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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.

The Arlington on opening night

The Arlington on opening night, October 6th, 1949 – photo from Indy Eastside Nostalgia

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.

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Interior view of the Arlington, probably pre-1953 upgrades, as the Cinemascope screen would have blocked the two rear exits shown – photo from Indy Eastside Nostalgia

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.

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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Projection room windows overlook the hardware – Photo by Ryan Hamlett

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Celling accents still surround the ventilation system as can be seen from the old theater interior photo above – Photo by Ryan Hamlett

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The original wall covering and old theater speaker peak out between a selection of Irvington Halloween Festival posters and the paint section. – Photo by Ryan Hamlett

9 responses to “The Arlington Theater”

  1. Ted Meek says:

    Oh my goodness! I spent a good portion of my childhood in and around that theater. I still remember the diappointment of admission going from 35 cents to 65 cents when I turned twelve years of age.

    Every grade school had it own section on Friday night. And, the “ushers” (a term I use loosely) would not hesitate to throw you out of the theater for talking during the movie or kissing a girl.

  2. basil berchekas jr says:

    An excellent post on my favorite neighborhood movie theater (too far to walk to, but good nevertheless; used to walk to the Irving and Rivoli, as well as the closest; the Emerson theater; forget the name of the one in Brightwood, but remember the Brightwood Drive Inn as well…)

  3. Cheryl Boone-Delgado says:

    Iirc, the Arlington was one of the two theaters where my friends and I went to Saturday matinees in the fifties and early sixties, and then for movie dates, the other one being the Emerson. Nice piece. At least the building hasn’t been torn down, and there are references to its original purpose.
    Lots of good times were had there.

  4. Vicky J. (Kemper) McBurnie says:

    Every Friday night during junior high years–yep, the Arlington was the place to be~

    I was a School #77 and Howe class of 1962 graduate. . . .fond memories, indeed.

  5. basil berchekas jr says:

    Howe class of 1961; went there most Saturdays for their dime matinees!

  6. Kerra L Underwood says:

    I remember this was my favorite theater. The cool floor tile and the big “S” shaped walls where you could enter the restrooms. There was a smoking “lounge” with velvet seating before you entered the bathroom area. It had huge velvet curtains and muted lighting from the recessed wall sconces. I remember sliding around those big “S” shaped walls for so long, that my mother would have to come get me when the movie started. I loved the round design and how grand it felt just standing there taking it all in. That is what a theater should feel like. Amazing and awe inspiring! A nostalgic piece of history….

  7. Justin says:

    Absolutely one of the best places for live misic in the 80’s, most people have no idea of all the talent that came through there. Great memories live on, just a shame it’s still not a theatre that was preserved !

  8. Rob springer says:

    We lived nearby the Arlington and saw The Last Starfighter there in 1984. It must have been one of the last movies they showed.

  9. Anonymous says:

    5

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