Throwback Thursday: The Empire Theater in the John Martin Smith Collection

Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!

Today, let’s take a look at one of DeKalb County’s earliest movie theaters: the Empire.


Located on W. 7th Street, between Main and Jackson, the Empire offered its patrons a different program every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—or at least it did in its early days. “No repeaters,” warns an advertisement from 1909, making sure to add that the Empire has a “talented singer and pianist” to accompany its silent pictures, which included serials like “The Master Key,” as pictured in the above photo.

Unfortunately, we don’t have much information about the Empire, or what happened to it. The theater was listed in city directories until 1933, and in 1936, a few issues of The Waterloo Press mentioned that the Empire was about to undergo renovations, resulting in a new front, more seating, and new sound equipment.


Apparently a name change came with the renovations—a 1940 directory lists “The Smart Theatre” at the Empire’s address. The theater continued to show films until sometime between 1945 and 1952, when it was converted into a storefront for Auburn TV & Appliances. By 1974, both the TV store and the building to the east of it had been demolished.

To learn more about movie theaters in DeKalb County, check out our post on Garrett’s Gala Theater, or click here, and search for “theater.”

About Jenny

I am the Associate Director of Eckhart Public Library. My office is in the Administrative Annex, but I can often be found roaming the Eckhart Public Library Campus, performing acts of librarianship in every department! I love to read and learn about history. I'm also a huge fan of movies, TV and pop culture in general, and I love to read books of all types. Currently, I'm working my way around the romance section, with some historical fiction and graphic novels thrown in for variety! But you never know what I'm going to pick up next.
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3 Responses to Throwback Thursday: The Empire Theater in the John Martin Smith Collection

  1. Pingback: Throwback Thursday: The Court Theater | Charlie Chat

  2. Pingback: Throwback Thursday: The Crystal Theatre | Charlie Chat

  3. Pingback: Throwback Thursday: Happy New Year! | Charlie Chat

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