6054 Maple Street,
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Previously operated by: Epstein's Theaters Corp.
Architects: Charles W. Rosenberry
Functions: Community Arts Center, Movies (Film Festivals), Movies (Revival)
Styles: Colonial Revival
Previous Names: Benalto Theatre
Located in Benson, to the north of Omaha, NE, (annexed by the City of Omaha in 1917). The original Benson Theatre opened in December 1911. It was located at 4835 Main Street. It was operated by George H. ‘Mac’ McArdell. It closed in 1920 at the end of its lease.
McArdell opened his new Benalto Theatre on September 6, 1920 with Wallace Read in “The Man From Funeral Range”. The new theatre was located on what was then 6th Street and Military Avenue. It was closed on May 29, 1926. It was remodeled to the plans of architect Charles W. Rosenberry in a Colonial style and increased the seating capacity to 700 and it was renamed Benson Theatre. The opening movie was Cecil B. DeMille’s “Silence”. On October 27 1929 it screened its first sound film “Showboat”. The Epstein Theatres chain took over and they installed news seats with a reduced seating capacity of 498 in 1946. In 1949 it was given a modern makeover. It was closed on January 25, 1953 with Leslie Caron in “Lili” & Glenn Ford in “Terror on a Train”.
It was remodeled into a retail store for Best Appliances & Television which opened later in 1953. By 2022 it was operating as a community arts theatre which included screening repertory films and film festivals.
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Recent comments (view all 9 comments)
New info from Omaha World-Herald article Apr 04 2012. Address is 6054 Maple ST, not Military ST. The building still exists, and has been vacant 5 years. Plans are to refurbish it, and use for arts and education purposes. The 1940 and 2012 photographs in OWH reveal 2 buildings were used for the theater, which opened in 1923. TVs put it out of business by 1953, as was common all over the nation.
The Theatre has been shuttered for quite some time, but Omaha’s Benson Theatre Project is working to secure funds to reopen it as both a venue space and also to house a non-profit focused on community revitalization and providing educational workshops for artists and entrepreneurs. Visit our Faceboook page here: http://www.facebook.com/RestoreTheBensonTheater
Here’s a link to the Omaha World-Herald story on the efforts, which dalewhited mentions above: http://www.omaha.com/article/20120404/NEWS01/704049900#group-aims-to-restore-benson-theater
If you’d like to support the restoration, you can now donate to the project online. Go to omahafoundation.org/givenow and select Benson Theatre Project from the drop-down list to donate.
Many thanks to all Benson Theatre supporters!
Pre-sound (?) advertising slides for a local department store.
Fundraising site: http://bensontheatre.org/
A friend of mine, who is involved with the renovation project, gave me a tour of the theatre today. I got a few pix that I will try to upload later. The good news is the building is structurally in very good condition, and clean, though very little original architecture remains in the auditorium area…it’s basically a large space with brick walls and a stage that dates from a later period of use added where the screen was. However, I was taken underneath the current stage and shown that an original Vaudeville-era stage and orchestra pit still survive under the newer stage, along with some original cornices and other odds and ends from the 1920s era. Very cool.
Now the home of the Benson Brewery.
Currently open as a thriving community arts venue. https://bensontheatre.org/testimonial/chip-davis/
Chuck writes, “The Benson Theatre opened in December 1911 with seating listed at 489. The theatre closed on October 30, 1958.” For those who want more specific information on the Benson / Benalto Theatre, my research is below (and, sorry, should not be attributed to Chuck):
The original Benson Theater was located at what was then known as 4835 Main Street in Benson, Nebraska. It operated in the silent film era from 1911 until operator George H. “Mac” McArdle closed it in 1920 at the expiry of a 10-year lease. McArdle opened his new theater in Benson now annexed (as of 1917) by the City of Omaha. This theater’s entry begins in 1920 as the new-build facility is constructed, according to the movie industry trade press of the day.
McArdle’s new Benalto Theater opened at what was then 60th St and Military Avenue in North Omaha’s Benson neighborhood playing silent film. McArdle’s philosophy was, “I’m going to make every patron call me ‘Mac”… so when I say I have a good show, they’ll believe me.“ The Banalto Theater launched September 6, 1920 with Wallace Reid in “The Man from Funeral Range.” The Benalto name was then retired on May 29, 1926. The theater found new operators in World Realty, a Nebraska-based movie theater circuit, which closed the venue for four months and reopened it as the Benson Theatre on September 25, 1926 with Cecil B. DeMille’s “Silence.” The refresh cost $50,000 - more than the cost of the original construction - sporting a new Colonial design, increasing seat capacity to 700, and now with both a stage and an orchestra pit. The architect of the Colonial redesign was by Charles W. Rosenberry. Located next door to the venue was the Bensonette Confectionery which was the Benson Theater’s de facto concession stand in its early days.
On October 27, 1929, the Benson installed sound to remain viable and launching its talkies with “Showboat.” Epsteins Theatre Corp. / Epstein Brothers Circuit took on the venue running it with theaters including the Corby, Circle, Lothrop, Berkley, Roseland and Tivoli. They ran their own concession stand(s) and the Bensonette was replaced by a long-running bakery to its left and a jewelry store to its right. The circuit gave the theater a makeover to modernize it complete with new seats in 1946 and an interior streamline refresh in 1949 operating briefly as the “New” Benson. Seat count dropped down to just under 500.
Competition from television, drive-ins, and unruly teen patrons upended the Benson in the 1950s. The Epstiens closed or sold each of their seven theaters one by one with the Benson closing second to last on January 25, 1953 with Leslie Caron in “Lili” and Glenn Ford in “Terror on a Train.” The closure left the Epstiens with just the Corby Theatre which would last four additional years. The former Benson Theater was remodeled as a retail store for Best Appliance and Television opening later in the year.
The Benson made a comeback as a non-profit organization and predominantly stages live events in the 2020s. It has also played some repertory films and hosted film festival events.