinity Hospital.



  1. We all thought the Empire Theater was just the most beautiful when it opened! I remember seeing Dr Zhivago and, of course, the Elvis movies! My brother tells me he got fired from his usher position but not why!

  2. Aww, the Empire Theater! When I was 5 or so, I was at the theater with my sister watching "Heidi". I had some issue and was crying. As I was leaving the theater to go to the lobby, I was met by Hap Hasselo, the not-too patient manager. He gave me a pretty good scolding. I was pretty upset when I went home. It just so happened that my aunt was visiting at the time. And she just happened to be the secretary to the president of the company in Minneapolis that distributed all of the Empire theater's movies. Well, she went on down to the theater and I guess gave Hap quite the "talking to". He never bothered me again, except.....15 years later, I gave my girlfriend a very quick "smooch" in the lobby. He surely didn't recognize me from 15 years ago and immediately came straight over and threatened to ban us from the theater. Of course, we went on to marry a few years later. My last memory was taking my 3 year old son to "Star Wars" (yes, Star Wars opened at the Empire theater!) After about an hour, my fidgety son asked if we could take him to see his Grandmother. She was a nurse, his butt had fallen asleep during the movie, and he said he wanted her to "cure his butt".

  3. I believe at one time The Empire had the largest movie screen in the country.

  4. Oh yes, I remember as a child waiting outside, in line, to get my tickets at the window. I couldn't wait to get inside the building and purchase one box of lemon drops. I do remember Hap, too; he was the old man in the red sport jacket keeping everyone in line. I think Hap was the guy that started the 'leg tapping' routine that had many people get their feet off of the chair in front of them.

    I also remember waiting in line down that long hallway just inside the theater itself. The wall was about 10' high and I remember walking backwards up the slight incline while returning from the bathrooms and keeping an eye on the screen as I wandered back to my seat.

    Toward the end of their run, the seats of the Empire theater were layered with lots of butter and the red velvet was quite shiny!

    I loved that movie theater!

  5. I too remember the theater, but when I worked there (my first job behind the candy counter) it was called the State Theater. Does anyone remember this? There was the "State" played "A"movies, the "Strand" just down main street played "B" movies and at the end of main the "Orpheum" which played old old movies. The Orpheum was not visited too often as it was said to have live rats sometimes. YUK!

  6. I remember cutting the " Little Bridget" picture out of the Bridgeman milk cartons and saving them because for 12 "Bridgets" you got a free movie ticket at the Empire! LOVED going to the movies there!

  7. I worked as a projectionist at the theater in the 80's. It was a beautiful theater with great sound and gave you the true feel of a movie theater. Her downfall was what made her great, the wide open viewing of the screen. In the end she became a monster to heat and maintain. Walking up to go to work you would smell the fragrance of popcorn and be enamored by the bright lights and the grand theater lobby and entrance. As we were told, it was one of only a few theaters that when you walked in the screen was behind you. When I worked there it took special permission to sit in the balcony. This was the true theater experience!

  8. I saw many movies at the Empire. I also saw REO Speedwagon in concert there in the early 70s. They hadn't yet become the famous group they eventually became.

  9. I lost my first tooth there watching a Star Wars movie with my dad sometime in the early 80's. It was like when Annie got to go to the movies with Daddy was a TRUE experience! :)

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  16. state theatre was classy compared to strand but saw lots movies there. the empire replaced the state and was the place to be on sundays with blue laws in effect. nickel pickels,popcorn and choc bar...yeah. cut school one snowy day,saw "silver chalice",,got caught and penalized by joel davy,,even though I had perfect attendance for 3 yrs,,,what a jerk

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  42. I remember the Empire playing some older previously run movies as well. "The Ten Commandments" was one of those movies. To a very young, impressionable boy, I was in complete and total awe of the grand display on that huge screen. The parting of the Red Sea gave me shivers to watch. How fantastic that was.
    Disney movies galore were fun to watch. I saw "Herbie the Love Bug" when it was playing there. After the movie let out, someone came driving by the theater in a VW made to look like Herbie. That was so cool. I saw "Mary Poppins", "Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Jaws, Star Wars, and many others there. I too recall Hap and his forever watchful eyes studying every soul in the theater, as if he were just looking for a reason to escort you out by the collar. Thank goodness, I was such a good kid. ( Well, I was!......for the most part.)

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  88. This theater was quite the place! It was elegant and posh. I can still feel the velvet seats and see the big red curtains. It was a classy place. It was so sad when they tore it down to build a parking lot. I remember people protesting to no avail. Empire Theater is still a very vivid memory and a good one too.

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