The Storied Success of The Alhambra Theater
The building at the northwest corner of S. Harrison and Broadway in Shelbyville was constructed for The Alhambra Theater and now houses Elegant L. | photo by ANNA TUNGATE
by DAVID CRAIG
During the early 1900s, Shelbyville had become famous as a furniture manufacturing city. “Little Grand Rapids” was the nickname given to our town by the furniture industry. A Shelbyville businessman would also make Shelbyville famous in the young motion picture industry.
One hundred years ago, 1899, Frank Rembusch started his first business in Shelbyville. Rembusch and John Ainsley rented the vacant Murdock planing mill. Here the two men operated a mirror manufacturing company. Rembusch would reorganize the business several times over the next seven years.
In 1907, Rembusch and Enos Porter operated the mirror plant. During this period, Frank Rembusch created a glass motion picture screen. The early movie houses showed films on screens made of material. The new “glass curtain” was a big improvement. When the partnership broke up, Porter kept the mirror works and Rembusch took the motion picture portion of the business.
Needing a place to test his screen, Mr. Rembusch decided to construct a state-of-the-art theater in Shelbyville. The northwest lot at the intersection of Broadway and Harrison Streets was purchased in 1911. Here the Alhambra Theater would be constructed.
The building that Frank Rembusch erected cost $40,000. It was one of the largest buildings in Shelbyville at the time. It was constructed so at least two more stories could be added at a later time. The exterior was made of Oriental bricks.
The steam-heated theater would seat 500 people. It was estimated that an additional 200 could be squeezed into the theater if necessary. The chairs were covered in leather and arranged so there was not a bad seat in the house. The concrete floor was inclined so it could be washed down and kept sanitary. A parlor was located in the balcony that could be rented for theater parties.
The stage was made large enough to hold vaudeville acts as well as motion pictures. One of the lasting characteristics of the building was the bungalow tower located at the front of the building. It was lit at night and could be seen over much of the town. Sometimes on Saturday evenings an orchestra or a local band would occupy the tower and entertain the large downtown crowds.
Opening night for The Alhambra Theater was January 15, 1912. The mercury had dipped to 17 degrees below zero that evening, but this did not reduce the size of the audience. Over 1,600 people attended the opening performances at the Alhambra. All 1,600 were fascinated by the building and proud that Shelbyville had one of the top theaters in central Indiana.
During the next four decades, thousands of Shelbyville citizens, young and old, were entertained in the building Frank Rembusch designed. For many, the first time they saw a movie was in the Alhambra. Many married couples can say their first date was at the Alhambra. On Saturday mornings, the theater would be filled with school kids. They would see the serials and watch cowboys capture the bad guys and save the girl.
The Alhambra showed the rest of the theater owners the success of the “glass curtain”. By January 1913, over 600 glass screens had been installed in theaters. They had been shipped to all parts of the United States and even overseas.
A year after the grand opening of the Alhambra, Rembusch threw a party to honor the success of his business. He invited several hundred friends to a special showing on the evening of January 15, 1913. Frank J. Rembusch would construct many other theaters. At his death in 1936, Mr. Rembusch owned over 30 theaters in Indiana and Illinois.
ON THE ROAD
Prologue: The novel “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac was written on a single roll of paper, 120 feet long. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay purchased the original for $2.43 million dollars. From time to time, Jim unrolls a few feet of the famous manuscript for public viewing. Kerouac called this style of writing “spontaneous prose.” According to Kerouac, any revision in writing is like telling a lie. Any revision of what is written destroys capturing the truth of the moment.
In the spirit of spontaneous prose, this column allows you readers to join me and Sandy on our road trip to Florida. The tape recorder is running. Enjoy!
Sandy: Are you really going to type up exactly what you are recording?
Kris: Yes, that’s the whole point of spontaneous prose. The readers will feel like they are actually with us as we begin our trip to Florida. I’ll just see how it goes while I drive this first leg of our journey.
Sandy: You might want to rethink your idea of no revisions. When you type up what you said as a prologue, you need to call it a preface.
Kris: Why so?
Sandy: Because what you said is not a prologue. Your explanation of your motivation for writing in spontaneous prose is a preface. A prologue would give your readers some background details of the story. Maybe tell a little something about us and our previous history of road trips together. I could write something at the beginning to explain your cheesy hobby. Of course, if I wrote it, it would be called a “foreward.”
Kris: Well, it’s too late now. Just as well, I’m guessing I might not like your “foreward” to my story, anyway.
Sandy: Do you think you’ll make it to the county line? Last time we drove to Florida, you needed a nap before we got out of Shelby County.
Kris: It wasn’t a nap. I got a cramp in my leg that year. I just fell asleep when I put the seat back to straighten out my leg. Oh no, did I forget my bag of snacks and sleep pillow that I had sitting by the front door?
Sandy: Yes, you did, but I got them. Remember, you promised to not wear your sleep pillow while driving. People honk. It is annoying.
Kris: Hand me a Moon Pie. Driving makes me hungry.
Sandy: We’re still on Mechanic Street. You better pace yourself or you will run out of snacks before we get to Kentucky.
Kris: Maybe we can stop at a Stuckey’s in Kentucky. I can replenish my snack supply with pecan logs. You know it was the pecan log that made Stuckey’s famous. So, how do you think this will read when typed up? Will a lot of my readers enjoy the trip?
Sandy: Before I answer your question, are you really going to type exactly what I say?
Sandy: OK, I predict this trip will be as enjoyable as a Stuckey’s pecan log. You do realize that all the Stuckey’s closed years ago. Furthermore, I think about the same number of readers will like this column as show up every time you sponsor a promotional event at “The Helbing.” I predict that I will receive sympathy cards from readers suffering along with me through your spontaneous prose.
Kris: Don’t count on any sympathy cards from my readers. Your suffering through this column will just excite the schadenfreude in their hearts. Do you think if I type this up on a single roll of paper like Jack Kerouac, Jim Irsay will buy it?
Sandy: Why would Jim Irsay want to buy your roll of words?
Kris: Well for one, he bought Kerouac’s roll of words. He might want to add to his collection. And two, I chipped in to build his stadium. So, he kinda owes me.
Sandy: I must have missed that cancelled check when balancing the checkbook. When did you chip in on building the Colts stadium?
Kris: Shelby County is one of the donut counties. All donut counties have a special stadium tax. We all chip in whenever we eat at a restaurant. Every time Earl and I have a soiree at Three Sisters we chip in on the stadium.
Sandy: Well, if you do transcribe this tape on a single roll of paper, make sure the paper is soft, absorbent, and two ply. Then, if Irsay doesn’t buy it, someone might pay you a premium for it if a covid variant causes another toilet paper shortage.
Kris: Do we have time to stop and visit either Rock City or Ruby Falls?
Sandy: In a word, NO! Maybe we can stop at the hillbilly cabin that was accidently built on a gravity vortex. You can once again be amazed at the ball rolling uphill.
Kris: The ball probably just had an electromagnet hidden in it. What amazed me was when the hillbilly used the hand pump, and the water was running uphill. Is that a truck stop up ahead? I think it’s time to switch drivers.
Sandy: Do you have a cramp in your leg?
Kris: No, I’m ready to eat and take a nap. Let’s stop for a sandwich.
Sandy: You do realize this is just the St. Paul exit. Although I must admit you drove longer than last time. We have crossed the county line. I hope Jim Irsay doesn’t have any spies watching us. By purchasing your sandwich in Decatur County, you are avoiding the stadium tax. I guess if Jim doesn’t buy your roll of words we will know why.
Editor’s Note: Years ago, I went on a road trip with columnist Meltzer to our “sister city”, Shelbyville, Kentucky. It was old 421 all the way. We ran out of Moon Pies just this side of St. Omer. Sandy, you have my sympathy.
Former Shelbyville High School assistant basketball coach Brent Dalrymple coached Class A North Daviess to its first state championship yesterday, defeating Lafayette Central Catholic, 48-46, in double overtime at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Dalrymple has coached the Elnora, Ind.-based Cougars for 22 years. Dalrymple served as an assistant coach and teacher at Shelbyville for five years, working with head coach John Heaton. The Indianapolis Star published a photo of the two coaches celebrating after the game.
HOOSIER NEWS: Indiana University Health’s new flagship hospital in downtown Indianapolis will feature three multi-story inpatient towers that could rise as high as 16 floors on the health system’s sprawling campus along 16th Street, undergoing a 44-acre expansion. The new $1.6 billion facility, which will take the place of both Methodist and University hospitals, will stand on the southwest corner of 16th Street and Capitol Avenue and take four to five years to build. IU Health Methodist Hospital will remain where it currently stands until its successor opens, then parts of it will be razed and parts saved and used as needed. A bridge over 16th Street will connect the old and new. (IndyStar)
This Week in Shelby County" works by George L. Stubbs Sr. are owned by the Shelby County Historical Society (Grover Center) and used with permission.
THIS DAY IN SHELBY COUNTY HISTORY
News around Shelbyville and the surrounding area as reported on or about this date in history. Selections are curated from the Shelby County Public Library Genealogy Department.
20 YEARS AGO: 2002
The Shelbyville Parks board approved an all-nighter co-ed softball tournament to be held at Blue River Park during the Bears of Blue River Festival. Festival president Jeff Martin announced that Henry Lee Summer would be the musical act for the festival’s final night. The Drifters would also perform. In other parks news, a logo created by Coulston Elementary fifth grader Jennifer Jobe was chosen for the new skatepark at Morrison Park. The design featured a helmeted squirrel carrying a skateboard. The facility would be known as the “Ramp-Age” skatepark, thanks to naming contest winner Gareth Powell, a Shelbyville sixth-grader.
30 YEARS AGO: 1992
After the Shelby County Clerk’s office certified 1,993 signatures, 10 short of the 2,003 names needed to represent 20 percent of registered voters (10,013) in the district served by Shelbyville Central, teacher Roland Stine vowed to undertake a third petition drive to change the board from appointed to elected. In response to a request by Stine, Board members had refused to dissolve the board. Stine’s first drive was deemed 115 signatures short of the number needed to continue the process. A second drive was led by Stine, but school administrators had used computers to find duplicates, sending the drive back to square one.
Former Shelbyville High School basketball coach and assistant principal Dennis Blind was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Blind coached the Golden Bears from 1960-65. His first team won the Columbus sectional. In his final season, the Bears won the conference title. Blind got out of coaching in 1965 but stayed as the school’s assistant principal until 1969. He had played for Lafayette Jeff as a student and started four seasons at Purdue University. Other inductees included Bill Keller, Rick Mount, Dave Schellhase and former NBA coach Del Harris. (Blind passed away in 2020.)
40 YEARS AGO: 1982
St. Paul Boy Scouts Scott Ficklin, Robert McNeely and Todd Kulpinski, all members of Troop 548, spent their spring break week painting the town’s 40 fire hydrants.
Several new stained glass windows were installed at St. Vincent Catholic Church as part of a major remodeling project. A new marble altar was also installed.
50 YEARS AGO: 1972
Judith Lynn Staker, 12, of Long Acres, won the Loper Elementary spelling Bee. Cindy Williams was the alternate.
60 YEARS AGO: 1962
Shelbyville Motors Inc. salesmen Paul Graham, George Rogers Sr. and Francis Fancher were honored for sales success at a Ford dealership conference at Murat Temple in Indianapolis.
70 YEARS AGO: 1952
Police Chief Lloyd Mellis announced applications were open for new hires. Starting salary for police officers was $3,000 (approximately $32,000 in today’s money). A 3 percent raise would be given after two years and after another four years, another 3 percent raise would be authorized. Three percent more was added at five years and 10 years of service. Officers worked 48-hour weeks with 15 days of paid vacation. Applicants must have a high school education, minimum of 170 pounds at be at least 5’10”, Mellis said.
Shelbyville senior center Dave Kelley won the Paul Cross Medal. Rev. S.J. Cross made the presentation. Coach Frank Barnes gave out other awards and recognized the coaching staff, including Malcolm Clay, John Page and Herbert Day. Letters were awarded to Kelley, Jim Plymate, Morris Brown and Ray Phillips. Sweaters were given to Jim Bass, Gordon Potter, Steve Davis, Bob Ewick, Tom Taylor, Norman Poe, Bryan Toll and Larry Porter. Reserve “S” Letters were given to Buddy Rogers, Bill Stone, Jerry Lawson, Richard Applas, Ernest Conrad, John Kehoe, Sandy Sirkus, Bill Latshaw, Bill Kremer, John Schoentrup, Bob Mullen, Frank Phillips, Tom Boye, Steve Hendricks, Phil Brown and Bill Mann. “55'“ Freshman numerals were given to Steve Brown, Jim Deupree, Monte Hitchcock, Robert Gallagher, Marvin McLane, Phil McLane, Keith McLeod, Robert McNew, Jim Miles, Richard Moorhead, Charles Olinger, John Reece, Bernell Richardson, Don Schless, Jim Spindler, Lawrence Talbert, William Wilson, Bob Cole and Homer Brown. Student managers were Jerry Plymate, Phil Kelley, Jim Cecil and Charles Morgan.
80 YEARS AGO: 1942
Fourteen crypts were offered for sale at Temple Hill Mausoleum, which had been owned by an estate but were no longer desired.
Two new E-7 Simplex projectors were installed at the Strand Theatre, manager Russell Branson announced. The old projectors were moved to the Alhambra Theatre. “The new ones were purchased as a preparation for the duration of the war, as there will be no new projectors made under the priorities ruling,” The Republican said.
90 YEARS AGO: 1932
The Baker Chocolate’s “Dutch Girl” gave a demonstration of products at the DePrez store.
James Fletcher Johnston, Shelby County’s oldest resident at 96 years old, died at his Sugar Creek farm. Johnston was born on the farm where he died on April 10, 1836 to Eli and Martha Johnston. His son, Bert Johnston, was a poultryman in Boggstown. His daughter, Eva Cashing, had been killed five years before when her car was hit by a train near Fairland.
100 YEARS AGO: 1922
Blue River Country Club members donated furniture for use at the soon-to-be completed clubhouse building. Furniture was taken to the J.B Hamilton Furniture Company and to Hamilton’s home on E. Polk St. so that pieces could be refurbished.
Kelly Marie Quack, 61, of Fountaintown, passed away Saturday, March 26, 2022, at her home. She was born August 22, 1960, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the daughter of Walter and Beverly (Judeika) Schindler. On July 16, 1985, she married Robert Joseph Quack, and he survives. In addition to Robert, Kelly is survived by her mother of Spokane Valley, Washington; daughter, Kelsey Quack of Lexington, Kentucky; brothers, Bud Schindler and wife, Colleen, Marty Schindler, Bob Schindler and wife, Tina, all of St. Mary’s, Kansas, Joseph Schindler and wife, Polly, of Spokane Valley, and Andy Schindler; sister, Mary Berg of Denver, Colorado; mother-in-law, Barbara Jean (Suttle) Quack of Indianapolis; and numerous nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her father; and father-in-law, Robert E. Quack.
Kelly graduated in 1978 from Tremper High School in Kenosha. She was a member of Saint Joseph Catholic Church and also attended Saint Mark’s Catholic Church in Southport. Kelly was a title insurance examiner at First American Title Insurance, for last five years of her 30-year career in real estate title insurance. She enjoyed going to the Indianapolis 500. Kelly loved her family and cherished the time she spent creating memories with them. She was musically inclined and played the piano and violin. She also enjoyed watching and feeding the hummingbirds.
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 31, 2022, at Freeman Family Funeral Homes and Crematory, Carmony-Ewing Chapel, 819 S. Harrison St. in Shelbyville. The rosary will be recited at 3:30 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10 a.m. Friday, April 1, 2022, at Saint Joseph Catholic Church, 125 E. Broadway St. in Shelbyville, with Father Mike Keucher officiating. Interment will be at Saint Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Shelbyville. Memorial contributions may be made to American Cancer Society, 5635 W, 96th St., Suite 100, Indianapolis, Indiana 46278. Online condolences may be shared with Kelly’s family at www.freemanfamilyfuneralhomes.com.
Judy Bass Van Dao passed away peacefully at Walker Place in Shelbyville, Indiana, on March 25, 2022. Born May 8, 1940, Judy was the daughter of Raymond M. Bass and Marie Crosby Bass of Fairland.
Judy graduated from Waldron High School in 1958. She attended Purdue University for two and a half years before transferring to Ball State University. She graduated from Ball State with a degree in Medical Technology. Judy was employed at Thornton Hammond for three years before moving to Hawaii in 1965, where she worked at Sun Towers Hospital. While in Hawaii, Judy met her husband, Hoa Van Dao, in 1967. They were married in 1968 and celebrated 45 years of marriage before Hoa’s passing on October 19, 2013. In 1969 Judy and Hoa moved to El Paso, Texas, where Judy worked at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, from which she retired after 20 years.
She is survived by her only child, Michael Raymond Van Dao, her beloved Shih Tzu Molly, and her sister Ann B. McDaniel, as well as many nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her husband, Hoa Van Dao, her sister Allene B. Eiler, and her brothers Marsten R. Bass, Dwight S. Bass, and Dwain J. Bass.
Judy loved to travel and enjoyed horseback riding, Purdue football, and decorating. She was a friend to nature and animals.
A gathering of friends and family will be from 10 to 11 a.m. Thursday, March 31, 2022, at Waldron Methodist Church, 202 W. Washington St. in Waldron. A celebration of Judy’s life will be at 11 a.m. at the church, followed by a meal at 12:30 p.m. Please RSVP by leaving a message at 317/512-1145, by noon on Wednesday. Services have been entrusted to Freeman Family Funeral Homes and Crematory, 819 S. Harrison St. in Shelbyville. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Shelbyville-Shelby County Animal Shelter, 705 Hale Road, Shelbyville, Indiana 46176. The family extends special thanks to the staff of Walker Place and to Kindred Hospice.
Terry A. Whited, 66, of Shelbyville, passed into the arms of our Lord after a long illness on March 25, 2022. Born August 16, 1955. Terry was raised in and graduated from high school in Norton, Virginia. He was a very talented musician and singer. His music was his gift to all that heard him. Terry loved riding motorcycles and telling jokes and stories. He had many friends in Texas and had a heart of gold.
Terry was preceded in death by his parents, Harry and Pauline Whited. Those left to cherish his memory are his brother, Larry Whited of Shelbyville; sister, Sonia Collins; nieces, Kim and Missy Collins; nephew, Chris Collins; and his fiance', Cookie from Virginia.
Services entrusted to Freeman Family Funeral Homes and Crematory, 819 S. Harrison St. in Shelbyville. Online condolences may be shared with Terry's family at www.freemanfamilyfuneralhomes.com.