A Brief History of Emery Auditorium (Theatre)
The Emery was the former home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, a facility possessed of fine acoustics, a seating intimacy that gives the audience in the 1,680-seat house a feeling of being a part of the performance and a convenient location.
The Emery was built through a $500,000 gift from Philantropist Mary Emery, and for almost 25 years the Cincinnati Symphony played most of its concerts there. Conductor Leopold Stokowski called the acoustics "superb - the power of the orchestra in the smaller hall seems greater, but the blending of the instruments is above reproach."
The Emery had three seating levels: The Main floor (orchestra level), Balcony, and Gallery. Getting to the Gallery (3rd level) where the music (especially, the organ) sounded best required a lot of climbing. The architects and Mary Emery’s intention for the Gallery was for the poor working people to be able to attend concerts. But the design had many theatre enthusiasts wondering, “what were they thinking?”
The Gallery was totally separated and segregated from the lower balcony and main floor. It had its own entrances from street level (Walnut Avenue), ticket windows, stairs, rest rooms, and exits. The box offices on either side of the lobby are double-sided, with windows to the lobby and windows to the gallery stairwells.
The Gallery was not a safe place to yell, “FIRE!” There was only a single, always-locked door from the lower part of the theatre into the stairwell to the upper part. There was no other way to get from one area to the other inside the building. There is really no lobby for the gallery. During the dedication as well as the next 22 years during the Ohio Valley Chapter’s tenancy at the Emery, the Gallery (with no seats) was closed to the public.
The years between the two world wars were the great days for productions at the Emery. Walter Hampden and Maurice Evans were there in Hamlet. Mme. Schumann-Heinck, Fritz Kreisler and Rachmaninoff were there in concert, and Anna Pavlova, Russia's prima ballerina, danced on the Emery stage during her farewell American tour. In recent years, several other theatres in downtown Cincinnati followed the Albee into disuse, but the Emery stood - waiting.
The word went out to ATOS members that volunteer help, and money, were needed to dismantle the Albee organ and install it in its new home on the Emery stage. Mr. and Mrs. John J. Strader, prominent Cincinnati theatre organ lovers and philantropists, responded with substantial contributions. The couple then expanded their generosity by securing the largest theatre screen in the state of Ohio and by having the excellent professional theatre projectors and sound equipment modernized and overhauled.
For the next seven and one-half years - years, not months - members of A TOS worked to restore the Albee organ in its new home. Finally the task was finished, and on the weekend of October 21-22-23, 1977 the rebuilt organ was dedicated before full houses of cheering music lovers and theatre buffs.
Gaylord Carter was there, tickling the ivories while old silent films were projected on the huge screen. The organ is truly magnificent, better than it ever was in the Albee. When removed from that theatre, it had three manuals and 19 ranks. When it was newly installed in the Emery, it had an additional rank, a 16-foot pedal violone stop from the Austin organ once installed in the Liberty Theatre in Covington, Ky., across the Ohio River.
The rank was donated to the chapter by member Herbert E. Merritt. A special Chinese gong was added to the organ's percussion section, a gift from members Philip and Blanche Underwood. Mr. Underwood had recently retired from Station WLW after 42 years as an engineer. The station had given the old gong to him as a keepsake from the days when WLW originated a number of live radio programs that were heard all over the country.
By the evening that Gaylord Carter touched the dedication keys, more than 20,000 volunteer hours had been spent on the organ's restoration. But, audiences have proclaimed the labor an effort well, worth all the energy. The opening concerts featured Gaylord Carter with a silent film on Friday and Saturday, and Searle Wright and a less theatrical program on Sunday night. .
Next chapter - "The Emery Years"
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LEFT: Left chamber (Larry Klug collection).
RIGHT: Right chamber (Larry Klug collection).
LEFT: Close-up of the console (Michael Detroy collection).
RIGHT: Jack Strader, Bob Jones, Venus Ramey, and Gaylord Carter (Blanch Underwood collection).
Read the article in the February March 1978 issue of Theartre Organ Magazine.
Portions of written content written by Al Kuettner
Historic Emery photos from the Cincinnati Hamilton County Public Library Collection
Emery poster and Gaylord Carter at the console photo came from the Michael Detroy Collection
Gaylord Carter's signature song, "The Perfect Song" brought tears to the attendees during the dedication concert.
His many appearances at the Albee and Emery Theatre brought everlasting impressions to those who hear him.
Gaylord left this world on November 20, 2000, at age 95.