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The Smith Blog

SMITH HISTORY BLOG: The Changing Marquee

by Austin Jennings

When Schine Enterprises renovated the Smith to become Schine’s Geneva Theatre in 1930 (McNally 49), they wanted to spare no expense to create a high-quality, modern movie palace (“Geneva’s New Theatre”). As an important part of realizing that goal, a grand marquee was installed, complete with blinking lights and a sign that reached to the top of the three-story building which read, “Schine’s Geneva.” While the original 1894 facade of the Smith Opera House remained, it did not survive wholly intact because of the installation the marquee. The carved face of Edwin Booth, for example, which resided above the main entrance arch, was mostly destroyed when a steel beam used to hold up the marquee was driven through his forehead. Since Booth was a famous actor of live theatre, this “seemed a perfect symbol for a new medium thrusting itself into an older one with no compunction, with benign indifference” (McNally 55).

For years the marquee stood outside Seneca Street, advertising the latest movies and live performances. It was finally demolished in 1995 by the Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council (“Building Permit”), owners of the Smith at the time, in order to complete restorations to the facade. Restorations became controversial, however, when board members of the Council as well as Genevans disagreed over what should replace the old marquee. Many people wanted the facade to reflect its late 19th Century history whereas others wanted to make sure events were properly advertised (“Facade Questionnaire”). Ironically, this was not the first time the marquee had generated controversy in Geneva. Gerald Fowler, manager of Schine’s Geneva from 1930-1965 (McNally 66) remembers the original installation of the marquee back in 1931 as “a sore point with a lot of the traditional Geneva citizenry,” (Fowler). Thankfully, it was decided to install kiosks to replace the demolished marquee, instead of installing a new one on the facade.

Shown here are the various iterations of the Smith’s marquee since 1931. As you can see, the marquee that was demolished in 1995 was not the original from 1931. It was most likely replaced when Schine Enterprises lost ownership of the theatre in 1965 (McNally 4).

 

A shot of the bottom of the original Schine’s Geneva Theatre marquee, circa 1941 based on the movies advertised. Courtesy of the Geneva Historical Society from Gerald Fowler’s scrap book.

A shot of the bottom of the original Schine’s Geneva Theatre marquee, circa 1941 based on the movies advertised. Courtesy of the Geneva Historical Society from Gerald Fowler’s scrap book.

 

This clearly shows the entire, original Schine’s Geneva Theatre marquee, circa 1951 based on the movie advertised. It’s important to note that while this is almost exactly what the marquee would’ve looked like in 1931, the word “Geneva” written in script on top of the marquee box is an addition that was not original to the 1931 marquee. Courtesy of the Geneva Historical Society.

This clearly shows the entire, original Schine’s Geneva Theatre marquee, circa 1951 based on the movie advertised. It’s important to note that while this is almost exactly what the marquee would’ve looked like in 1931, the word “Geneva” written in script on top of the marquee box is an addition that was not original to the 1931 marquee. Courtesy of the Geneva Historical Society.

 

This is the marquee from Schine’s State Theatre, circa 1940 based on the movie advertised. It is remarkably similar to the marquee in Geneva, showing that Schine Enterprises may have had a standard for their marquees. Courtesy of the Geneva Historical Society from Gerald Fowler’s scrap book.

This is the marquee from Schine’s State Theatre, circa 1940 based on the movie advertised. It is remarkably similar to the marquee in Geneva, showing that Schine Enterprises may have had a standard for their marquees. Courtesy of the Geneva Historical Society from Gerald Fowler’s scrap book.

 

In 1965 St. Francis De Sales Church burned down, so Gerald Fowler invited the parish to use the Smith for their Sunday services (McNally 69). They are advertised here in this picture which shows a closer look at the Geneva sign written in script on top of the marquee box. Also in 1965, Schine Enterprises lost ownership of the theatre. It is unclear in this picture whether or not the giant vertical “Schine’s Geneva” sign has been torn down yet. Courtesy of Charles McNally’s The Revels in Hand.

In 1965 St. Francis De Sales Church burned down, so Gerald Fowler invited the parish to use the Smith for their Sunday services (McNally 69). They are advertised here in this picture which shows a closer look at the Geneva sign written in script on top of the marquee box. Also in 1965, Schine Enterprises lost ownership of the theatre. It is unclear in this picture whether or not the giant vertical “Schine’s Geneva” sign has been torn down yet. Courtesy of Charles McNally’s The Revels in Hand.

 

A new marquee was built for the theatre as it changed ownership various times after Schine Enterprises (McNally 4). This was what the marquee looked like by the late 1970s. Courtesy of the Geneva Historical Society.

A new marquee was built for the theatre as it changed ownership various times after Schine Enterprises (McNally 4). This was what the marquee looked like by the late 1970s. Courtesy of the Geneva Historical Society.

 

After the Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council gained ownership of the Smith in 1980, the Geneva sign spelled out in block letters on top of the marquee box was removed. This was what the marquee looked like until it was demolished in 1995. The scaffolding is a part of the facade restorations of the early 1990s. Courtesy of the Smith Opera House archives.

After the Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council gained ownership of the Smith in 1980, the Geneva sign spelled out in block letters on top of the marquee box was removed. This was what the marquee looked like until it was demolished in 1995. The scaffolding is a part of the facade restorations of the early 1990s. Courtesy of the Smith Opera House archives.

 

Works Cited:

“Building Permit.” Form no. BOAC-BP 1969, applicant copy, applicant Carl W. Fribolin (FL Reg. Arts Council), permit to demo marquee, 23 May 1995. Smith Opera House archives.

“Facade Questionnaire.” Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council, 1992. Smith Opera House archives.

Fowler, Gerald L. Gerald L. Fowler 1904-1983 “Memories.”

McNally, Charles. The Revels in Hand: The First Century of the Smith Opera House October 1894 – October 1994. Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council, 1995.