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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.

The Arlington on opening night

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.

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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.

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Arlington marquee, blended new and old.

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.

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8 responses to “The Arlington Theater”

  1. Ted Meek says:

    We spent a lot of Friday & Saturday nights in the Arlington. It was 35 cents for admission if you got in before 7PM and candy was a nickel, but the dentist was more. Every school had their own section and once I was thrown out for talking to the person next to me. Plus, we thought it was fun to walk home in the dark.

  2. Kat Bradley says:

    Anyone recall martin’s Bootery in the same strip? Where my parents alweays took me for shoes.

  3. Jack Boeldt says:

    The first movie at the Arlington, YOU’RE MY EVERYTHING, included an Indianapolis girl, Shari Robinson, as Jane O’Connor the daughter. Until she went to Holiwood, Shari lived across the alley from me on the 1000 block of west 32nd St. here in Indy. At about age 8 she and I and the kids next door dared each other to kiss on the lips. So Sheri was the first girl I ever kissed. In 1952 as 8th graders we used to meet our girl friends inside the Arlington to “watch a movie.”

  4. basil berchekas jr says:

    Used to attended their Saturday afternoon matinees regularly. Also remember Martin’s shoes and shopping there; used to attend movies at the Rivoli, Tuxedo, and Irving as well…

  5. Sally Lane Ruff says:

    We went to the Arlington most Saturday afternoons early 60’s. I don’t think we even cared too much what was showing!

  6. Detrie Franks says:

    I saw “The Sound of Music” there, complete with Intermission (early 70’s?). There was a bank around the corner…

  7. Bob says:

    Yes, I remember it well. They sold Red Ball Jet tennis shoes and Buster Brown dress shoes, among others. They used to have a flouroscope where you could stand and look down at the bones in your feet as you wiggled your toes. Eventually they took that out when they realized they were giving huge doses of x-rays to kids. I wonder how many got bone cancer as a result. Innocent and naive days those were – sometimes dangerously naive. LOL!

  8. Tom Foster says:

    The Arlington – Lots of classic movies I saw there as a youngster, adolescent, teen and 21 year old. Several remembered classics: “Ben-Hur” (1959), “Spartacus” (1960), “The Alamo” (1960), “North to Alaska” (1961), “The Music Man” (1962), and several Disney movies with, the last show I saw there being, “The Million Dollar Duck” starring Dean Jones (1971). Lots of candy and popcorn…Shows that were with some of my sisters…a few friends…and the parents.
    As to the family shoe store next to the theater…now I know the name of it: Martin’s Shoes. I remember after the Saturday matinees there were “window shopping” times to that store. The “fluoroscope machine” was among the two main eye-catcher items (the other being the Paul Parrot ad prop of the “Mother Goose” replica that gave a ‘golden egg’ toy surprise). Well…it’s been decades since I’ve been down that general area around 10th & Arlington. Seems like everything goes through “evolution change”. The classic movie houses like the old Arlington was one of those “changes”. Too bad they couldn’t celebrate a 70 year anniversary this year (2020).

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