Interior, Circle Theatre, Indianapolis, IND.

When the Circle Theatre opened in 1916 on Monument Circle, it was a movie theater grand enough to write home about. Today, the Hilbert Circle Theater at 45 Monument Circle is home to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Postmarked: Indianapolis, IND., May 15 – 3 PM

May 15, 1918

Dear Mother,
This is where we would shine. Fred and I were here twice and it was great. I think we will stay here for a little while. I like it real well. We are still at Hotel Severin. Will change tonight. Will go with Minnie at the Plaza for a little while till we can find a apt. of our own. We are going showing (?) one of these nights.
Your kiddies,
Fred and Lou

Addressed to:
Mrs. Feora Miller
118 E. Creedmore Ave.
Barberton, Ohio


This penny post was sent two years after the Circle Theatre opened its doors.


The interior of the Grand Auditorium today bears a striking resemblance to the movie theater when it opened 98 years ago.
image: courtesy of the Hilbert Circle Theater

A penny for your thoughts … What memorable shows or performances do you recall from the Circle Theatre (or the Hilbert Circle Theater)?

And what do you think that last sentence says? Is it “showing”–some term for seeing shows, perhaps? Or something else?

Curious about more Indianapolis theater history? Check out A Room with a View – Metropolitan Hall: Indianapolis’ First Theater.

7 responses to “Penny Post: Circle Theatre, 1918”

  1. Steve Koepper says:

    Camelot, the move with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave, in the winter of 1969-1970–on a very, very cold night.
    Hair, the live musical, in the early 1970s.

  2. Dana Hubbard says:

    You couldn’t say “slumming” for -ing?

  3. Chuck Schafer says:

    “2001, A Space Oddesey” from the balcony. The movie ending special effects were very unsettling from that angle. I remember how badly the Theater needed a coat of fresh paint. The friezes were hardly noticeable for the layers of dirt. When the movie ended, everyone walked swiftly to the Parking Garage on South Meridian. There was nothing else open, and no one was around in the evening.

  4. Jack Boyd says:

    About 1948, perhaps earlier, the Circle Theater presented some kind of vampire movie. As part of its advertisement program they had built a huge wooden casket, perhaps 8 or 9 feet long angled up at about a 45 degree angle. Inside the casket was the image of a dead women in diaphanous gown, except her bosom was exposed. For a country boy that was exotic enough. But her nipples were black spirals about an inch long! Or, at least that’s what I recall. I remember looking around to see if anyone else was staring at what I was staring at. Apparently the blasé walkby crowd was unimpressed because I was the only one doing any staring. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the show (there may have been an age limitation), but that was OK because the casket and occupant had already short-circuited my adolescent mind.

    Beyond that, my memory of the Circle Theater concerns the live orchestra it featured for silent movies. No, even I’m not that old, but my music supervisor when I was the choral director at the Paducah KY High School back in the 1960s was Floyd Burt. Floyd told me war stories of his playing violin for a short time in the Circle Orchestra in the late 1920s. The conductor’s rehearsal consisted of “Here’s the music; don’t make a mistake.” Since most of the music for such theaters featured traditional dramatic music by Grieg and Tchaikovsky, among others, Floyd already knew some of the charts. Except for the Radio City Music Hall, all of those silent era orchestras disappeared with the advent of sound movies.

  5. Gary says:

    I used to go there with a bunch of friends in the early 80’s for midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The place was in pretty rough shape. It was so rough, that it did not matter that we participated in all the antics that went along with Rocky Horror viewings, such as throwing of hot dogs, spraying water from spray bottles, throwing toast at the screen, and on and on. Let’s do the time warp again…

  6. Donald Crafton says:

    I was a very lucky kid and didn’t know it at the time. My grandfather was the projectionist at the theater for many years (1940’s to 1980’s) and I would go all the time with him, running through the upper rooms and balcony areas (also watched dozens of shows) those were the days and I was to young to know it.

  7. Tom S. Foster says:

    Just coming across this in “Hi Indy” on this night of 7-31-2022, several years after this “Penny Post” segment was written. I’d like to make a comment about what I remember about the famous Circle Theater: The many movies I saw…with my recollection of the earliest I recall being Walt Disney’s “Swiss Family Robinson” (1960 ?). Also, “The Plunders” (1961); “101 Dalmatians ” (1961); “Pinoocioo” (rereleased 1961) “The Commoncheros” (1962); “My Fair Lady” (1964); “The Sound of Music” (1965); “The Great Race” (1965).
    For some reason, other movies as the years went beyond 1965, other Indy movie houses were my places and not downtown. What a shame…there were a few other downtown theaters I saw some great movies, but The Circle stands out as the favorite one for me.

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