One of our city’s more interesting-looking theaters was the Oriental Theater. Owner Louis E. Burkhart built the fireproof brick building with a Pagoda-style entrance in 1910-11. It was located on the southeast corner of South Meridian and Wilkins Streets, just north of Morris Street. The theater, which originally showcased both vaudeville acts and movies, seated 725 when constructed, but later advertisements boasted seating for 1,600. The four storefronts housed a variety of businesses through the years including a drug store, Morris Yosha’s shoe repair shop, a wallpaper store, jeweler, and Frank Lichtenberger’s Confectionary.
The theater was in operation for over five decades and was razed by 1972 for an Interstate 70 ramp. This mash-up map shows an aerial photograph layered on top of an old Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of the Oriental Theater.
View looking east at the former Oriental Theater site. At least one piece of the old theater survives. The Oriental Theater’s Opus 512 pipe organ, manufactured by the Louisville Pipe Organ Company, was moved to the Calvary Lutheran Church (later known as the Tallwood Chapel) on Shelby Street in 1942. The organ was played until the 1970s, but then sat silent until recently purchased for use in the Strand Theatre in Shelbyville, Indiana.
How many of you Historic Indianapolis readers remember the Oriental Theater or the shops in front? Please share your memories!
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Must stay with this series…used to attend matinees at the Rivoli, Tuxedo, Hamilton, Arlington, Irving, and a Brightwood theater I can’t remember the name of…and yes, the Emerson!
As a kid growing up on the Southside of Indianapolis and living a mere 2 blocks south (929 South Meridian Street) of the theater, this was my regular hangout. By the time I arrived in the mid 50’s it no longer featured vaudeville acts and the admission price had increased to 25 cents. For that price we got a full length motion picture (Tarzan, etc), a western (Will Bill Hickock, Roy Rodgers) or serial (The Hardy Boys, Spin and Marty) a newsreel and two cartoons. Mrs. O’Connell, who ran the theater was, perhaps, one of the nicest people I ever met. At the end of each showing, she would let 3 or 4 of the neighborhood kids in to pick up discarded soda cups, popcorn boxes, assorted trash and mop up spills. The kids were made to wash their hands and were then given a candy bar, a soda and a box of popcorn and then allowed to stay, for free, for the next showing. Needless to say, I was there every Saturday!
Hi. I left a long post below to Steve Stanton; I don’t know when it will show up but I also grew up near the Oriental and wanted to just say Hi.
I’ve lived on the east coast for decades, now on the coast of Maine so I’m a long, long way from home.
It’s great to see posts from others who grew up in the same area. I lived on S. Senate St. about six blocks from the theater. I was born in 42 and Dr. Saltzman delivered me at home…I haven’t been back home for about ten years but I used to come back about every three years. Sad to see the old neighborhoods gone.
One minor correction to the story above: The theater was located south (not north) of Morris Street. Morris Street is located 1200 south. If memory serves me correctly, the Oriental Theater was located directly across the street for Moody Taylor’s (not sure of spelling) Gas Station (very popular neighborhood business) and an optometrist’s office. My grandmother lived in a large two story red brick home located directly behind the Optometrist’s office. The gas station, optometrist office and my grandmother’s home are all gone now, part of the dirt embankment that supports the I-70 overpass on the other side of Meridian Street.
Sorry but it was north of Morris. South of Morris was a barber shop with a female barber named “Bobbie”. Also a bakery at end of block that eventually became a clock shop. The Oriental was almost to Wilkins Street with Dr. Saltzman’s office next to it on north side. Adlie’s was diagonally across from it on north west corner of Wilkins and Meridian. There were Kosher poultry shops across Meridian Street from the Oriental where young kids would get feathers to play cowboys and indians. Also, Daum’s Trucking Company was behind the Oriental across Charles Street. By the way Zuckerberg’s Clothing Store’s owner’s son, Joe was in the Star’s obituaries today. 11-7-17.
You are correct. Oriental theater was a block north of Morris St.
I live all the way up on the coast of Maine so I’ve wandered a long way from my childhood haunts.
My siblings and cousins and I used to go to the Saturday matinee’s. 1947 and a few years beyond. We got a quarter for the afternoon. The matinee was a dime. Popcorn, candy and soda was a nickel each. Across the street at Adlie’s confectioner was in the location you described diagonally across from the theater, served up a double dip of ice cream for a nickel! So, we got into the theater for a double feature, newsreel and cartoons between the two movies. The quarter bought admission, soda and popcorn and an ice cream to enjoy walking home…Those were the days.
My dad used the barbershop with the barber named Bobbie. Dr. Saltzman delivered me at home on a snowy December morning. He was my family doctor throughout my childhood. A really wonderful man. Haags Drugstore was on the NE corner of S. Meridian and Morris St. I lived on S. Senate St. about 6 blocks from the theater. My older sister worked behind the concession counter at one point. I opened my first bank account at the American Fletcher National Bank just up the street on S. Meridian, about a block north of the theater when I was a teenager. Both my sister and I worked at Safrin’s Dept. Store in the 900 block of S. Meridian St. I still remember the names of all those little shops; and long after I moved out of the neighborhood, I’d drive back down to Shapiro’s for a pepper beef sandwich. And it’s still there, but much bigger now. They bought out the Passo’s Drug store property and the Regan’s Bakery on the other side and expanded.
The interstate loop swallowed my whole neighborhood, including the house I was born in and my elementary school, which is featured in the schools part of this wonderful website. I attended H.E. Wood Jr. High. You either went there or to Sacred Heart. Lilly bought up the Wood High School property and the small building on McCarty St. behind my elementary school.
Almost all of my extended family still lives in Indianapolis but most have moved far out of the city now and they’re scattered north, south, east and west. I go back when I can.
Remember everything you talked about. “Bobby” was the lady that our hair, also remember a Dr. Schuster, Adles was a place I would stop at to get a hamburger, mom would buy her “day Old” bread at the bakery, remember the clock shop the clothing store, I went to PS22 and Wood High School, watched movies at the Oriental Theater..too bad we don’t have photos of Adles and some other places…
The many corrections on the direction of “the Oriental Theater being north of Morris Street is correct. In my mind I have always envisioned up as north and down as south. Living in the 1300 block of South Meridian my mother and grandmother always said they were going downtown to shop. I don’t ever remember either of them saying they were going uptown to shop – appears even they were wrong in their directions.
Thanks for the correction, Don. I tend to be a bit directionally challenged, so corrections are always appreciated. Thanks also for sharing your stories about the theater and neighborhood. When viewing these interstates and ramps it’s hard to imagine that the area was once part of a vital and thriving neighborhood. It’s sad to talk to older people who recall that their home and neighborhood was obliterated by highways or mass demolition.
The highway is north of Morris St, so if the theater was razed to make way for the highway, it also had to be north of Morris st. Furthermore, the theater address was 1105 S Meridian St and Morris is at the 1200 block. Therefore the theater was north of morris, not south.
Vince…You are right, and the article has been changed back. Wilkins Street is to the north of the theater and Morris Street to the south. Are you related to the Shimp Optical family?
We lived at 826 Union Street from 1952 to 1954 so it was a very easy walk to the Oriental. I suspect I saw my first movie there. I can remember seeing the Lucy and Ricky movie about the long trailer there and one about a robot attacking Earth. At least the bank that was just south of it still exists. It is part of Sacred Heart Church now.
I use to walk past the Oriental Theater on my way to Haag Drugstore from 932 S Union St . It was North of Morris St by American Fletcher Bank also . It had already been closed down . Everyone use to say it was haunted . I was always so infatuated with the character of the old building .