When silent movies arrived in Syracuse, Salina Street had the Empire, the Strand, Keith’s, Temple (later Paramount) and Eckel theatres to draw patrons downtown for movie-stage shows. The latest and grandest was Loew’s State Theatre.
Marcus Loew attempted to buy the Empire Theatre but negotiations failed. Real Estate developers found him the building side at the northwest corner of Salina Street, occupied by the Jefferson Hotel, along with frontage for a block along Jefferson St.
Thomas Lamb was commissioned as architect. He had already designed the Strand, Temple, and Keith’s. He planned the city’s largest theatre, 3,000 seats, with an eight-story office tower.
Site acquisitions, costing $1.9 million, began on March 29, 1926.
Groundbreaking for construction began on March 15, 1927. Construction took eleven months and three days, involved more than 300 workers and cost $1.4 million.
Loew’s State’s opening was announced February 18, 1928. The new theatre was advertised as “the last word in theatrical ornateness and luxuriousness.” By mid-morning on that first day, hundreds had formed lines outside the new Theatre. For 25 cents admission, patrons were directed by uniformed ushers through the lobbies, absorbing the wealth of colors and materials – marble, terrazzo, tapestries, filigrial chandeliers, and exotic furnishings. They were ushered into Lamb’s exotic world through the main lobby, which boasted a chandelier designed by Louis Tiffany for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s mansion, and the grandest of the theatre’s several huge murals. The Musician’s Gallery, located over the front doors, featured quartet serenades as intermission entertainment during the 1930’s. Patrons who ascended the grand staircase reached the promenade lobby, where they delighted in finding a fishpond with a Japanese pagoda fountain. The main auditorium, which houses 2900 seats, was decorated in rich reds and golds and accented with wall ornaments throughout. The 1,400-pipe Wurlitzer organ offered its own exotic flavor flavor, treating patrons to such sounds as a glockenspiel, marimba, bird whistles, hoof beats and surf sounds.
For more than a year, Loew’s showed only silent films. It shows its first “talkie,” “The Broadway Melody” on March 30, 1929.
The Depression thirties provided some of the Theatre’s finest hours. In the cultural style of the times:
• A uniformed doorman or “barker” greeted patrons out front
• Three cashiers staffed the outdoor box office kiosk
• Uniformed ushers, overseen by uniformed captains, directed waiting patrons into lines between
velvet ropes, then to seats as they became available
• Sharply dressed “candy girls” graced the concession counters
• A basement carpenter shop created signs and stage props to order
In 1933 Loew’s presented its first public demonstration of television In 1934 it introduced double features. About the same time, color arrived. In the early 1940’s Hollywood presented war films, complemented by newsreels which patrons scrutinized for glimpses of friends or relatives in uniform. Veterans were paraded across the stage. Intermissions were devoted to war bond sales.
Local, state, and federal governments, foundations, and corporations began responding to funding pleas. Once more the theatre became a venue for stage events. Revenue from individual memberships increased.
Painstakingly gaining momentum, the Theatre hosts dozens of events a year. Legends that appeared as the theatre reopened included Gregory Peck, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. 2006 saw Celtic Woman, Ratdog, many stage plays, corporate fundraisers and private events, Chicago, Jerry Seinfeld, Al Gore, LeAnn Rimes and the tour of So You Think You Can Dance, just to name a few.
Major projects still remain. We are presently in the middle of a capital campaign to raise funds to expand our stage area so that we may host bigger and better shows, like Broadway’s “Lion King” and others.