Tuesday, August 7, 2012

An Indianapolis cultural icon:
Madame C.J. Walker Theatre

If the city of Indianapolis were ever to hold a community-wide arts and culture festival, one of the facilities that should serve as an anchor venue is the Madame C.J. Walker Theatre, an institution on Indiana Avenue, one of the city's six designated cultural districts.

The theater, located about a mile northwest of Monument Circle, which is considered the heart of downtown, opened in 1927 and quickly became known as "the Jewel of the Avenue," which for a long time was where the African American community turned to develop business and cultivate its musical talent. It's where jazz greats Freddie Hubbard, Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Cole and Noble Sissle planted their roots. It was named for Walker, commonly regarded as the first African American millionaire. She made her fortune with a successful line of beauty and hair products for African American women.

The Avenue -- and theater -- suffered from blight when its businesses and residents moved outward in the 1960s, '70s and early '80s. Many of the buildings were leveled. By 1988, the theater -- one of the few that survived the wrecking ball even though it had been abandoned and closed during those hard times -- was restored and reopened, putting emphasis on the performing arts. The city has only recently dedicated efforts to regenerate the area, giving hope that it can come alive like its days in the early years of the 20th century. A museum has opened in the building, and African American children take advantage of various programs throughout the year, including summer daytime performing arts classes.

I visited the theater -- easily the corner stone of the Indiana Avenue cultural district -- early last month. The theater's staff welcomed my request to do a photo shoot, and the pictures you see here are from that visit. A full gallery of images from the shoot can be found at my site at SmugMug.

Above: You can see my reflection, while taking this photo, in the door windows in this shot of the ticket booth outside the theater's main entrance.

Above: A look southeast toward the downtown Indianapolis skyscrapers.

Above and next two below: Decorative trimming on the theater's facade.

Above and below: The theater's board room.

Above: Children attend arts classes in the 4,800-square-foot banquet hall and ballroom during summer months. Before all classes, parents of the students sign consent forms that allow the children to be photographed.  

Above: Doors to the banquet hall and ballroom.

Above: The kitchen that serves the banquet hall.

Above and next eight below: Scenes from the theater, beginning with the lobby (above and first three below), followed by shots from the balcony and balcony seating a detail shot of artwork on the stage, one of the restrooms and a floor level shot.

Above: The lobby to the main entrance.

 Above: The first of several images from the Walker Museum. 

Above: Across the street from the theater is this landscaping for Sigma Theta Tau International, the honor society for nursing.


  1. I love the Madame Walker and was so relieved when it survived the wrecking ball. Btw, if I may say, the editing you've done on these photos is spectacular.

    Thanks so much for your kind words on my blog; I was very touched. Oh, and if you decide you would like to move forward on your blog I would happily let you use my text. I might even have some ideas I could share. =)

  2. A great tribute, Joe! I love the way you have everything presened...in this order, but I am most intrigued and impresed with the fact that you give equal time to the kitchen and the children's art activities. These tell me this is a busy and buzzing place! Still, quite alive!!! Madame would be very proud to know she left a legacy that is still being carried on and has a great influence on those who came after her. The theatre is beautiufl and very historic...but the aliveness of this place is what really stands out...and grabbed my attention... YES, you did good!!!

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