Theatre Historical Society of America
The Theatre Historical Society of America (THS) was founded in 1969 to promote the legacy of America’s historic theatres and insure the documentation of the architectural, cultural and social history of those theatres. Through programs that include the collections in the American Theatre Architecture Archive, regional theatre tours, cooperative museum exhibits, publications, lectures, awards and research fellowships, THS seeks to promote appreciation, scholarly study and use of these historically significant buildings.
The Theatre Historical Society was founded in 1969 by writer and theatre historian Ben M. Hall, author of the first book celebrating America's movie palaces, The Best Remaining Seats. After Hall's untimely death in 1970, Brother Andrew Corsini Fowler, Frank Cronican, Terry Helgesen and others were instrumental in shaping THS into the foremost organization of its kind in the U.S. From just a handful of interested enthusiasts, it has grown into a national organization with an international membership composed of individuals, university and public libraries, theatres, performing arts organizations and other interested firms and groups.
Today the organization is led by Executive Director Rick Fosbrink, on behalf of a volunteer board of directors and officers.
Located in Elmhurst, IL, the collections housed in the American Theatre Architecture Archive (ATAA) contain information on over 16,000 theatres (both domestic and international) and span nearly every style and period of theatre architecture. In addition, they contain historical artifacts and resources documenting the social and cultural heritage of movie theatres and performing arts venues in America. Composed of photographs, negatives, slides, postcards, artists’ renderings, scrapbooks, books, periodicals, business records, blueprints and architectural drawings, supplier and trade catalogs, architectural artifacts, theatre furnishings, ushers’ uniforms, and numerous other items our collections relating to theatre buildings and their cultural and social history. While accessible on-site by prior appointment, THS is actively engaging in the ongoing digitization of its collections for wider online access.
Each year, the Thomas R. DuBuque Research Fellowship is awarded to support scholars interested in conducting on-site research in the collections of the ATAA. The Fellowship provides monetary support to winning proposals.
Conclave Theatre Tour
Each year THS engages different communities across the United States with a week-long Theatre Tour called “Conclave.” Held in a different geographic location each year, the tour is designed to showcase 20-30 local theatres and their historical significance within the spectrum of theatre history. Over the past 30 years, THS has designed tours for major bustling metropolitan areas (including Chicago, NYC, Detroit, Michigan and Los Angeles) as well as rolling pastoral romps that include the New York Capital Region and Seattle, Washington. These tours are attended by over 100 enthusiasts from over 6 countries internationally.
THS produces two publications yearly, "Marquee" a quarterly journal which has been published continuously since 1969 and the Annual, published since 1973. Both publications are made up of in-depth articles on topics related to theatre buildings and their social and cultural legacy. Our publications serve as primary vehicles for showcasing materials from our collections.
Each year, the Jeffrey Weiss Literary Award is awarded to encourage interest in research and writing on historic theatres and to provide additional content for "Marquee", the quarterly journal of the Society.
THS selects and honors individuals annually with awards in the following areas: Outstanding Theatre Book of the Year award, Member of the Year and Honorary Member of the Year. The Creating Theatre History Award and President’s Award are presented on a merit basis, typically honoring individuals and organizations for their work to rescue, restore and operate historic theatres or exceptional dedication to THS.
Ben M. Hall circulated the following letter founding the Theatre Historical Society of America:
February 10, 1969
Does this letterhead appeal to you? Well, let me tell you more!
For a long time some of us have talked about forming a club that would foster our interest in the fast-vanishing motion picture theatre and all the wonderful things that used to happen in it. I am delighted to be able to report that someone is finally doing something about it. My longtime friend, Brother Andrew Corsini Fowler, has decided that it is time for action and he, together with a bunch of hard-core theatre buffs from all parts of the country, have had our heads together (perhaps it would be more honest to say that Andy has knocked them together) and come up with an idea.
We are forming the Theatre Historical Society. The name is purposely all-purpose; though we all love movie palaces best, deep down we share an appreciation for any place where people are entertained in rows of seats - from nickelodeons to the newest Kultur Komplexes - in other words, all kinds of theatres and auditoriums. But in case you have misgivings, our main concern will be those picture pagodas of fragrant memory with the jeweled curtains the fountained goldfish, the rising orchestras (and falling organists), the tinkling tap shoes, the gold-braided ushers, the rose-budded cashiers, the yapping wonder dogs, the chirping Sunkist Beauties, the Antarctic air conditioning (and the frost-bitten marquees),the clouds in the ceiling, and the silvery Magnascope screens where "The End" used to ripple on the peanut curtain as it closed in for the organlogue. Remember...?
The Theatre Historical Society will have a magazine called Marquee (that's the logo Lester Glassner has designed for us at the top of this page) which will be published six times a year [ed. note: now published quarterly. THS also publishes an Annual.]... on a modest scale at first., more lavishly and more frequently as we get rolling. It will be filled with pictures and articles on every phase of movie palace lore -- portfolios of tantalizing newspaper ads, articles on everything from how to build your own model movie palace, how a Publix seat indicator works, how to operate the Brenkert F-7 Master Brenograph, to what to do in case of a stink bomb attack; picture stories on leading theatre architects (maybe special issues devoted to the work of one man); reports on everything from the animal rooms on the Keith Circuit to the hospital facilities in the super-palaces. The possibilities are endless.
The editor of MARQUEE will be Brother Andrew, and there is no one in the country more dedicated or more knowledgeable when it comes to our favorite subject. Frank Cronican has volunteered to be treasurer of the Society; Frank is one of the nation's most skillful model builders and is presently re-creating Chicago's Avalon Theatre in his basement (besides, he has an honest face). A board of directors will be elected later; meanwhile we need lots of help from people like you. For my part, I will sit on a side aisle and give lots of free advice to everybody, and contribute a regular column called "Around The Circuit" as well as an article from time to time. Your contributions, in the form of stories, photographs, "memorabilia" and suggestions will always be welcome.
For those of us who are members of A.T.O.E. (American Theatre Organ Enthusiasts, now American Theatre Organ Society), membership in THS should entail no conflict of interest -- simply an extension of a special enthusiasm. MARQUEE plans to limit its concern with theatre organs to their consoles, grilles, players and presentation -- all externals in a manner of speaking - and at the same time hopes THEATRE ORGAN BOMBARDE will continue with its wonderful "Acre of Seats in a Palace of Splendor" feature. And subscribers to the CONSOLE need have no fear of cross-purposes in the pages of MARQUEE; there is enough material on theatres to keep everybody fascinated for years to come.
I would like to invite you to join with us in this interesting and worthwhile venture by becoming a Founding Member of The Theatre Historical Society. In return, we need three things from you: (1) A check for [old dues amount]. (2) A list of names and addresses of people you think would like to join the Society as regular members (dues are [old dues amount] which includes the first six issues of MARQUEE). (3) Your comments, ideas and suggestions on how the Society and MARQUEE can best serve us all in our mutual and rather unique interest. This last request is very important as it gives you a chance to help guide the club in its formative period.
I hope you will join in the fun. Send your check for [old dues amount] made out to The Theatre Historical Society, your prospective-member list, and your comments to me at [old address]. Please do it this week. We want to get the first issue of MARQUEE out as soon as possible, and we need your support before that can happen.
With best remaining wishes,
Ben M. Hall