Friday, April 13, 2012

Ritz Theatre

910 Court Avenue

The Ritz was built during 1927 by Harry J. and Jeanette Cramer, most likely to a design by Chariton architect William L. Perkins. Two and a half years later, during February of 1930, a major southside fire gutted the building but spared the facade. Restored and rebuilt during March, April and May of 1930, the theater re-opened on May 22, 1930.

Construction of the Cramer Building, immediately west of the Ritz, commenced as soon as restorative work on the theater had been completed. Its predecessor, also owned by the Cramers, had been completely destroyed in the February fire.

The second floors of both buildings formed the Cramer Apartments, in their time the most desirable apartments on the square, occupied by the Cramers and many others during the last 80 years.

This is how the theater looked during early 1931, only a few months after it had been rebuilt behind the earlier facade. The theater marquee and signage changed greatly while the building was being used as intended. The current marquee has been in place far longer than the original. The building's major structural loss has been the elaborated crest of the facade which gave it a far more distinctive appearance. There is some possibility that the vaguely mushroom-like stone finials that crowned the facade had been recycled from the three-front retail block demolished to make room for the theater and its neighbor to the west.

This general scheme prevailed into the 1960s. Who removed the crest of the facade and whether it was because of structural issues or merely to "modernize" the building's appearance are unknown.


Harry Cramer had arrived in Chariton ca. 1917 from Albia, where had had been in business, and opened a dry goods business that burned. He then acquired a three-front retail block on the south side of the square that had been built ca. 1902, by the heirs of John Branner and known as the Branner Block. That block is second from the left in this postcard view, sandwiched between the buildings that now house Chariton Floral on the left and the massive Temple Building, on the site where Hammer Medical Supply now is located, on the right.

During 1919, he married Jeanette "Jane" Sterett and they operated until 1926 a women's clothing stores in one of the three storefronts while living in the "Cramer Flats" on the second floor.

During 1926, the Cramers closed the clothing store, had the east two-thirds of their building demolished and the Ritz Theatre building inserted in place. The west third of the Branner Block remained intact. The theater probably was designed by Chariton architect William L. Perkins. At least it was attributed to him in an article announcing his death, published in The Chariton Leader of Aug. 13, 1957.

If you look carefully at the mushroom-shaped finials crowning the cornice of the older building, it looks as if they might have been salvaged and lifted to the top of the new theater building, although that is merely conjecture.

The new theater, descrited in The Chariton Leader of August 30, 1927, as "one of the best play houses in Southern Iowa," was "formally dedicated to public entertainment" on Wednesday evening, Aug. 31.


He Will Erect Addition to the Present Building, 40 by 85 feet
Chariton Herald-Patriot, March 24, 1927

Chariton is soon to have another theatre building, with a seating capacity of about 800 people, which may accommodate more when the occasion requires. As soon as the stock of the Woman's Shop is disposed of, the closing out sale now being on, this room will be remodeled into a modern theatre, and an addition will be erected on the south 40x85 feet, which will make the dimensions 40x165 feet, reaching from the street to the alley. The auditorium will be dropped eight feet below the present floor, giving an average height of ceiling of twenty feet, with accoustic proprties well arranged for when used for speaking purposes.

The stage will be large and well equipped, with appurtenances thereto to meet all requirements of a first class show house, which will be a comination opera and picture theatre. Much of the materials for the structure is already assembled and the structural steel is being received and a number of immense girders are on the grounds, with others to be located as the work progresses, as the entire building is to held up by steel supports and these large beams. It is understood the Bests have the contract for the erection, and will have everything completed by midsummer.

Chariton Herald-Patriot, May 19, 1927

The last of the three huge steel girders in the new theatre building on the south side of the square were put in place Wednesday of this week. There will be considerable excavating work to do, but the mason work is rapidly nearing completion.

Chariton Herald-Patriot, June 9, 1927

Work is progressing quite briskly now on the new theatre building, which H.J. Cramer is erecting on the south side. He has named it the "Ritz." This is an abbreviation of the Riitzy-Carlton hotel of new York (sic ?!?). It is a coincidence that a new theatre at Centerville is called the Ritz, but this was not known at the time.

Masons Commence Laying Brick at New Ritz
Chariton Herald-Patriot, July 14, 1927

This morning masons started work laying brick and stone for the front of Harry Cramer's new Ritz theatre. The front will be of cream colored brick layed with black mortar and with the stone trimmings will make a very attractive front.

On the interior of the building the work of plastering and putting up the metal work to hold the same is progressing at about the rate one should expect. As soon as the plastering and painting is completed work will likely commence on pouring the floor and rounding out the finishing touches to the building.

Manager Thompson Closed Final Arrangements at Des Moines Wednesday
Chariton Herald-Patriot, August 11, 1927

Wednesday, the last day of August, will be the first day for the new Ritz theatre, for on that day, it is announced by Mr. Cramer, the new picture and play house will open its doors in Chariton for the opening performance, probably a photoplay program. Mr. T.W. Thompson, of Albia, who has been engaged to manage the new house, was in Des Moines Wednesday completing the final plans for the inauguration of the Ritz. Mr. Thompson came directly from Des Moines to Chariton and announced the result of his work and it was decided to make the announcement public without further delay.

Mr. Cramer had hoped it would be possible to open at an earlier date, possibly by the middle of August. The work of construction of the building has taken more time than had been expected but with all that the delay is not so great.

The stone work on the top of the building will likely be completed today. The brick work on the front was finished Tuesday, and the last of the cement poured for the floors Wednesday. The marble flooring in the lobby, some plastering and painting are yet unfinished jobs. The seats for the auditorium and scenery for the stage are here and will likely be installed next week.

The new house when completed will meet the approval of Chariton picture fans for it seems to be complete as to retail and built with the intention of affording every comfort to its patrons.

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