Rome's Capitol Theatre opened on December 10, 1928, construction on the building having begun in the spring of that year. Although equipped with a stage, an orchestra pit, and six dressing rooms, the Capitol was designed primarily as a motion picture house.
The inaugural program consisted of two Vitaphone sound short subjects, a travelogue, a newsreel, and the feature film, Lilac Time , starring Colleen Moore and Gary Cooper. The “Capitol Grand Organ” was used during opening night to accompany the (silent) travelogue, to play entrance and exit music, and to provide the accompaniment to an audience sing-along.
The Capitol was operated strictly as a movie house for the first 49 years of its existence, although live acts occasionally shared the bill with the on-screen program. In February of 1929 Art Kahn's Orchestra became the first celebrity act to appear, and in April of that year, Paul Whiteman's Rhythm Boys (including a young Bing Crosby) played the theatre with the California Ramblers and other acts. For a few years beginning in the early 30s, Paramount and RKO unit vaudeville was featured two or three times per week, and among the swing bands heard from the Capitol stage in the 40s were those led by Paul Whiteman and Tommy Dorsey.
The Capitol closed as a movie house in 1977. For the next several years the building was used only occasionally for travelling shows. The theatre reopened as the Capitol Civic Center, in 1985. In 2004, there were more than 100 performances at the Capitol covering a wide variety of entertainments, including concerts, live stage musicals and dramas, children's theatre, classic talking movies and silent movies with live organ accompaniment.
Restoration of the Capitol is ongoing, and plans include the reconstruction of the original 1928 marquee and blade sign. Although the theatre received an Art Deco face-lift in 1939, the auditorium is configured exactly as it was in 1928, and much of the original decor remains.
The recently formed Rome Grand Theater Organ Society, a chapter of the American Theater Organ Society, oversees the maintenance and restoration of the original installation 3-manual, 7-rank Moller theater organ. The Rome Grand Theatre organ website (theatreorgans.com/ny/rome/) contains many photos of the Capitol, old and new, as well as information about organ events.
The Capitol is a non-profit organization that relies heavily on membership and volunteerism for its continued well-being. Information on Capitol Theatre membership, volunteer opportunities, or events may be obtained by telephoning the box office at (315) 337-6453 or by visiting when-in-rome.com.
In 2002, a then little-known event called Capitolfest was launched -- a series of silent movies in 35mm with theater organ accompaniment featuring such internationally known organists as Philip Carli and Dennis James. Today, Capitolfest is attended by movie lovers from around the world!
Photos courtesy of the Rome Capitol Theatre Center for the Performing Arts and Rome Historical Society.