The Roycroft Theater opened in 1925 as a neighborhood theater, complete with a “Robert Morton” pipe organ. It was was owned by Lorenz Lukan (b1884-d1966), and later by John Danz, original name Danofsky, an immigrant from Bronsk, Russia (b1877-d1961).
The Roycroft was one of three Capitol Hill movie houses. The others were the 900 seat Venetian (14th Ave and E Pine St, opened 1926, closed 1958, razed 1960) and The Society Theater (Broadway and E John St, opened 1909, reconfigured as the Broadway Theater in 1921, remodeled to Streamline Moderne in the 1940s, and adapted to a Rite-Aid store in 1990). The growing popularity of television in the 1950s put many neighborhood theaters out of business. Thus too, the grand old Roycroft.
In 1952, a Russian group formed a club which one year later acquired a house that served as their center. In 1959, the club acquired the Roycroft Theater and the adjoining drug store with soda fountain, radio repair shop, etc. All was converted into a ballroom/auditorium, kitchen, and rental space and reopened to the public on October 29, 1960.
Phantoms of the original 1925 theater remain including the proscenium arch of the early movie stage, ticketing booth, period decor and murals, gold trimmed cornices, and stylized fleur-de-lis fusing the practicality and playfulness of the Arts & Craft era.
“Roycroft” means “King’s Craft” and refers to a reformist community of craft workers and artists led by Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) . The movement was said to have strong influence on the development of American architecture and design in the early 20th century.
Asleep but not forgotten is the old theater air system. It provided silent, slow moving, subterranean tempered ventilation to movie patrons. Much of the old system including motor/squirrel cage fan/leather belt drive, heat exchanger, and ductwork have been abandoned but are still intact to view. A fresh air intake is seen in the alley wall with a plenum leading downward to a manually operated mixing chamber. Air delivery finished through the fan/heat exchanger and out into the auditorium. Coal was first used as fuel, then oil; current heating is via gas fired independent space heaters.
The coved lath and plaster ceiling of the theater hides massive wood beams above running north-south from column to column. Above these beams and giving full access to the attic are open pony walls. The pony walls support an independent weather roof.