Robin Theatre

5479 Robin Avenue,
St. Louis, MO 63107

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The Robin Theatre was a small independent house that opened in 1910, seating 602. Nothing outstanding about the the theatre, small single story theatre to serve the neighborhood on the near north side. Located right in the middle of the block with houses on each side of the theatre it almost looked out of place. No parking lot but a simple neighborhood walk up theatre.

The Robin Theatre was closed April 5, 1947 by the city for fire irregularities, and the empty building was badly damaged by a fire in 1952.

Contributed by Charles Van Bibber

Recent comments (view all 7 comments)

JAlex on April 9, 2005 at 9:06 am

It wasn’t television that closed this theatre, but the City of St. Louis. In April 1947 the Robin was ordered closed as a possible fire hazard as the structure (a frame building with sheet iron sheathing)did not meet the revised building code.

I do not have the exact date of opening, but it was operating in 1927.

kencmcintyre on January 18, 2007 at 4:03 pm

Arthur F.D. Kalbfell and Marie K. Wimberley bought the Robin in 1936, according to this lawsuit:

mikeandlori723 on June 30, 2009 at 11:38 am

St. Louis Post Dispatch, Sept. &, 1952
Fire caused an estimated $8000 damage last night to the old Robin Theater at Harney and Robin avenues.
Fireman John Breheny, 5942A Wabada avenue, collapsed at the scene and was taken to City Hospital for treatment for exhaustion.
Two alarms were sounded and a crowd gathered as flames and smoke poured from the one-story frame structure, which has sides sheathed in sheet iron. Origin of the blaze was not determined.
The theater has not been in operation since 1947, when it was ordered closed by the city as an alleged fire hazard. The owner is Arthur Kalbfell, 4235 Roland boulevard, St. Louis county.

Noir on September 13, 2013 at 7:29 am

The blocks there seemed like a beautiful oasis near the old cinema. Children walking down Harney to Walbridge and Nativity of Our Lord/ St. Adalberts school late 1960’s through 1970’s always noticed the well kept vacant large lot. .

The houses around the old Robin Cinema were all small, and very pretty- like out of a story book myth. It did not look like a vacant lot—because it had been re-planted and kept up. I first thought a stately old French 17th century home might have been there. Next I thought an old fountain, or English glassed in “Jewel Box” type botanical garden like in Forest Park was there. It looked like an elegant garden had stood there. I use to see one of the neighbors cutting the lawn where the Robin Theatre once stood.

I knew something significant had been there but never knew what it was at that time. It seemed like something important had been there and people’s houses where like beautiful gingerbread houses as if saluting and point towards this area. There was no garbage, dumped tires, abandoned cars, ditchs and rubble in this lot.

Many children had to dis-embark on this march down Harney Street past the old Robin lot, it was a long journey alone for children-so we gathered in units to go. The general 90% of areas approaching the old Robin Theatre, doorway to doorway, house to house, past alley ways and streets, block to block were dilapidated and deterioriated and the Walnut Park camp was full of surprizes. You knew you would be safe briefly between two no man’s lands if you made it there to where the old Robin Theatre area, even if you had to run. We never knew why or what had been there.

This area/place where the Robin theatre was located felt dimensionally different for a block or two, a safe railroad station or a safe house overground. As a child I walked that urban trail with other children and I was happy to make it back to base/home.

A measure of residual happy energy remained in the adults there. Decades of laghter and people coming and going left a brief feeling of safe harbor. The Robin Cinema although very small, survived during WWII but was closed since 1947 made an impact on the neighbors who seemed to treat it as hallowed ground—keeping the area around its buriel and the houses very nice.

Maybe this is where they saw WWII newsreels or met their husband or wife, children saw they’re first movies or had great family memories.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 18, 2014 at 12:14 pm

A Robin Theatre was mentioned in the August 14, 1915, issue of The Moving Picture World (it had been “extensively altered” and new equipment had been installed), but its address was given as 2301 Robin Avenue. There is no 2300 block of Robin Avenue now, and probably wasn’t then, either, unless the street has since been drastically renumbered, so the address was probably a mistake. We can’t be sure that it was this Robin Theatre that the item was about, but it’s a possibility.

BobCarter on January 19, 2017 at 5:53 pm
I grew up around the block from the Robin Theatre on Gilmore Street in the heart of St. Louis during the late 1930s and through the War years. My mother was a true movie buff during those years of the Great Depression. Movies served to relieve the awful drudgery of those times and gave people some hope for the future. Then BANG! World War II was upon us. But we had the tiny Robin theatre right around the corner. My mother took us there every week. Adult admission was a dime, kids got in for a nickel unless they were accompanied by an adult. Then admission was free. We sometimes trudged up the alley (in the daytime) that ran between Robin Avenue and Gilmore to loose ourselves in the magic of movies. Most of them were in black and white, but that didn't seem to matter. For that dime my mom paid for the three of us we got to see two feature films, a news reel about the war, a cartoon or two, and on Saturdays a Tom Mix or Lone Ranger short serial (continued next week of course). And if we were lucky a Pete Smith Specialty, where, tongue in cheek, he poked fun at the world. Oh how I loved the droning voice of Pete Smith and the antics on the screen. I'm sorry that little theatre is gone. It was a haven from the reality of the Depression and the horrors of a world at war. But all things have their time and place and the little Robin Theatre had its time and served its purpose. Lucky me.
dallasmovietheaters on January 20, 2017 at 4:19 am

The Robin Theater opened in 1910 at the corner or Harney and Robin in the Walnut Park neighborhood of St. Louis in an existing building. The theatre opened with vaudeville with short films in the programming mix. But the trade press reports installation of a new Minusa Gold Fibre screen and new projectors as the theatre goes almost exclusively to motion pictures. New operators in 1928/9 switch the silent house to talking pictures.

On April 2, 1947, the theater paid for its annual operating license only to be shut down five days later over a fire code restriction put in by the city. The theatre lost its legal battle on appeal to the State Supreme Court making the last showing there as “The Showoff” on April 5, 1947. Tthe vacant theater was damaged by a fire in 1952 and was eventually demolished.

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