Party of the Century: Artcraft Theater celebrates 100 years with gala, street party


People came from all over Johnson County, and beyond, to see the show.

When the Artcraft Theater opened on November 1, 1922, it was something downtown Franklin had never had. Local residents now had a place to see vaudeville acts – dancing, singing, sketching and other talent – as well as silent films. They came out in droves.

People planned their weekends around the shows. To cater to the crowds, restaurants, hotels, and other businesses have sprung up next to the theater.

The Artcraft was the keystone that held it all together.

“The Artcraft has been such a social and economic center since it was built,” said Rob Shilts, executive director of Franklin Heritage, which operates the theater. “That idea was how this town jumped.

A century later, this remains true. The century-old theater has been the keystone of downtown Franklin’s renaissance since it reopened in 2004. Most weekends of the year, the theater shows classic films, from the “Wizard of Oz” to classic monster film festivals through the holidays. favorites such as “A Christmas Story”.

Ahead of screenings, people flock to the restaurants that are now thriving throughout downtown. Afterwards, they have a drink or a bite to eat in brasseries, lounges and other establishments.

“What we’re doing today, by restoring the theater that they built there, we’re also helping to restore and renovate all of those other buildings,” Shilts said. “Discover Downtown Franklin and the Franklin Development Commission has been a big part of it. It all helped to do what they did 100 years ago. Instead of building these things, we renovate and restore.

Such an important piece of county history deserves a celebration. In recognition of its centennial and its place in the Johnson County community, the Historic Artcraft Theater hosts “A Century of Cinema,” a gala reminiscent of the glitz and glamor of 1920s Hollywood.

The event will feature vaudeville acts, tap dancers, fortune tellers, a live auction and a silent short film with accompaniment. Authentic ’20s-themed cocktails, concocted by local mixologists, will flow as guests munch on appetizers and desserts.

Afterwards, a street party, complete with festive drinks and vintage musicians, will keep the party going well into the night.

“We try to go back to that opening day on November 1, 1922 and capture what it must have been like,” Shilts said. “We want to celebrate that Artcraft has had such an impact, not just on Franklin and Johnson County, but much, much bigger.”

“Enthusiastic applause”

The Artcraft Theater opened to much fanfare on the first day of November 1922. Local businesses and supporters raved about the unveiling of the grand theatre. To welcome first-time guests, director Arthur Owens selected the famous silent film “The Old Nest” to serve as the premiere.

Despite the rain, 400 people attended the opening night

“In addition to the presentation of the famous film “The Old Nest”, vaudeville numbers were given by Jules, Riley and Vaughn, professional musicians and entertainers from St. Louis. The trio played banjo, guitar, and harp-banjo, and did solo, duo, and trio vocal numbers. Their work was met with enthusiastic applause by the public, who also showed their appreciation for the photo game,” read a Nov. 2, 1922, front-page article in the Franklin Evening Star.

Trueman Rembusch, owner of Syndicate Theaters and whose family was a major player in the Indiana theater industry, purchased the Artcraft in 1936. The theater remained a full-time theater in the Syndicate Theaters chain until 2000.

Visitors to Artcraft immediately notice the distinctive Art Deco designs, reflected in the neon lights and other architectural features. These additions were made to the theater in 1944 and were important to maintain while the modern owners renovated it.

The Artcraft operated continuously throughout the 20th century. But in 2000, he ended his full-time acting career and became an all-purpose venue instead.

Trying to capture the nostalgia of Artcraft, Franklin Heritage launched its “Classic Cinema on a Classic Screen” film series in 2001. But the series was put on hold two years later when the theater was deemed unsafe. Still, supporters refused to give up the theater. Franklin Heritage purchased the building in 2004 and began restoration work. The theater reopened to the public on June 16, 2004.

Since then, the authorities have invested considerable sums of funds and manpower in repairing and maintaining the theatre. The facade and the marquee were completely redone, structural deficiencies corrected, a mobile screen installed and a myriad of other projects carried out.

A once in a lifetime party

Work is still ongoing on the theater and Franklin Heritage officials continue to raise funds for these projects. The Centennial Gala on September 10 is one such fundraiser.

“A Century of Cinema” will bring people into the Artcraft for a 20s-style party rivaling the theater’s opening night.

Buster Keaton’s “One Week” will be the featured silent film, with live accompaniment by Phil Beaman.

Performers include the Honey Taps, a tap group from Chicago, as well as the acoustic group Walnut Street Ramblers from Lexington, Kentucky. A specially produced video encompassing the theatre’s 100 year history will be screened prior to the start of a live auction.

The pace will be intense, Shilts said.

“We want to keep that vaudeville rhythm. Back then, things were scheduled in 15-minute blocks, and even movies were short. So a lot of those performances are going to keep that pace and keep going,” he said.

The party then moves to the streets. Under massive tents set up on North Main Street and the adjoining County Annex parking lot, people can show off their Foxtrot, Charleston, shimmy and other dances to the beat of the Cool City Band, a classic swing band.

Magicians, fortune tellers and other performers will engage with visitors in the crowd. Series of vignettes are provided for people to be photographed.

“We encourage everyone to put on ’20s clothes,” Shilts said. “It’s a great way to get into that vibe and imagine what it must have been like.”

Bars and dessert stations will be set up around the performance area. For customers who want to relax a bit, a separate tent will serve as a “speakeasy”, while mixologists serve beer, wine and signature 1920s cocktails.

“You’re going to have so much fun and so many different things all the time that you won’t know where to turn,” Shilts said.


“A century of cinema”

What: A 1920s-style celebration in honor of the opening of the Historic Artcraft Theater in 1922.

When: 7 p.m. September 10

Where: Historic Artcraft Theater, 57 N. Main St., Franklin

Cost: $125


7 p.m.: Beginning of the 100th anniversary benefit gala

Walnut Street Hikers
Honey taps
“One Week”, silent film by Buster Keaton. Live accompaniment by Phil Beaman
Magician Jamahl Keyes
Candy Phillips Comedy
Artcraft Retrospective Video “Century of Cinema”
Live auction with Rafael Sanchez

9 p.m.: Beginning of the street party

cool city band
Dessert tent and heavy appetizers
Coffee Bar, presented by Main & Madison Market Café
Speakeasy and open bars
50/50 raffle tickets sold
palm reader
Traveling Magician Caleb Wiles
Silent auction open
photo booth
VIP lounge

11 p.m.: The Walnut Street Ramblers perform; end of the raffle and silent auction

11:30 p.m.: Last call

Midnight: the night ends



Comments are closed.