Comet Theatre

4106 Finney Avenue,
St. Louis, MO 63113

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Comet Theatre

The Comet Theatre opened August 6, 1940 on Finney Avenue.

They put neon along the roof line of the theatre above the marquee with a comet shooting across the top. It was an African-American theatre.

The theatre survived until 1972. It stood closed for many years, but had a huge hole in the side of the building. You could look in and still see the seats and the torn screen. It was later demolished.

Contributed by Charles Van Bibber

Recent comments (view all 13 comments)

kencmcintyre on January 16, 2009 at 11:48 pm

This is from Boxoffice magazine in January 1960:

ST. LOUIS-The Strand at 2000 Market Street, a 470-seater, has been closed by Tommy James, who also owns the New Comet and Douglas theaters.

TLSLOEWS on July 8, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Sad looking 1985 photo Chuck.The marquee looks good though.

patrickgenna on June 18, 2011 at 12:01 am

Apologies all! I had confused the Criterion with the Comet. It was the Comet that had a gaping hole in the side wall that was easily seen from the street, not the Criterion. My memory of the Comet was that it had a vertical sign that had flashing lights with a (Comet) lights flashing upward. I don’t think it was neon, but I may be wrong. The 1985 picture is really sad. I can seem to think that this was the same theatre and reminded me a little of the Regal. Patrick.

bbrown1 on September 1, 2012 at 11:51 pm

One of the movies on the marquee in the photo above, MIXED COMPANY, was released in October 1974, so the Comet was open past 1972.

CharmaineZoe on November 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm

The New Comet was on 21st and Market according to an advert in the St Louis Argus in 1916.

JAlex on November 18, 2013 at 11:19 am

The original Comet was at 2110 Market Street and operated from c.1911 until 1933.

miltonzbrown on July 6, 2014 at 1:54 pm

A while ago, I found an internet posting saying that Louis Armstrong played at the Comet in 1931. Do you know if that is the same one at Sarah and Finney? Also, my great-grandfather, Charles Jackson Gates, owned the Carioca Ballroom at the corner of Sarah and Finney in the 1930s. Duke Ellington played there on Dec 16, 1937. Do you think the Comet on Sarah and Finney is the same building as Carioca Ballroom, and that is simply became the Comet after it ceased being the Carioca Ballroom? Do you think Charles Gates sold the building to Tommy James? Charles Gates lived across the street at 4107 Finney Ave since 1923.

localarchivstSTL on September 3, 2017 at 12:13 am

Hi again. I wonder if there’s any way we can get the current main picture removed—it is most certainly not the correct Comet theater.

I think we should clarify our details here.

The Comet at 4110 Finney opened in 1940, not 1939. I’m fuzzy on when it closed however I would challenge the date of 1972 as I have a newspaper clipping from the Post-Dispatch in 1975 discussing a neighborhood children’s party thrown by theater ownership (see photos).

According to a document I have, the Motion Pictures Theater Owners annual bulletin, as a grand opening gesture James had 10,000 balloons filled with helium and inserted in every 5th balloon a free pass for the theater. The pamphlet says for days afterwards children were seen combing the neighborhood, climbing trees and roofs in order to get a hold of downed balloons in hopes of finding a pass. (see clipped excerpt)

In addition to hosting movie showings, as a previous comment pointed out, James also hosted musical acts at the comet including Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Cab Calloway and local acts like Chick Finney. James, a community patron as much as a business owner also rented his venue to community organizations such as the local YMCA branch, the NAACP and the Urban League.

Skipping ahead, after the closure (whenever that was) the theater did sit vacant for some time. In the early 1980s as Grand Center was seeing a comeback with the Fox and Symphony Hall projects, Municorp looked at the prospect of producing a similar redevelopment on Finney with the Comet (see clipping). Due to changes in the UDAG program the proposal did not get the funding it sought and collapsed—ultimately leading to the demolition of the structure which many community members (see clipping) had found to be a public nuisance.

Larry Giles, owner of the National Building Arts Center (across the river) salvaged the facade of the theater prior to demolition. He did not take the Marquee and according to his notes the signature comet neon signs were in such poor condition they were not salvageable. Some of my sources for this text were taken from documents, many water damaged but rescued by Giles, from inside the theater’s office.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on September 3, 2017 at 7:13 am

localarchivstSTL: The photograph you mention in your comment above has been removed and placed on its correct page for the West End Theatre. Thanks for pointing this out.

JAlex on September 3, 2017 at 11:59 am

Theatre opened August 8, 1940. Theatre did not “become” an African-American theatre; it always was.

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