Historic Embassy Theatre
Arts Weekly Speaks to Kelly Updike from the Historical Embassy Theatre
The theatre has been known by its current name since 1952. Attached to the Embassy Theatre to the west is the seven-story Indiana Hotel. The theatre features a 1,100-pipe Page theater organ, which was restored between 1976 and 1996. The Embassy was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the year the theater was reopened as a performing arts center. Since its reopening, the theatre has primarily been used for concerts, Broadway shows, symphonies, family shows, and other events. The stage, which contains a red sequined velour main curtain, was expanded in 1995 to its current size of 44’7″ by 54 feet. The Indiana Hotel lobby and mezzanine were also restored at this time. A new marquee was added to the front façade in 2005 as well as curbside improvements.
On May 14, 1928, the doors of the magnificent Emboyd Theatre opened in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Built as a movie palace and vaudeville house, the Emboyd provided a majestic backdrop for the entertainment of the day, complete with a Page theatre pipe organ. The Emboyd came complete with the seven-story, 250-room Indiana Hotel wrapped around the north and west sides of the theatre. Clyde Quimby, theater operator, had commissioned A.M. Strauss and John Eberson to design the Emboyd and the Indiana Hotel.
Vaudeville was at its height of popularity and the Emboyd featured acrobats, comedians, magicians and musicians. For nearly 25 years the biggest and brightest stars of stage and screen graced the Emboyd stage: Perry Como; Lawrence Welk; Louis Armstrong; Tony Bennett; Chico Marx; Doris Day; Duke Ellington; Cab Calloway; Donald O’Connor; Marilyn Maxwell; Red Skelton; Victor Borge; and Artie Shaw were perennial favorites. Bob Hope’s first emcee job was at the Emboyd. Over time, television and “talkies” slowly eroded the popularity of silent films and vaudeville acts, the mainstay of the Emboyd. In 1952, the Emboyd Theatre and Indiana Hotel were sold to the Alliance Amusement Corporation, along with the Indiana Hotel adjacent to the theatre. The name changed to the Embassy Theatre.
After the sale, the Embassy continued to operate as a movie palace. During this time, the theatre pipe organ, lovingly nicknamed Miss Page, was rarely used. A small group of organ enthusiasts came together to become the unofficial guardians of the organ and its home, the Embassy Theatre. Buddy Nolan was one of these guardians.
With stints playing piano at local restaurants and also employed as house organist at the Embassy in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Buddy and his friends continued to maintain and restore the organ, often with money from their own pockets. In 1963, Nolan played the first concert on the Embassy’s restored Grande Page Pipe Organ from midnight to 2:30 a.m., beginning the tradition of Nolan’s famed Theatre Organ at Midnight concerts. Despite the late hour, Nolan’s concerts were a tourist attraction for theatre organ lovers from neighboring states.
During this time, the Embassy Theatre and the Grande Page held on while other theatres in downtown Fort Wayne succumbed to destruction. Times were changing and the Indiana Hotel was closed in 1971.
Perhaps the most visible renovation project in 2005 was the installation of the new Embassy marquee. Built by Wagner Sign Company in Ohio, the marquee features the well-known design of the 1952 marquee, with lighting components and restored infrastructure. The restored marquee features digital reader boards allowing for show information and messages to be changed rapidly with a computer.
Another addition to the building is the vertical blade sign. Reminiscent of the original vertical blade sign on the theatre when it opened in 1928, the new blade sign reads “EMBASSY.” At the same time as the marquee and vertical blade installation, the Embassy added the Indiana Hotel canopy. Similar to the 1928 canopies along the building’s Harrison Street and Jefferson Boulevard facades, the lighted structure provides better visibility for the building and serves as an alternate entrance for Embassy Theatre patrons during inclement weather.
In 2005-06, Embassy Theatre projects included the renovation and expansion of the ladies lower-level lounge, purchase of new furniture and upgrading of all remaining restrooms.
The historic Embassy Theatre features national productions from the Broadway stage, concerts of all musical formats, cinema, educational programming and a continued commitment to young people. The Embassy and adjoining Indiana Hotel play host to a myriad of professional, social and community events each year. From the annual Festival of Trees to corporate functions and weddings, the Embassy and Indiana Hotel are the perfect backdrops for every event.