Hilbert Circle Theater

45 Monument Circle,
Indianapolis, IN 46204

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MSC77 on December 26, 2021 at 2:32 pm

Here’s a new 4-page 50th anniversary FIDDLER ON THE ROOF retrospective featuring a roadshow playdate chronology and historian Q&A. The Circle’s lengthy run is mentioned in the piece.

Trolleyguy on April 12, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Updated website link: https://www.indianapolissymphony.org/

rivest266 on October 24, 2015 at 1:37 pm

August 30th, 1916 grand opening ad in photo section

DavidAE on August 6, 2014 at 10:50 am

Historic Indianapolis featured a post card from 1918 of the interior of the theater.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 12, 2013 at 5:38 pm

A Three Stooges movie party hosted at the Circle Theatre by a local television personality rated an article with photo in the November 11, 1963, issue of Boxoffice.

BobFurmanek on March 21, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Hometown star Bill Shirley attends the local premier of “I Dream of Jeannie” in 1952: http://www.boxoffice.com/the_vault/issue_page?issue_id=1952-6-14&page_no=73#page_start

Patsy on September 1, 2011 at 10:06 am

Was there another Circle Theatre in Indianapolis that was demolished? Believe it was located downtown near Monument Circle.

kencmcintyre on April 1, 2010 at 9:40 pm

I don’t see that back issues of Marquee magazine are available for purchase online. Would I have to contact THS directly for that? Thanks.

GeorgeStrum on April 1, 2010 at 9:22 pm

THS will visit this theatre on June 24th.

CarltonSmith on November 18, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Let me start by correcting some organ history misinformation in a post dated April 3, 2006. The 1916 Hook & Hastings organ was replaced in 1922(not 1925)by a Wurlitzer style 260 (3/15). The Wurlitzer was indeed removed in 1959. However, it was completely parted out. It did not end up in a Pizza Parlor.

It is true that a custom Allen digital organ was installed in the theatre for a one time performance durling the 2001 ATOS Convention.

Fast forward to 2002 when a Wurlitzer style 240 (3/13)was donated to the Central Indiana Chapter of ATOS. This instrument was origionally installed in the Warner Theatre, Youngatown, OH in 1931. It was removed from the Warner Theatre in 1963 by Harold Huffamn of Fairfield, OH. Mr. Huffman never installed the organ anywhere and donated it to CIC-ATOS in 2002. In 2003 a gift was given to the Indianapolis Symphony (ISO) to accquire and install a theatre pipe organ back into the Hilbert Circle Theatre. CIC-ATOS donated the Warner organ to the ISO and shortly there after Carlton Smith Pipe Organ Restorations was contracted by the ISO to restore, augment and install the Wurlitzer. The restoration and installation was complete in late 2009. The new Wurlitzer is now 3 manuals and 24 ranks, plus percussion.

kencmcintyre on June 25, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Here is a May 1917 ad from the Indianapois Star:

EPBCorganist on March 28, 2009 at 9:10 am

Does anyone have any info, recordings, etc. of Dessa Byrd playing the Wurlitzer? Turns out a friend of mine heard her/met her and that’s when he found out he loves organ music.

Thank you.

kencmcintyre on December 8, 2008 at 9:26 pm

The Circle can be seen in this 1945 photo as well, also from Life:

barkas4 on March 23, 2005 at 10:40 am

My great uncle, Ernesto Natiello, conducted at the Circle in the early 1900’s. He was also the musical director of the Knickerbocker Theater in Washington D.C. in 1922 when the roof collapsed from 28inches of snow on it. He died that day from head a broken skull. My grandfather played in the orchestra and lived but lost his arm. Ernesto’s wife also lived but the child she took to the theater died. Ernesto was a graduate of the Milan Conservatory and a student at several American consevatories. He devotedn “his rich experience in many music style to the musical interpretation of photodramatic subjects” and “syncronization of music scores”. (Washington Post Oct. 16, 1921)

buffettpdog on June 22, 2004 at 10:55 am

This information is from the Hilbert Circle Theatre website.

Constructed in 1916 in the style of the mid-18th century English architect Robert Adam and originally named the Circle Theatre, the Hilbert Circle Theatre in downtown Indianapolis was one of the first motion picture palaces west of New York built especially for the purpose of showing feature-length photoplays. It was a “presentation” house of the grandest order, rivaled only by New York’s famed Strand Theatre. From 1916 to 1981 its repertoire ranged from world premiere features, classical concerts and live stage shows to motion pictures.

From its opening days, productions at the Hilbert Circle Theatre were billed as Cinema-Symphonic Spectaculars, for the music was as integral a part of the performance as were the film presentations. Photoplays were of the silent variety, enhanced dramatically by live performances of both the Circle Theatre Orchestra and two theatre organs. Many of the musicians who performed in this orchestra joined Ferdinand Schaefer in 1930 to form the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

The historic Theatre also featured many of the leading entertainers of their eras, including Tommy Dorsey, Spike Jones, Frank Sinatra, Rudy Vallee, Tex Ritter, Glenn Miller, Erroll Garner, Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz, Paul Whiteman, Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, and Beverly Sills, among others. The master of ceremonies at the Theatre was Dick Powell, who later moved to Hollywood to become a star in the Golden Age of Hollywood. In 1961, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performed a benefit concert with Jack Benny at the Theatre, which 23 years later would become its permanent home.

The Theatre fell into disrepair in the 1970s with the advent of suburban multi-theater movie houses and faced possible demolition before the combined efforts of the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indianapolis, the Commission for Downtown and the Theatre’s next door neighbor, Indianapolis Power and Light, succeeded in placing the Theatre on the National Register of Historic Places.

The restoration of the Theatre started in 1982. The exterior restoration included repair of the original white terra cotta facade; replacement of storefronts, entrance doors and playbill cases; restoration of the second floor windows overlooking Monument Circle; and replication of the elegant 1916 marquee with its classical ornamental friezes and row lights.

Interior restoration included repair of the original wall and ceiling detail, replication of the two side box seat balconies and repair of the mirror panels and decorative motifs which flank the stage. The seats were restored and the original lighting fixtures were repaired, rewired and a missing one replaced. The original interior colors of ivory, warm gray and delicate rose are used throughout the Theatre.

The stage area was enlarged with a fixed orchestra shell and permanent seating onstage for the chorus or audience. The audience seating areas were redesigned to allow for more space and comfort, and the main lobby was expanded to accommodate patrons at intermission.

After the $6.8 million renovation-conversion project, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra opened its 1984 season in the newly converted concert hall where it has performed ever since. In 1990, the Theatre became the property of the Orchestra when it purchased the venue from Indianapolis Power and Light. In addition to live performances, the Orchestra also uses the Hilbert Circle Theatre’s superb acoustics for broadcasting and recording.

The historic Theatre’s intimate size (1,781 seats) and customized stage area suited to an 87-member ensemble create a superb venue for live performances. After his 1984 visit to the Hilbert Circle Theatre, Harold Schonberg of The New York Times wrote, “The acoustics were clear and well defined, with a good deal of presence, a solid bass and excellent definition…the (Hilbert) Circle Theatre has provided the city with a superior concert hall.” Echoing this assessment, The Dayton Daily News wrote, “It is clear that this hall is a virtual showcase for the Orchestra…the acoustics are particularly lively without being unduly bright,” and The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote, “The (Hilbert) Circle Theatre has a clear, pleasant, fairly dry sound to it…it has been turned into an attractive symphonic space.”

On September 15, 1991, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the Hilbert Circle Theatre with a Gala Opening Night concert featuring Beverly Sills as hostess reviving the Theatre’s illustrious history.

In December 1996 the Orchestra received a $10 million gift from Mr. & Mrs. Stephen Hilbert, the largest single contribution from a living person in the Orchestra’s history. In recognition of that gift, (the major share of which serves as an endowment to fund to maintain the facility) the venue was renamed Hilbert Circle Theatre.

In May 2002, the Orchestra began a four-month $2.75 million renovation of the Hilbert Circle Theatre stage that was initiated to provide more performance space and to improve the on-stage acoustics for the musicians. The renovation included new acoustical clouds that can be adjusted for performance as well as new walls, flooring, fly space rigging and reverberation chambers above the stage to enhance the already superb acoustics of the hall. The project was completed on time and within budget and was unveiled on September 8, 2002, at the Orchestra’s Gala Opening Night concert to begin the 2002-2003 season.

The Hilbert Circle Theatre is one of the few prominent early 20th century movie palaces that remains active and in operation today, and its storied history was the subject of a cable television profile by the American Movie Classics cable television network, hosted by Robert Doran.

Donald John Long
Donald John Long on December 15, 2002 at 4:22 am

The Circle Theater is located on the central Circle drive around the celebrated Soldiers and Sailors Monument obelisk in the heart of downtown Indianapolis.

I saw the Western movie “SHANE” (1953) here in May 1959 when it was reissued. It had a beautiful Art Deco Moderne marquee out front at that time and boasted air conditioning. My father took pictures of it then, which we still have, including 8mm color home movies showing the neon lights on the marquee in daytime. It was a beautiful theater then and I was awestruck by its huge proscenium over the stage. I’m glad it’s still open.