The Arlington Theater Building, now Central Ace Hardware – Photo by Ryan Hamlett
In between the days of the grand vaudevillian movie houses like the Circle and Indiana Theaters (now Hilbert Circle and Indiana Repertory) and the 23 screen multiplexs of today, small, independently owned theaters sprang up around Indianapolis.
One such theater, the Arlington, opened in 1949 at the corner of East 10th Street and Arlington Ave, constructed at a cost of $250,000 ($2.4 million today) and sat 1100 theatergoers. Its first feature, You’re My Everything starring Dan Dailey and Ann Baxter follows two newly-weded actors on their journey from stage to silent films through advent of talking pictures.
As television continued to gain popularity and vie for the attention of Joe Moviegoer, the Arlington renovated in 1956, expanding the back of the theater, increasing seating capacity to 1324 and installing a wide Cinemascope screen and high-tech sound system. Independent movie theaters were not associated with a particular production house, so while a Paramount or Lowes theater was fed a steady stream of films from their parent companies, small theaters like the Arlington had to bid on and purchase films to show. After its upgrades, the Arlington became a showcase for Walt Disney features, until the Eastwood theater at 38th St. and Pendleton Pike began to outbid them in the late 70s.
As the 80s came, the Arlington, now owned by Theater Confections Inc out of Rochester, NY continued to struggle. In 1983 a hailmary attempt to keep the theater running was made by way of bidding to show the cash cow that was Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
Outbid once again, the operators of the Arlington learned of evidence suggesting that state blind bidding laws may have been violated in their lost attempt to get Episode VI and filed suit against Star Wars distributor 20th Century Fox. The suit was settled out of court and the owners of the Arlington threw in the proverbial towel, closing the doors as a movie theater for good.
For the remainder of the 80s, the Arlington continued to see life as a music venue, hosting a number of national touring acts brought in by Sunshine Promotion and this 1988 concert by heavy metal band Megadeath which lives on as a bootleg recording available on YouTube.
By the early 90s, the music venue concept for the Arlington was abandoned as well and the theater was transformed into its modern day purpose, that of the Central Ace Hardware store. The marquee and movie poster display are still there, advertising sales on gardening equipment instead of Disney blockbusters. Within the bustling store, you can still make out the details that suggest this large open space existed for reasons beyond mixing paint and selling tools.