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.