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CJ Coombs

The historical and now demolished Ambassador Theatre in St. Louis was luxurious back in its day

Ambassador Theatre, St.Louis, MO in 1926.CharmaineZoe's Marvelous Melange from England, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1926, the work of Chicago architects, C.W. and George L. Rapp (Rapp & Rapp), came to life with the Ambassador Theatre that used to sit at N. 7th and Locust Streets in St. Louis, Missouri. The architectural firm was recognized as being nationally known for its prominent work of office and theater buildings. The architectural design was French Renaissance style.

The movie palace-type theatre in St. Louis, Missouri was very lavish during its period. It was around for 71 years until it was demolished in 1997. It's been written that the Ambassador Theater was one of a kind.

Theater history

It cost $5 million to construct the Ambassador Theatre which opened on August 26, 1926.

Critics at that time heralded the building with such comments as the Ambassador 'will take its place among the world’s most beautiful and modern buildings” and “St. Louis' newest palace of wonders.' The day the Ambassador Theatre opened, St. Louisians flocked to see this unique palace. (Source.)

When the theatre first opened, it combined movies with stage performances until 1935 when it focused more on being a movie theatre. These venues helped people to escape from problems, especially with the effects of the Depression.

The Ambassador Theatre had a marble lobby and inside, there was a 40-foot ceiling. The staircase that went up to the balcony was also marble. Imagine marble steps and bronze rails along with Spanish Renaissance chandeliers. There was also an organ that had so much sound to fill the auditorium. Hidden in the walls were 1,000 accompanying pipes.

In the theatre's early years, performers like Ginger Rogers and Bing Crosby appeared. Then, in later years, performers included Bob Hope, Charley Rich, Jefferson Starship, and Cheech and Chong.

By 1953, the theatre's attendance began to wane. It was remodeled as the Ambassador Cinerama Theatre and seats were replaced and a larger half-circular screen was added. The newspapers in St. Louis began reporting that it was likely to close. The original seating was reduced to 1,400 which would allow more leg room.

In the late 1950s, the Cinerama relocated to another building and became part of a chain called Martin Theatres of California. An attempt to modernize the Cinerama in a two-story building wasn't successful.

In the 1970s, there were other attempts to make a movie theatre and a live concert venue at the Ambassador Theatre. Without success, it was forced to close in May 1976. On March 29, 1983, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1989, the owners auctioned off fixtures and fittings, and the theatre and building were demolished.

The area the Ambassador Theatre once stood on is now a plaza for a large bank that was next door. The theater’s destruction is one of the greatest architectural losses in St. Louis' history. (Source.)

The Skouras Brothers Enterprises Inc.

Spyros, George, and Charles Skouras who were originally from Greece envisioned building an upscale movie palace in downtown St. Louis. Their dream became a reality in 1926. The structure contained 17 stories. The theatre had 3,000 seats which were in the first six stories. Their story was a rags to riches story.

The Skouras brothers began as busboys and bartenders and saved their money. By 1924, they incorporated, and in time, they had more than 30 theaters in St. Louis. When the Ambassador Theatre was constructed, they were on top of the world. Their problems began after the Depression hit.

In 1928, their company was acquired by Warner Brothers Pictures, Inc. where the brothers became film production managers until January 1931 when they resigned.

In 1942, Spyros Skouras was the president of 20th Century Fox. He also introduced Cinemascope which helped the movie industry from collapsing with the growing popularity of television. Spyros had children and grandchildren who have worked in the industry. He died at the age of 78 on August 16, 1971.
To the left is Spyros Skouras, president of 20th Century-Fox from 1942 to 1962.Mbarrach, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Charles Skouras was president of Fox Coast West, a company that was named in a lawsuit filed by Samuel Goldwyn claiming there was discrimination against independently produced films. Before the trial took place, Charles died in 1954.

George Skouras was president of United Artists Theatres. In 1952, he joined two others to form the Magna Theatre Corporation to produce and distribute Todd-AO films. George died in 1964.

Click here to see some of the images of the once famous Ambassador Theatre.

The Ambassador was located at 411 North 7th st.  The site is now occupied by a fountain and driveway for U.S. Bank. (Source.)

Thank you for reading.

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