A 90th Birthday Party
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The opening of the Emboyd Theatre on May 14, 1928 was a pretty big deal, as one can imagine when reading what the News-Sentinel had to say about it:
“Today at 1 P.M. Fort Wayne Proudly Receives Its Magnificent New Theater. Come to the opening today of the Emboyd. You’ll thrill to its sumptuous beauty – revel in its atmosphere of luxurious comfort – and marvel at the giant inaugural entertainment program. Follow the Eager Throngs to the Opening of Indiana’s Wonder Theater – a Gala Event the Memory of Which You’ll Cherish Forever!”
Now, 90 years later, the theater later renamed the Embassy is celebrating its rich history in style. The May 19 community celebration is only one aspect of that celebration. Sharing the origins of that history – with quotes like that from the era – is another important piece of the puzzle. Those who attend this Saturday’s festivities will have access to all of that and more.
“Our entertainment committee wanted to show what going to a movie at the Embassy would have been like in the 1920s,” says John Hughey, the Embassy’s marketing director, “so we’re having the Farmland Jazz Band playing songs from that era, and we’ll have tap dancers as well as Mark Herman coming back to town to play the Grande Page Organ. Mark is from Fort Wayne and is popular here, so it only seemed right to have him come back to his hometown and play for this celebration.”
In addition to that, attendees can look forward to performances by the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir and Fort Wayne Dance Collective and a Buster Keaton silent film classic, Haunted House. Such an eclectic lineup provides a pretty good idea what the early Emboyd years looked like.
“This is what a night out in the 20s would be like,” says Hughey. “Going to a movie was a major outing. It wasn’t just a movie like it is today. There was live entertainment with vaudeville acts and the organ which would play during the film and before. We’re trying to incorporate all of those aspects into the evening.”
Adding one more special wrinkle is the restoration of the old Embassy Brenograph, a remarkable machine which helped project images before newer technology came along to make them somewhat obsolete. The Brenograph and the glass slides used with it were cast aside by those with less forethought than the Embassy. The fact that it survived is thanks to the many who over the years found value in keeping it, and the fact that it’s functional and will be part of the 90th anniversary celebration is thanks to a couple of local volunteers.
“Tom and Penny Mathiesen have been very helpful in making some of the things that have been in storage available again,” says Hughey. “Tom helped connect us to some people, and we now not only have the Brenograph but a vast collection of glass slides. At the May 19 event people will get to experience some of that technology. Instead of coming attractions like you have today, there would be these other things projected on the screen, like the words to a sing-along with the organ. We wanted to showcase what that would look like, and being able to do that has been a major accomplishment. These slides are so special, and this is the largest collection that’s still intact. Many were just dumped when newer technology became available. Now we have it all cataloged, and it’s linked on our website.”
In fact, the Embassy website is now also an archive for much of the theatre’s history, some of which will be on display via a new museum on the first floor where the old Indiana Hotel once stood. Pulling together these displays was also made possible by the Mathiesens who live in Ellettsville, Indiana.
“We have three display cases,” says Hughey. “Act I is called ‘Under Construction’ and features things that were going on during 1928 when it was first being built. Act II is ‘Grand Opening’ and shows some of the images and newspaper advertising for the opening on May 14, 1928. Act III shares some of the other history, like how the theatre came to be named the Emboyd. Clyde Quimby, the original owners, named the theater the Emboyd in honor of his mother, Emilie Boyd Quimby.”
The Embassy, renamed in 1952 when the theater was sold after Quimby’s death, still has many of the old posters and items which today are priceless. The fact that those, the Brenograph and the enormous slide collection are still around and in a condition which allows for continued enjoyment, says something for the pack-rat mentality which have allowed them to endure for almost a century. It also demonstrates how much the Embassy volunteers have maintained the theater’s glory. Once set for demolition, Fort Wayne and its people have saved and improved the Embassy many times over the years, and the Embassy wants to acknowledge that as much as its own history as it marks 90 years.
“We really know that the Embassy belongs to the community,” says Hughey. “Our greatest hope and our goal with this 90th anniversary event is to bring the generations together, to honor the legacy of those who came before us, and to celebrate these 90 years together.”