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John Eberson

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John Adolph Emil Eberson c. 1912

John Adolph Emil Eberson (January 2, 1875 – March 5, 1954)[1] was an Austrian-American architect best known for the development and promotion of movie palace designs in the atmospheric theatre style. He designed over 500 theatres in his lifetime, earning the nickname "Opera House John".[2][3] His most notable surviving theatres in the United States include the Tampa Theatre (1926), Palace Theatre Marion (1928), Palace Theatre Louisville (1928), Majestic Theatre (1929), Akron Civic Theatre (1929), the Paramount Theatre (1929), the State Theater (Kalamazoo, Michigan) 1927, and the Lewis J. Warner Memorial Theater (1932) at Worcester Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts. Remaining international examples in the atmospheric style include both the Capitol Theatre (1928) and State Theatre (1929) in Sydney, Australia, The Forum (1929, Melbourne, Australia) and Le Grand Rex (1932, Paris, France).

Life and career[edit]

John Adolf Emil Eberson was born in Czernowitz, Bukovina, Austria-Hungary, now south western Ukraine, on January 2, 1875. He was the son of Sigfried and Lora (Schmidt) Eberson.[4]

He attended high school in Dresden, Saxony and studied electrical engineering at the University of Vienna. After completing his studies in 1896, Eberson joined the Fourteenth Hussaren Regiment of the Austrian Army.

Eberson immigrated to the United States in 1901, sailing on a ship that left Bremerhaven. He arrived in New York City, and traveled to settle in St. Louis. His first work there was with an electrical contracting company. Within a few years, he affiliated with Johnson Realty and Construction Company, a theatre architecture and construction company. Eberson and Johnson traveled around the eastern part of America, promoting opera houses in small towns. Once the town was persuaded to build an opera house, Eberson would design it and Johnson would build it. It was in this pursuit that Eberson took the title "Opera House John."[5]

Eberson married Beatrice Lamb (1885–1954) in 1903. She immigrated from Great Britain, and was an interior decorator. They had three children, Drew, Lora Mary and Elsa.

In 1904, Eberson and his family moved to Hamilton, Ohio. It was there that Eberson's first theatre was located, the Hamilton Jewel. The 350-seat Jewel was constructed in an existing, pre-Civil War building.[6] While in Hamilton, Eberson designed local buildings, and continued his opera house design work.

Eberson's first atmospheric theatre, the Majestic in Houston, Texas (now razed)

The Ebersons moved to Chicago in 1910. In Chicago, Eberson was able to increase his theatre architectural commissions. An early client was Karl Hoblitzelle's Interstate Amusement Company. The first two theatres he designed for Hoblitzelle were the Fort Worth Majestic (Fort Worth, Texas, 1911) and the Austin Majestic (Austin, Texas, 1915). Neither was ground-breaking in design, and neither was in the atmospheric style. He first experimented with atmospheric design at the Dallas Majestic (1921), the Indiana Theatre (Terre Haute) (1922) and the Orpheum Theatre (Wichita, Kansas) (1922).[7] It was in the design of the Houston Majestic (1923) that Eberson created his first full atmospheric theatre.

In 1926 Eberson moved to New York City. He opened an office at the Rodin Studios, 200 West Fifty-seventh Street. In July 1929, he made the decision to close the Chicago office and consolidate all of the design work in New York. At about the same time, he formally brought his son Drew Eberson (1904–1989) into the business, although Drew had helped before on many sites. Drew became his partner and carried on the business after his father's death.

Eberson attained national, and even international acclaim for his atmospheric theatres, many of them executed in exotic revival styles, including Italian Renaissance, Spanish Revival, Moorish Revival and others.[8]


Eberson began his theatre design work with traditional, small town opera houses. One of the first designs was in Hamilton, Ohio, where he and his family lived. Theatre historian David Naylor described Eberson as "an architectural Johnny Appleseed for Sunbelt theater-goers."[9] He designed traditional opera houses and theatres throughout the South.

In the 1920s, beginning with the Hoblitzelle Majestic Theatre (Houston, 1923, razed),[10] Eberson perfected a new theatre design, which became known as the atmospheric theatre style. Eberson himself credited the Hoblitzelle Majestic Theatre (Houston, 1923, razed) as the first atmospheric style theatre. Clearly, Eberson tried out some of his concepts at the Orpheum Theatre (Wichita, Kansas) (1922) and the Indiana Theatre (Terre Haute, Indiana) (1922). However, with the Houston Majestic he perfected the style, adding features that made the departure from all that came before.[11]

Many of Eberson's later designs, some executed with his son Drew, were in the art deco and streamline moderne styles. In all, Eberson designed close to 100 movie palaces, located in dozens of states in the United States, including:

Other theatres were designed in Mexico City, Mexico, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.

A significant number of his estimated 500 buildings, and including an estimated 100 atmospheric theatres, have been destroyed. Many were victims of redevelopment; changing taste came to consider the style dated, and the rise of television reduced the demand for theaters with very large auditoriums, with newer business models calling for several smaller auditoriums on one site to allow the screening of several pictures simultaneously rather than just one.

Other works[edit]

Eberson and his architectural firm also designed other buildings. His earliest commission was in Hamilton, Ohio, where the Ebersons made their home beginning in 1904.[21] His first commissioned job was that same year, when he designed an Ionic-columned porch for Mrs. Sheehan, a Hamilton resident, for which he received $20.

Terre Haute, Indiana is home of Eberson's Indiana Theatre, and to one of Eberson's earliest theaters, the Hippodrome Theatre, which opened in 1915. Branching out from his usual theater design, Eberson also designed the home of Theodore W. Barhydt, the man who commissioned Eberson for the Hippodrome and Indiana Theatres. Terre Haute is one of the few places in the world to boast multiple Eberson buildings, including his only residential design.

Eberson helped with the war effort during World War II. He designed a hospital on Long Island, and housing at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and at the United States Military Academy.

His other works included the YWCA Hotel (1931) (atmospheric) Cafeteria, & Gym, 320 NW 1st St, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (razed 1975).


Louisville Palace, Louisville, Kentucky State Theatre, Melbourne, Australia Lobby of the Avalon Regal Theater, Chicago, Illinois Le Grand Rex's "Grande Salle", Paris, France Grand Riviera Theater (demolished), Detroit, Michigan Tampa Theatre interiors, 1930s


  1. ^ "Obituaries". Variety. March 10, 1954. p. 71.
  2. ^ Atmospheric Theaters – When The Theater Was Part Of The Show)
  3. ^ John Eberson (1875 - 1954), Historic Detroit
  4. ^ Hoffman, Scott L. A Theatre History of Marion, Ohio: John Eberson's Palace and Beyond. Charlotte, NC: The History Press, 2015.
  5. ^ Levin, Steve. A John Eberson Scrapbook. Theatre Historical Society of America 27 (2000)
  6. ^ Keim, Norman O. Our Movie Houses: A History of Film and Cinematic Innovation in Central New York. Syracuse: Syracuse UP (2014), 76
  7. ^ Levin, John Eberson Scrapbook, 2.
  8. ^ Williams, Celeste M., and Dietmar E. Froehlich. "John Eberson and the Development of the Movie Theater: Fantasy and Escape." In Contribution and Confusion: Architecture and the Influence of Other Fields of Inquiry. Paper presented at 91st ACSA International Conference, Helsinki. Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, 2004.
  9. ^ Naylor, David (1991). American Picture Palaces: The Architecture of Fantasy (Reprint ed.). Printice Hall Editions. p. 67. ISBN 9780130263292.
  10. ^ Eberson, John. "New Theatres for Old", Motion Picture News, 30 Dec. 1927: supp. n. pag.
  11. ^ Hoffman, p. 55.
  12. ^ cinema treasures & cinema tour
  13. ^ cinema treasures
  14. ^ a b c d "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  15. ^ Rose Theater
  16. ^ Aging Gracefully: At Old-time Picture Palaces, Days Of Greatness Live On March 19, 1995
  17. ^ White, Norval (1991). The Guide to the Architecture of Paris. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 169. ISBN 0-684-19293-4.
  18. ^ "Palace Theatre in Lockport, NY - Cinema Treasures". cinematreasures.org. Retrieved 2021-06-14.
  19. ^ Borough of Yeadon Votes to Demolish Yeadon Theatre
  20. ^ "Open Source: What is the progress on the old movie theater in downtown Ashland?". 13 September 2019.
  21. ^ Levin, A John Eberson Scrapbook, 2-3
  • Earl, John. "Landscape in the Theatre: Historical Perspective." Landscape Research 16, no. 1 (1991): 21–29.
  • Hall, Ben M. The Best Remaining Seats: The Golden Age of the Movie Palace. New York: Bramhall House, 1961.
  • Herzog, Charlotte. "The Movie Palace and the Theatrical Sources of Its Architectural Style." Cinema Journal (Spring 1981): 15–37.
  • Hoffman, Scott L., A Theatre History of Marion, Ohio: John Eberson's Palace and Beyond. Charlotte, NC: The History Press, 2015.
  • Levin, Steve. "A John Eberson Scrapbook." Theatre Historical Society of America 27 (2000).
  • Naylor, David. American Picture Palaces: The Architecture of Fantasy. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1981.
  • Rosenblum, Constance. Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope Along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. New York: New York University Press, 2011
  • Thorne, Ross, Picture Palace Architecture in Australia, Sun Books Pty. Ltd., South Melbourne, Australia, 1976.
  • Wondra, Keith. From the Land of Andalusia to the Wheat Fields of Kansas: A History of Wichita's Historic Orpheum Theatre. Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2011.

External links[edit]