Carl Laemmle, father of Universal Pictures, was born January 17, 1867 in Laupheim , Baden- Wurttemberg, Germany. He immigrated to America in 1884, working a variety of jobs before becoming a bookkeeper at a retail clothing store in Oshkosh.
With money saved, he came to Chicago in 1905 with thoughts of opening a chain of five and ten-cent stores. While scouting for locations, Laemmle happened upon a movie theatre in the Palmer House block. The picture show was a novelty to him, as it was to millions of others at the time. He immediately investigated, taking in several shows there. Laemmle also took in movies at the Nickelodeon on Halsted Street near Van Buren.
Carl Laemmle decided not to invest his money in dime stores but instead the motion picture business.
Excerpts from Moving Picture World, July 15, 1916:
“In a very short time he had taken a lease on the property located at 909 Milwaukee avenue, remodeled it, and opened what was known as the White Front theater, ‘the coolest 5c theater in Chicago.’ The opening was on February 24, 1906. The theater contained 214 seats, and was of course, nothing but a remodeled store.
The White Front July 24, 1906
“Mr. Laemmle’s first show consisted of one reel of film and that was only 900 feet long. Each show lasted about twenty-two minutes, and included a song besides the 900-foot reel. Under these circumstances, playing to turn-away business, it was possible for the house to clear as high as $192 in one day, and this is the record for the White Front, though business usually ran around $180.
“Mr. Laemmle also owned another house, having acquired it very soon after the White Front, in April 1906. This theater seems never to have had a definite name. It was located at 1233 So. Halsted street, and like the White Front, was a converted store. These were the only two houses in which Mr. Laemmle had any considerable interest, and his interest in them soon became secondary to his exchange, and that in turn to his manufacturing interest in the Imp Company.”
Laemmle Family Website
Cezar Del Valle is the author of the Brooklyn Theatre Index, a three-volume history of borough theatres. The first two chosen 2010 OUTSTANDING BOOK OF THE YEAR by the Theatre Historical Society. Final volume published in September 2014.
Currently editing and updating the third edition of the Brooklyn Theatre Index, Volume I.
He is available for theatre talks and walks in 2016: historical societies, libraries, senior centers, etc
Now selling on Etsy and Amazon