The Majestic Theater: East St. Louis, IL

Year:

1928

This is one of three theaters in the exhibit built along Route 66 and designed by the Boller Brothers between 1927-1928. Carl and Robert Boller were sons of German immigrants and raised in St. Joseph Missouri. Two of ten siblings, Carl was the second oldest and Robert the youngest. The eldest was Will Boller, a well-known vaudeville performer known as Boller the Magician. Carl became interested in theater and toured with his older brother. In 1903 he was asked to help design a theater in Pittsburg, Kansas. This became the first of hundreds of theaters he designed throughout the American Heartland.

In 1905 Carl Boller opened an architectural practice in Kansas City, Missouri. Many of Carl's early theater designs were heavily influenced by the pavilions of the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Robert, 19 years younger than Carl, joined his brother at the firm as an apprentice draftsman when he was 18 years old. Like Carl, Robert had an interest in theater and the two brothers made a name for themselves in theater and movie palace design. They were well established by 1917, with Robert overseeing projects in California and Carl becoming president of the Kansas City AIA chapter.

Movie Palace madness consumed the nation after World War I, and the Boller Brothers firm took off like a rocket. Carl moved to California to open a branch in LA, where he lived for the rest of his life. Nearly all of the subsequent Midwestern Movie theaters designed by the Boller Brothers were likely designed by Robert. The three shared here show their use of local motifs and attention to detail.

There is much more to be said about the Boller Brothers and the current state of their buildings. Some, like the KiMo, are revered landmarks, while others, like the Majestic, are modern ruins that deserve to be saved.

Photographer:

Matthew Dickey