Empire Theater

1521 Vine Street,
Cincinnati, OH 25202

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Additional Info

Architects: George W. Rapp, Walter L. Rapp, John Zettle

Firms: Rapp, Zettle & Rapp

Styles: Art Deco

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News About This Theater

Empire Theater

Opened in 1909 as a silent movie house by Henry Levy, who also owned the Liberty Theater in Northside and the Imperial Theater in Mohawk. In 1936 the Empire Theater received an Art Deco style remodeling. The theater was closed in the 1960’s and never reopened.

In 2002, LaShawn Pettus-Brown, a pro basketball player in Japan and a Cincinnati native, announced plans to purchase the Empire Theater and give the theater a $900,000 makeover. Pettus-Brown, who is a concert promoter, then run the former movie theater as a venue for comedy, concerts, and other events.

However, not long after receiving a $184,000 loan from the City of Cincinnati, Pettus-Brown disappeared, leaving the Empire Theater to decline until the theater’s roof collapsed — ending all chances of a restoration.

Wanted by the FBI, the fugitive evaded authorities for several months, but was eventually undone by a prospective date who “Googled” Pettus-Brown and discovered his true identity. Pettus-Brown is now in policy custody and is expected to charged with wire fraud.

Not long after the roof collapsed, the Empire Theater was razed in July 2003 and is now a vacant lot.

Contributed by Cinema Treasures

Recent comments (view all 20 comments)

hanksykes on February 26, 2008 at 4:17 pm

Also a cinema belonging to Henry Levy was the Liberty Th. in Northside on Spring Grove Avenue.

hanksykes on August 16, 2008 at 1:47 pm

Now that this site is an empty lot, students from the University Of Cincinnati have added a colorful mural to an adjacent brick wall depicting many neighborhood images of this old German area. Included is a painting of the last Empire vertical signage.

blgwc on February 20, 2009 at 12:28 pm

A friend of mine who used to go this place frequently during its last days said you’d have to go home and wash your hair after seeing a movie here…

Bill Eichelberger
Bill Eichelberger on November 10, 2009 at 7:37 pm

This is the mural that Hank Sykes was talking about.
View link

Joeallen on October 2, 2010 at 7:43 am

Wrong theatre, bro.

Joeallen on October 2, 2010 at 7:44 am

Here is a pic of the Empire when it was actually in operation…
View link

Joeallen on June 11, 2011 at 5:49 am

On this street view pic, you have to hit the look right button a few times. See the building with the big mural on the side? The Empire was in the empty lot between that building and the check cashing place.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 2, 2012 at 6:32 am

Here’s an item published by The Moving Picture World in April, 1912. The theater name and the street are right, but the address doesn’t quite match up, and it was three years after the Empire was supposed to have opened. However, the Empire’s site does include the lots at 1523-1525 Vine as well as 1521, and I don’t know the original source of the opening date of 1909, so I’m posting the item here, just in case the 1909 opening date that’s found all over the Internet is wrong:

“Estimates are being received by Architects Rapp, Zettle & Rapp, for the erection of the Empire Moving Picture Theater, to be erected at 1523-25 Vine Street, by the Empire Theater Co.”
Possibly a small theater from 1909 was replaced by a new, larger building in 1912?

hanksykes on April 16, 2012 at 11:01 am

Henry Levy died Sept.25,1938 aged 58 while on vacation with his family in Washington D.C. Levy owned two more theaters, Nordland in Clifton and Forest in Avondale, until he sold them to the Libson Chain between 1934&1935.

hanksykes on April 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm

I probably should have mentioned that Empire Th. was another cinema belonging to Henry Levy.

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