Film Theatre Design: The Emerald - A Booming Nickelodeon Business by the River
Updated: Jun 4
FS240A for Dr. Katherine Spring at Wilfrid Laurier University
Location and Naming
The Emerald, which I’ve decided to call my theatre, opens in February of 1908 in Windsor, Ontario (then known as Walkerville). The Emerald derives its name from the greenish tinge of the Detroit River. Just under two kilometers from Michigan, The Emerald will be situated on Ouellette Avenue, a large urban street. Nearby is a florist, The British-American Hotel, bars and pubs and then around the block are homes of families and workers for car manufacturing companies such as Ford, Chrysler and Dodge, as well as ‘Little Italy’. I have selected this location for the ease of importing films from Detroit and other international countries through Detroit’s connections, while still remaining in Canada. It also fits the historical placement of nickelodeons in such that it would be a “poorer shopping district” and close to “slum neighbourhoods” (Allen 194).
The customers of The Emerald are primarily working-class men from Italian, French and British families. As a theatre it aims to serve the North American proletariat and their entertainment “needs and desires” by giving the new immigrants and working people a recreational opportunity at a cost they can afford (Allen 195). I would charge 5¢ per program viewing. These targeted men are 25-40, predominantly Caucasian and also have spouses and children. They create the perfect demographic for my nickelodeon because the fulfill the goal market of “big industrial cities with large foreign populations of poorly paid laborers” (Allen 198). The program would run in half-hour intervals, so there would not be enough time to cause lots of trouble. There would also be a rules slide played before each screening session to promote proper behaviour. The visitors could attend “during lunch, on the way home from work, or in the evening, without constituting a major expenditure” (Musser 432). I’d also cater the programing to different genres each day to promote frequent attendance. This would encourage the men to bring their wives or significant others on Fridays, and their children on Saturdays when they would not be in school.
The Emerald is an adapted space, created from an old menswear shop. It is a 1000 square foot space with seating capacity of 150 people. After the economic recession in 1907 (Bowser 1), this is a perfect time to purchase a store front at a cheaper rate since some businesses would have gone out of business at the end of the Christmas holiday season. Outside The Emerald there would be a ‘hawker’ who calls out to folks walking by with music playing from a phonograph as suggested in Bowser’s article (10). One song that could be heard out front would be “I’m Starving for One Sight of You”, a waltz song deemed to be a great hit in 1908 (Variety 17).
The exterior is heavily-decorated with a large green-lighted sign centred over the building with The Emerald written in a cursive font. Bright white lightbulbs line the overhanging section of the roof where you can purchase your tickets and proceed inside. See Appendix F. A gold 5¢ plaque is mounted to the front of the glass ticket booth that is centered under the overhang. The ticket booth is green with fancy gold trim to match the nickelodeon’s branding. A smaller green-lighted The Emerald sign hangs over the right door. People will enter on the right and exit on the left side of the ticket booth. The elaborate interior and exterior spaces are designed to look like those in Pennsylvania, which have been described as having “the very best style” and fine establishments (Moving Picture World 1(34) 537).
Inside the theatre, seats are a priority. I have selected 150 “automatic folding and revolving opera chairs” from The Hardesty MFG. Co. (as seen in Appendix D). They look more ornate than a basic four-legged chair and will not get cold in the winter like the steel-framed chairs. In an article based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, “good opera chairs can be secured at the rate of $1.50”, but I am prepared to spend up to $3.50 per chair (Moving Picture World 3(4) 61. I have selected the Edison kinetoscope underwriters’ model which was listed at $175 in December of 1907 because I think safety is a priority (Moving Picture World 711). It was approved by New York Board of Fire Underwriters and the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity, which gives me hope that it will be less likely to catch on fire or harm anyone either working or visiting my theatre (Moving Picture World 711). See Appendix A. To view the movies, I will have a plain white screen along the back wall. To the right of the screen will be a small stage area for our singing guests to prevent them from blocking the song slides with their shadow (Bowser 18). See Appendix G for the lighting system to be used. I would have a fireproof projection booth as well. As indicated in Moving Picture World from February 1st, 1908, this would give audiences “a feeling of security” and would keep the rest of the theatre free from damage unlike some other theatres in Berryville, VA. (75). Three mirrors would line each side of the theatre’s green walls and the screen itself would be framed with a large gold and ornate frame to match. There would be fans in the corners of the theatre to keep the space cool in the warm summers and to prevent any smells from lingering. See Appendix E for a basic example, similar to the interior arrangement of my own nickelodeon.
For my week’s program I will show shorts that have been tailored to suit daily themes. See Appendix C for the program schedule itself. By having a themed program each day, it gives the audience a reason to come back to the theatre multiple times throughout the week and to also bring their significant others and children with them. I want to emphasize the welcoming nature of the theatre to families on Saturdays because as they get older, the boys in particular will be able to stop in by themselves during the regular week. This program will appeal to my clientele of working-class men because it gives them a way of escaping their repetitive working life in a variety of ways. Different individuals prefer different genres, but this program gives a little bit of choice to everybody. The individual films can be found throughout the Trade Journals and on IMDb as the most popular titles from 1907-1908. “Ben Hur”, for example is produced by the Kalem Company and there are many people writing in to The Moving Picture World in anticipation of its release; “dear sir – kindly advise the writer as to whether a “Ben Hur” film is on the market” (Moving Picture World 1(19) 440). “Ben Hur”, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “The Count of Monte Cristo” are just three examples of films that derive from books. This is the narrative content people are looking for in new films and these films have “great dramatic success” (Moving Picture World 2(5) 70). I will continually strive for a narrative program including “travel, adventure, panoramic and scenery” for my audience to forget about their poor lives for even half an hour (Allen 214). I would rent the films from a distribution exchange in order to save money (Bowser 20). In particular I would use the Detroit Film Exchange, which is listed in Moving Picture World (1(30) 474). The daily programs all will be between 20-25 minutes to allow for a quick turnaround each half hour session. This is standard for 1907-1908 as indicated on page 3 by Bowser. This also results into a maximum of 26 shows per day. I would personally be announcing any important titles and announcements to promote clarity and understanding of what was being presented (Bowser 19); I would act as a narrator.
I would include song slides for “I Would Still Love You” because in the June 1908 issue of Variety it claims this ballad will be very popular with audiences (17). A ballad would fit wonderfully for my Friday date night theme and song slides are in high demand (Moving Picture World 1(30) 467). During the rest of the work week, I would have musical artists come and share their new songs. Music publishers have approached me to get their artists a platform to share their talent and new songs; this means I could have entertainment for free (Bowser 15). On Saturdays, a magician would be hired to entertain the adults and the children alike with their performances. Magicians were noted as a popular act in Clipper on February 1, 1908. See Appendix B. I would also include advertising slides after the first film for local businesses and specifically a toy shop on Saturday and a jeweler on Friday. By building a strong relationship with my commercial neighbours it can only help overall business in the area. I would not have a contest quite yet, but possibly in late 1908 once I’ve established a steady flow of customers and at that point would partner with restaurants in the area or a trip to see the Detroit Tigers baseball team, which would have been established for a few years by 1908. Before the final film would play, I would show a preview of the next week’s programs to ensure the audience was excited about returning to my theatre again. For the musical overtures, interludes, and accompaniment I will use Edison’s phonograph to save on space. See Appendix H for song slides.
In order to reach my target audience, I will use posters in the local taverns, newspaper ads, and have my hawker outside the theatre calling to all those who walk by. In the posters and paper advertisements I will mention top films of the week and encourage participation in order to relax in a clean environment from the hard work the men do in the factories. Once established, the previously mentioned contests involving partnerships with nearby businesses will aid in promotion. I will have small green ‘E’s cut out of wood that will be given to visitors that attend 4/7 programs per week. These can be placed on a shelf in their home as a little trophy for others to see. The Emerald is set to open and be a successful nickelodeon. I think it will have a good run as a theatre and an overwhelmingly popular spot in downtown Windsor.
Appendix A: Projector Selection: “Edison Kinetoscopes.” Moving Picture World, 28 December 1907, pp. 711.
Appendix B: Magician: Richards, P. “Vaudeville Favourites in Caricature.” Clipper. Contributed to by Q. David Bowers and Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, New York Clipper, 1 February 1908.
Appendix C: Program – Film information drawn from: “Most Popular Titles Released 1 January 1907 to 31 December 1908.” IMDb, 1990, https://www.imdb.com/search/keyword?sort=moviemeter,asc&mode=detail&page=1&release_date=1907%2C1908&ref_=kw_ref_yr. Accessed 4 October 2018.
Appendix D: Opera Chairs: Moving Picture World, 3(4), 25 July 1908, pp. 70.
Appendix E: Interior Design: Moving Picture World, 1(39), 30 November 1907, pp. 629.
Appendix F: Storefront: Moving Picture World, 1(39), 30 November 1907, pp. 629.
Appendix G: Stage Lighting: The Billboard, 18(14), 7 April 1906, pp. 11.
Appendix H: Song Slides: Films Publishing Co. Views and Film Index, 3(118), New York, 25 July 1908, pp.3.
Allen, Robert C. Vaudeville and Film 1895-1915: A Study in Media Documents. New York, Arno Press, 1977.
Bowser, E. “The Nickelodeon.” The Transformation of Cinema, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1990, pp. 1-20.
“Edison Kinetoscope.” Moving Picture World, 1(43), 28 December 1907, pp. 711.
Films Publishing Co. Views and Film Index, 3(118), New York, 25 July 1908, pp.3.
“Most Popular Titles Released 1 January 1907 to 31 December 1908.” IMDb, 1990, https://www.imdb.com/search/keyword?sort=moviemeter,asc&mode=detail&page=1&release_date=1907%2C1908&ref_=kw_ref_yr. Accessed 4 October 2018.
Moving Picture World, 1(30), 28 September 1907, pp. 467-474.
Moving Picture World, 1(34), 26 October 1907, pp. 537.
Moving Picture World, 1(39), 30 November 1907, pp. 629.
Moving Picture World, 2(5), 1 February 1908, pp. 79.
Moving Picture World, 3(4), 25 July 1908, pp. 61-70.
Musser, Charles. “The Beginnings of the Nickelodeon Era.” The Emergence of Cinema: The
American Screen to 1907, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1994, pp. 415-490.
Richards, P. “Vaudeville Favourites in Caricature.” Clipper. Contributed to by Q. David Bowers and Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, New York Clipper, 1 February 1908.
The Billboard, 18(14), 7 April 1906, pp. 11.
Variety. University of Wisconsin-Madison, New York, Variety Publishing Company, February 1908, pp. 17.
Variety. University of Wisconsin-Madison, New York, Variety Publishing Company, June 1908, pp. 17.