Nostalgic charm – that is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the Embassy Theatre. From the outside, the square building sports big, wide windows on sidewalk level, topped by pretty sandstone bricks and terra-cotta angels.
The marquee with its huge “Embassy” letters and blinking lights is like something from an old movie, where the lights come on and the stars appear in limousines. But that’s nothing, compared with the inside of the Theatre. If you’re walking in through the front entrance, you’ll probably pass through the vestibule, near the ticket office.
Take a look at the ceiling – notice the golden details around the red and blue insets? A uniform from a former Embassy usher is also on display, against the east wall. The snappy, red and blue jacket and cap are still eye-catching, even though the suit has been retired for many years.
Once through the double doors, you enter the outer lobby, with its black and white marble floor, and then the grand lobby, with its 36-foot high ceiling. Original light fixtures glow against the ivory walls. Stop for a minute – notice all the different designs in the walls? A flower here, a bird there – these were molded from plaster and set in place while still wet. Five entrances lead off from the grand lobby into the main floor of the Embassy auditorium.
At first, all you see are the big double doors, maybe a whisp of chiffon curtains near the top, and darkness within. But after you’ve stepped onto the gently sloped aisle, you’re in a different world The Embassy Theatre, when opened in 1928, was able to seat about 3,100 guests. Today, due to renovations, the auditorium now holds 2,471 guests. However, the place still looks very much like it did when the theatre was opened: details from the past are everywhere, including the original velvet curtains still hanging on the side walls of the auditorium. The stage of the Embassy is 67 feet deep so that it can handle an orchestra, a ballet, or a full Broadway show.
Twin chandeliers on each side of the stage glow with brilliant, jewel-like tones. Notice the rippling golden curtains behind the chandeliers? These are camouflage.
Behind those curtains are hundreds of pipes, drums and other instruments operated by the Grand Page pipe organ. The Grande Page Organ, ornate in its white paint and gold trim, is original to the Theatre (although the original color scheme was burgundy and gold). Still in working condition, this organ was installed by the Page Pipe Organ Company of Lima, Ohio. Only four organs of this size were produced by the Page company. With a fully-illuminated keyboard console, the organ is quite dramatic when it rises from below the stage, rumbling with chords and rippling scales. Think Phantom of the Opera and you have the effect about right.
The Embassy’s auditorium has a main floor and an upper balcony. While the seats on the main floor are good, the best view comes from sitting in the balcony. Perched high up, under the projection booth, you can see the entire stage and hear it even better. Every tone is clear, no static. A note about the projection booth: the Theatre still has working film projectors and spotlights in there, including an original Brenograph projector which isn’t used very often any more. (It’s hard to find replacement carbon rods for the machine.)
Leaving the balcony and heading back downstairs, you might want to explore the lower level of the Embassy Theatre. You access the lower level through the doorway under the grand staircase on the south end of the building. Down several flights of tiled steps, you turn a corner and come to a broad hallway that looks like something from the silver screen. Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor, or a figure from Lawrence of Arabia could easily fit here. Decorated in the Spanish style, the hall is ornate, with molded pillars and scarab beetle designs. A generous Ladies Lounge , recently renovated, is on the west of the hallway while the Men’s Lounge (with an original, non-functioning fireplace) is on the north side. Back up on the main floor, you may exit the Theatre either through the main doors on the north, or through the smaller exit on the South. Of note, if you exit through the south entrance, you’ll pass by the performer’s door. An old fire escape waits, patiently, on the south wall and sometimes, tour busses for different shows park on the asphalt behind the building.
The Embassy Theatre is a wonderful place to experience a performance. But it is also a great site to stop and explore on its own. You never know what new detail you’ll see, some piece of careful work that only an artist would consider important. Why not stop by and take a look?