Freeman Theatre

1548 Freeman Avenue,
Cincinnati, OH 45214

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Additional Info

Architects: James R. Stewart, Robert W. Stewart

Firms: Stewart & Stewart

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The Freeman Theatre was a long-lasting theatre near the corner of Freeman Avenue and W. Liberty Street in Cincinnati’s West End. The Freeman Theatre was the second theatre in the city to use that moniker but had no connection to W.W.’s Freeman’s Freeman Theatre on Central Avenue that operated in 1895 and into 1896 in the former Havlin’s Theatre location. This Freeman Theatre was launched by Waldorf Amusement whose business model was to take advantage of facilities that once housed horse-centric operations which were rendered obsolete when the gas-driven vehicle revolution occurred.

The Freeman Theatre launched in a retrofitted building that once was home to an 19th Century livery that went out of business in 1912. Waldorf Amusement also retrofitted a carriage factory establishing its National Theatre on 8th Street. The Freeman Theatre launched with a Grand Opening on September 12, 1912 as a silent movie house catering to a Germanic audience and playing many films with German title cards as the neighborhood was home to a large population of German immigrants.

Stewart and Stewart were the architects of the theatre which purportedly cost just $6,500 to retrofit. The 401-seat theatre was not fancy and used a 6-sheet poster and a bank of eight lobby cards to promote films. The Freeman’s neighbor for its entire run was the well-placed, Fricke’s Confectionery and Soda Fountain which had been in operation since the late-19th Century. Even prior to America’s involvement in World War I, the Freeman Theatre organized drives and programmed films to raise awareness of tensions overseas involving Germany in 1913 and for the next few years.

But when the U.S. declared war on Germany officially in April of 1917, anti-German sentiment began to take its toll on the neighborhood and the theatre’s efforts to unify its clientele. The neighborhood would have two major influxes of new residents effectively dispersing the Germanic residents and the Freeman Theatre would adapt to each of the two population shifts.

In 1929, the Freeman Theatre converted to Movietone sound system for talkies under new operator Jack Frisch and switched to Western Electric sound the next year. The neighborhood changed to predominately African-American just prior to World War II and the theatre transitioned to an African American house throughout the war and after. But fortunes were changing and Frisch offered the Freeman Theatre for sale in 1948. A new operator took on the location but could not pay taxes and the theatre was closed briefly in 1949.

But the Freeman Theatre came back that same year with a new, final operator who appears to have closed it in 1952 at end of a second 20-year subleasing deal. The property was offered for sale in 1953 and 1954 but was eventually razed as part of the highway project that would become Interstate 75 and effectively decimated the African American retail and nightlife district.

Contributed by dallasmovietheaters

Recent comments (view all 1 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 7, 2020 at 2:28 am

The October 11, 1911 issue of Harvard Alumni Bulletin said that James R. Stewart, class of 1905, and Robert W. Stewart, class of 1908, had established their architectural offices in the Bell Block, Cincinnati.

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