There were rumors that a new Schine Theater was coming for years and it was announced in the January 29, 1938 issue of Film Daily that, “Contract for the building of the New Auburn Theater, an 1800-seater for the Schine Theater Enterprises at Auburn, has been awarded to Associated Constructors, Inc., of Philadelphia. John Eberson is house architect.”
Construction started immediately at the 16 South Street site. It was cleared for building by February 15th. The building went up at a frantic rate. The foundation was laid by March 15th and steel beams were seen in early April. By June 15th, the main structure was framed in steel beams and concrete forms hinted at the columns and walls taking shape. The steep balcony being created could be clearly seen by this time.
Architect Eberson was known as the “Frank Lloyd Wright of theater design. By then, he had built or redesigned many Schine theaters across the northeast, varying designs to suit size and Schine profitability. He segued effortlessly and almost seamlessly from the beautiful outdoor garden atmospherics and classic palace designs to the show-stopping art deco enchantment that would come to be enjoyed at the Schine Auburn.
No one was better at creating theaters with popular appeal than Eberson. By the mid-1930’s he melded the ornate atmospheric theater into the popular yet waning art deco style by creating a unique outer space atmospheric. This new design idea may have had its roots in the then changing audience appeal for films like Flash Gordon, the exploits of Buck Rogers, and others like Dick Tracy. As well, the massive success that Schine business partners Universal Studios had made with “Frankenstein”, “The Invisible Man” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” surely added a built-in audience appeal to the style of the Auburn Schine.
The foyer and lobby light fixtures are shaped like shooting stars and comets to better carry out the outer space motif. The lobby area is futuristic, with a classic 1930s perspective with sculpted walls and entranceways. The concession stand was low and sleek, accented with loads of chrome. Eberson used the requisite Schine red mixed with vibrant colors in running bands and stripes on the ceiling and an auditorium where stars and planets floated in a deep space sky.
All the walls had a three-dimensional appearance due to the use of a mottling technique, which was layered, then rag rolled in midnight blue and deep purple to achieve Eberson’s desired effect. The ceiling is uniquely shaped in a scalloped shell design that moves in tiers to the balcony area. The matching chandeliers on either side of the auditorium were an impressive sight. Opal multicolored glass formed the huge star shape from which double comet tails arched gracefully from each side of the star. The tails were deep coves in the plaster sky, softly back lit for a dramatic effect.
The outside of the building looked nearly complete by August of 1938, set to join the two others. The Palace Theater originally opened during film’s infancy by George H. Morgan, as the Morgan Theater. It was Auburn’s first theater built for the movies. The Jefferson Theater, built by Thomas Mott Osborne, opened not too long after as a legitimate theater. It was physically attached to the sprawling Osborne Hotel, Auburn’s largest and leading full-service inn.
The Schine Brothers spare no effort or expense in telegraphing with posters and handbills how unbelievable their Auburn theater would be. Posters heralded the opening of “New York State’s Most Beautiful Comfortable Theater.” State of the art sound systems were considered then put in. Comfortable theater seats, a dynamic proscenium and artist designed carpeting made to coax theater guests to stay for one more performance was installed.
When the theater opened on September 15, 1938 it caused a great deal of excitement and an energy that grew through the decades. The Auburn Schine Theater became the center of attention in Auburn’s downtown. It is a building like no other in town, where young people went on dates, families watched Disney films and older folks enjoyed a night out. It holds the collective memories of generation after generation and is happy to share each one of them with those who enter.