If you've spent more than a day of your life in Fort Wayne you've heard of the Embassy Theatre, the Summit City's magnificent Roaring '20's era movie palace and Vaudeville house snatched from a date with the wrecking ball by citizens outraged at the prospect of losing it. And now celebrating its 90th birthday the magnificent Embassy has presented us with a gift.
Tucked away in a corner of the Indiana Hotel lobby is the new John Mann Heritage Center, a three dimensional biography of the Embassy that begins at the beginning, act one, tracing the design and construction of the then Emboyd Theatre using historic photographs and details from original blueprints. The theatre was named the Emboyd by its first manager, Clyde Quimby, in honor of hiss mother Emilie Boyd. It was renamed the Embassy in 1952.
Act Two of the story takes us to the Emboyd's opening night gala, May 14th, 1928, highlighted by a reproduction of the opening night program.
“What you're seeing are what the patrons would have seen that evening,” says the Embassy's Debbie Woodroof. “We have pictures of all the ushers from the era we have pictures from the theatre lobby and also the mezzanine.”
The standouts in this exhibit room are the artifacts, an original pedestal sink from one of the Indiana Hotel's guest rooms along with hotel towels, stationary and post cards. A tribute to some of the stars who performed on the Embassy stage. And this device called a Brenograph machine, a slide projector used in silent movie days to project special effects and advertisements on the screen. The Embassy owns the world's largest collection of Brenograph slides, many of them lovely hand painted glass plates as crisp and clear as the day they were new. And near and dear to the hearts of many Embassy fans, this tribute to longtime theatre organist Buddy Nolan, this is the blazer he wore for his legendary performances. The exhibits in the Mann Heritage Center will be changed out regularly with other pieces from the Embassy's vast collection of artifacts, each telling a different piece of the theatre's long, proud and continuing story of service, in a town that could not and cannot imagine life without it. This is Eric Olson reporting.