By Stephen T. Jackson
Madison County Historian
Seven movie theaters in Anderson’s downtown area would have a difficult time sustaining themselves in today’s economic climate.
Yet, almost a century ago the city had seven theaters, all featuring silent films, plus the Grand Opera House which offered live entertainment.
The city had been flush with theaters over the previous 15 years. Many had come and gone but, by 1913, Anderson was on its way to an economic recovery from the end of the gas boom era. With the recovery came a stable environment in which theaters could operate and be profitable.
By 1910, the silent film, which was introduced in 1894, had established itself as America’s favorite type of entertainment as evidenced by the number of films being produced by Hollywood. An examination of the movies playing in Anderson in 1913 reveals that films lasted anywhere from as few as two to no more than four days before a new one took its place.
In 1913, the theaters operating in downtown Anderson were the Nickelodeon, Crystal, Meridian, Princess, Star, and Royal. However, at 1 o’clock on Christmas Day the Starland opened. It was destined to reign supreme among all the theaters in the city at its 1115 Meridian Street location until the Paramount opened across the street in August 1929.
Name was in tiles
In the beginning it was to be known as the Faulrose, a combination of names of the two managers, Joe Faulkner and John Roseberry. A contest was held to name the new theater and Faulrose was the winner. However, the name was changed to Starland obviously early enough for “Starland” to appear in the tiling found in the theater’s vestibule.
From the start it was not going to follow the pattern of the established theaters in town with a typical seating capacity of somewhere between 50 and 100 people in seats usually of poor quality. The Starland could accommodate 547 and each seat was leather upholstered with considerable room between the seats. Two ushers were employed to escort patrons to their seats down the theater’s wide aisles.
The colors of old rose and grey adorned the mural decorations throughout the theater adding touches of elegance to the interior which was decorated by Homer Hicks of Anderson.
Another unique feature was the pipe organ manufactured and installed by the Kimball Company of Chicago. The price of the new organ was $5,000. In 1913, that was a substantial sum of money.
Complementing the organ were two baby grand pianos which together with the organ supplied the music to accompany silent films and set the mood for the scene being played out on the screen.
The Starland was described as one of the largest and most beautifully decorated moving picture theaters in Indiana, being modeled somewhat after the Orpheum and Alhambra theaters in Indianapolis. The building was considered fireproof and was in compliance with state laws regarding exits and doors.
Harding gave speech
The building was originally owned by Charles Leib. John Mechel was the architect and Eshelman and Son were the contractors. No records have been found as to its initial cost although there is record of the sale of the building in January 1916 for $15,000.
Adding to this, the managers went on record stating they would be featuring daily only first-run licensed films which were more expensive than the type of films being shown in some establishments.
It was quite an auspicious beginning considering ticket prices ranged somewhere between 5 cents to 20 cents per person as an across-the-board average of the seven theaters in Anderson. The Grand Opera House charged 25 cents for a matinee and between 25 cents and 50 cents in the evening.
The Starland witnessed a bit of history during its years. The composer, author, pianist and publisher, J. Russell Robinson, played there during the silent movie years along with his brother, Johnny, a drummer in the Starland orchestra.
Indianapolis born J. Russell Robinson achieved notoriety in the music world with his song “Margie” which had the distinction of appearing in the musical score of three different movies.
Presidential candidate Warren G. Harding made an appearance in Anderson April 7, 1920. He delivered a speech at the Starland that afternoon. It was only his second campaign speech in Indiana.
The Starland operated continuously from its opening in 1913 until 1929. Records show it was closed from 1930 to 1934 undoubtedly a result of the Depression and competition from the Paramount, State and Riviera theaters. It re-opened sometime in 1935 and remained open until 1941 when it closed its doors for the last time.
On March 29, 1942, the old theater was re-opened under a new name, the Times Theater. Gone were the once elegant trappings that marked the Starland as one of Anderson’s finest theaters.
Today, the former theater building is located at 1119 Meridian St. If you use your imagination, you can see that a portion of the upper-middle part of the exterior has a similar look to its 1913 appearance; thus retaining a piece of historic theater nostalgia for those who enjoy it.
Sadly, for a theater of its importance, only one photograph is known to exist. If you have a photograph of the Starland, please consider bringing it to the Madison County History Center for copying.
For more information visit the Madison County History Center, 15 West 11th St., Anderson, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The phone is 683-0052.