Monday, October 22, 2012

Greensburg in the Silent Film Era

If you haven't seen The Artist yet, check it out today! It won the 2012 Oscar for Best Picture and it’s available now at the Greensburg-Decatur County Public Library.
I got to see it recently at the historic Strand Theater in downtown Shelbyville during Shelby County ArtsFest. There was something a little bit magical about watching this mostly silent film in a theater that has been around since the early days of silent film - though my viewing partner was not thrilled about the lack of legroom compared to today’s theaters! 

The experience got me wondering about what it must have been like to live through that transition – from silence to sound. We take it for granted now, but The Artist forces us to consider acting as an art form before actors had the luxury of being heard. The movie – and seeing it in a historic theater – also made me curious about how Greensburg handled the change.
The KP Theatre on North Broadway and The Strand Theater on South Broadway are the two Greensburg theaters that would have made the transition from silence to sound. It started in early 1929, when The Strand started showing part-talkies - silent films with one or more audible sections. By April of 1929, they were showing all-talking pictures.

The Shopworn Angel, one of the earliest talking pictures shown in Greensburg, was a partial sound film with just a few lines of dialogue. It was shown at The Strand in March 1929.

Interference was Paramount's first ever full talking movie. It was shown at Greensburg's Strand Theater in April 1929.

The KP was slower to add sound. Perhaps since it was an older theater designed for live acts like musicals, operas, and minstrels, the transition was slightly more difficult. 

In April 1929, the KP was still showing silent films, but notice the very bottom of this ad:
"COMING - Vitaphone Pictures Movietone MGM Acts"

Shortly before The Strand closed down in 1941, a new theater came to town. In 1939, Walter F. Easley – the owner of the KP Theatre – opened The Tree Theater at 121 S. Broadway. The Tree Theater survived as a movie house until 1973. It was demolished in March 1974.

Photo provided by The Decatur County Historical Society
Today, Greensburg only has one movie house - the 11-screen Wolf Theater, located a mile and a half from the square. The days of catching a film downtown may be over, but there are still plenty of historic theaters in the area to visit! 
The Strand Theater in Shelbyville has been in operation continuously since 1916. In 2006, management of the theater was taken over by a non-profit organization, and re-opened after a renovation in 2008. The group strives to bring a variety of entertainment to the theater and to keep the historic building an active and appreciated part of downtown Shelbyville.
The Park Theater in North Vernon also opened its doors in 1916. In 1963, it closed down and became a warehouse.  In the 1990's, interest was renewed in the theater and a group of individuals formed a non-profit organization to save the historic downtown landmark. They raised $1.3 million to renovate, and the theater re-opened in 2003 as The Park Theatre Civic Centre. It serves as the community's performing arts venue, movie house, and civic gathering place. 
You can also catch a performance at the historic Crump Theater in Columbus, the Artcraft Theater in Franklin, and the Buskirk-Chumley in Bloomington. To learn more about historic theaters, check out The library also has a great documentary mini-series on the history of film – Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood - which tells the story of the industry from 1889-1969.

Do you have a fond memory of attending a movie at one of the theaters on the square in Greensburg? Feel free to share it by leaving a comment! 

Researched and written by Lori Osting

Theater advertisements are from the newspaper archives at the Greensburg-Decatur County Public Library. If you have a photo of Greensburg's Strand Theater, please bring it into the library so we can scan it! We would love to see what it looked like.

Check out some additional photos of historic Greensburg theaters on our Picasa slide show! Thank you to the Decatur County Historical Society for sharing these photos!


  1. I spent one year or so in folks moved around a great deal in the 60s. I had just turned 11 in 1965, when I had my first date...yes, my first date. I took Joyce to the Tree, where there was a double feature of "Dr. No" and "From Russia With Love". I paid for the tickets, I bought the treats. We sat on the first row and I kissed her on the cheek. Later that summer, we moved...again. I never saw Joyce again. I heard later in life that she had twins or triplets, something like that, from a friend in college. I remember that we were practically the only ones in the theatre that Saturday afternoon.

    Yes, I started early. Thank you, Greensburg.

  2. Spent many fond Saturday nites in the Tree theatre watching black and white cowboy movies for a ticket price of 12 cents.


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