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The Hoblitzelle & Interstate Theater Collection

Karl Hoblitzelle. 1910 ca.

Karl Hoblitzelle
1910 ca.

"In his own way Karl Hoblitzelle has been an empire-builder -- and his is a prouder achievement than the empires that have risen and fallen since 1906, for his is built not on the forces that divide men, but on the ideals which unite them." —Cecil B. DeMille

Karl Hoblitzelle (1879-1967) was a self-proclaimed "pioneer" in vaudeville and motion picture entertainment in the South. He got his start in the entertainment business at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (alternately, St. Louis World’s Fair), where he rose from office boy to acting director in charge of demolition within the period of four years. Shortly after the close of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a group of concessionaires approached Hoblitzelle and his brother George to invest in a prospect to build a group of vaudeville theatres in the South, which was basically bereft of theatres at that time. The Hoblitzelles invested $2,500 to open Interstate Amusement Company in 1905, whose first theatres included the Dallas, Fort Worth and Waco Majestic Theatres and the San Antonio Empire theater. In the beginning, Hoblitzelle considered Interstate Amusement Company a mere investment and had no intention of managing it himself, but because of the other investors’ inability to effectively run the company, he assumed the position of president in early 1906.

The Majestic Theater. Dallas, Texas. 1910 ca.

The Majestic Theater
Dallas, Texas
1910 ca.

In in its early period (1905-1920), Interstate was principally a vaudeville booking and exhibition company with theatres in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The South was slow to accept vaudeville as a legitimate form of entertainment; such theater was often characterized as a "Gateway to Hell" in the popular media of the time. Interstate is frequently credited with removing the stigma from theater-going and turning the theater into a center of family-oriented civic and community activity. As Hoblitzelle tells it,

It was a heart breaking job to convince the good people of Texas in those early days that we were presenting only clean, wholesome entertainment. A good many of the men connected with the theater of that day occupied questionable positions in the community. They had graduated out of the saloon or gambling business and the public looked askance at them.

Theatrical programming during the early years consisted of seven vaudeville acts daily and occasional early moving picture exhibition. In 1920, one of the first full-length motion pictures to be shown by Interstate to great public delight was the silent film classic, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, starring Rudolph Valentino. While it did continue to operate theatres in other Southern states for a period of years, Interstate’s primary location for theatres was Texas and its center of operations was moved from Chicago to Dallas in 1915.

The Bijou Theater. Austin, Texas. 1910 ca.

The Bijou Theater
Austin, Texas
1910 ca.

The 1920s were a prosperous and exciting time for Interstate Amusement Company. Hoblitzelle employed some of the most famous architects to build palatial theatres that seated thousands and were targeted toward upper- and middle-class theater-goers. Just as Southern audiences were hard to win over to vaudeville, they were similarly stubborn about abandoning it as motion pictures became the dominant entertainment form in the 1920s. Interstate had assumed a "vaude-film" policy in the early 1920s, whereby vaudeville acts were balanced with motion pictures. This policy was so successful in its theatres throughout the 1920s that Interstate was loath to give it up quickly. However, the increasing influence of motion pictures resulted in the slow death of the national vaudeville industry by the late 1920s. Recognizing that he would have to make substantial changes to Interstate to continue to maintain industry dominance, Hoblitzelle opted instead to seek an integrated parent company to take over Interstate. After unsuccessful negotiations with Fox, Hoblitzelle found a buyer in RKO. Interstate Amusement Company was sold to RKO in May 1930; Hoblitzelle retained ownership of the Dallas, Houston and San Antonio Majestic Theatres and acted as a landlord to RKO for these properties.

The Tyler Theater. Tyler, Texas.
1962

The Tyler Theater
Tyler, Texas
1962

The 1930s would prove to be a challenging time of reorganization for Interstate. At its heels was the Stock Market Crash of 1929, and in front of it was the Great Depression. The crash did not immediately impact the motion picture industry, however, by 1932, attendance had declined to such an extent that many studios could not stay afloat. This led to bankruptcy in several cases, including RKO and Paramount, who went into receivership on the same day in January 1933. Because RKO had paid only half their required rent in 1931 and 1932, when they went into receivership Hoblitzelle was able to repossess the theatres he still owned. Additionally, he signed a contract with the Paramount trustees in bankruptcy for the organization of new corporation, Interstate Circuit, Inc., a 50/50 merger. In early 1933, Interstate Circuit, Inc. assumed operation of the former Interstate Amusement Company-RKO theatres and Paramount-owned Southern Enterprise Theatres in Texas. Later in 1933, Paramount trustees requested that Hoblitzelle assume management control of its Publix theatres after their former manager was killed in a car accident. The Paramount-Publix theatres, mostly found in small towns in Texas, formed the basis for a second Hoblitzelle company, Texas Consolidated Theatres.

Karl Hoblitzelle and Cecil B. DeMille

Karl Hoblitzelle and Cecil B. DeMille

By the mid-1940s, Interstate had over 150 theatres in Texas. This was part of a larger industry trend for consolidation, and it was not long before the federal government stepped in to investigate allegations of antitrust in the motion picture industry as a whole. The Department of Justice issued the 1948 Paramount Judgment whereby Paramount’s domestic exhibition business was separated from its production and distribution businesses. As a result of the Paramount Consent Decree finalized in 1951, divorced chains were required to either buy or sell out of joint ventures. Consequently, Hoblitzelle sold 100% of his stock in Interstate theater Circuit to United Paramount Theaters (the new exhibition arm of Paramount) and remained manager of the wholly owned subsidiary until his death in 1967. Sewell notes, “although Interstate lost considerable influence after the 1948 Paramount decrees and the 1951 sale, it was the most significant Texas exhibition chain until the decline of the downtown theater and the rise of the multiplex in the late-sixties and early-seventies.” Interstate kept its regional offices at the Majestic theater in Dallas until 1976, but major Paramount management had shifted to New York by that point.

Sources:

Faust, Katherine and Paul B. Beck. Interstate theater Collection MS-5 Archival Register. Interstate theater Collection, Dallas Public Library, 1980.

Harris, Lynn (presumed author). The Story of Karl Hoblitzelle. Hoblitzelle Interstate theater Circuit Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, ca. 1955.

Hinga, Don. Forty Years of Community Service: The Story of Karl Hoblitzelle and the Development of Interstate Theatres. Dallas: privately printed, 1946.

Sewell, Phillip W. "Texas’s Theater Monopoly: A History of Interstate Theaters,1905-1951." Austin: Master’s thesis, University of Texas, 1996.




HOBLITZELLE & INTERSTATE Theater COLLECTION

The Hoblitzelle Interstate theater Circuit Collection, donated to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center between approximately 1962 and 1964, is composed of four distinct parts.

I. Interstate Business and Historical Records

This 46-box archive is the core of the Hoblitzelle Interstate theater Circuit Collection. It features scrapbooks dating from 1915-1963 which document Texas motion picture history; ledgers, booking registers, and administrative records from Interstate theater Circuit; vaudeville- and motion picture-era photographs and news clippings; historical materials relating to Karl Hoblitzelle and Interstate theater Circuit, film catalogs and trade papers; theater management materials; theater programs and photographs; and marketing and publicity materials. This collection is fully accessible and may be extensively searched through the on-site Hoblitzelle Interstate theater Circuit Collection database.

II. Adjunct Collections

A. American Cinema theater Collection: 4 boxes of photographs, news clippings and programs related to theatres throughout the United States. Photographs include interior and exterior shots of theatres, publicity stunts, and select theater personnel dating from the early to mid- 20th century.

B. Texas Cinema theater Collection: 3 boxes of photographs, news clippings, programs, and historical works related to theatres throughout Texas. Photographs include interior and exterior shots of theatres dating from the early to late 20th century.

C. James O. Cherry Collection: 2 boxes of photographs of Interstate staff members with celebrities who visited Texas during the 1940s-1950s.

D. Grady Wilson Collection: 1 box of publicity and theater management materials related to Interstate theater Circuit primarily from the 1940s-1950s.

E. World Exposition Collection: 4 boxes of programs, photographs, blueprints and administrative records from the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

F. Esther Thomas Hoblitzelle Memorial Library Collection: 2 boxes of photographs of Hoblitzelle silver, art, and home from 1960s.

All adjunct collections are fully accessible and may be extensively searched through the on-site Hoblitzelle Interstate theater Circuit Collection database.

III. Hoblitzelle Interstate theater Circuit Advertising Collection

This collection features movie stills, posters, lobby cards and other advertising ephemera from Interstate theater Circuit dating from the 1930s-1960s.

IV. Hoblitzelle Interstate theater Circuit Music Collection

This collection features 27,000 pieces of silent film and vaudeville scores from 1915-1940 from the Palace theater in Dallas. It is currently inaccessible.

 

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