“There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy. “The Refuge of the Derelicts” – 1905
When I lived on an 18-wheeler for a brief year or so-many moons ago, the hometown of the Van Company was Indianapolis. As each day rolls along, it becomes more apparent to me, anyway, that this is indeed a small world and the degrees of separation are indeed less than the 6 of Kevin Bacon fame. I personally have seen it in as little as 2 degrees.
It is like a string of hit songs only we are discussing interesting theatres. This one created by the shriners and this one too, carries rumours of being haunted.
I see the pattern here of theatres that are owned by or operated by Live Nation-curiosity leads me to wonder about the inner pattern connections between Warner Records, William Morris Entertainment and Live Nation…. interesting….but on to today’s theatre.
Stop # 19
Theatre: Murat Theatre at Old National Centre, Indianapolis, IN
Trivia Facts/History about Murat Theatre
The Murat Shrine, now officially known as Old National Centre and originally known as the Murat Temple and Murat Centre, is an entertainment venue in Indianapolis, Indiana owned by the Murat Shriners of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine and is the only stage house in downtown Indianapolis that is still standing, the only Shrine temple in the world with a French-originating name, and the largest Shrine temple in North America.
The Murat Temple was built in 1909 by the William P. Jungclaus Company using the designs of Murat Shriner Oscar D. Bohlen, with Middle Eastern and Egyptian stylings that were fitting for a building intended for Shriners. Its namesake is the Nubian Desert Oasis, Bir Murat, which was named for the Frenchman Joachim Murat, who was one of Napoleon’s generals in his Egyptian campaign.
The building was finished in just under a year at a cost of $200,000. The theater opened on February 28, 1910, with the Schubert Organization of New York leasing the property and, as became the tradition, the Murat nobles and ladies were treated to opening night. The main entrance and marquee was on New Jersey Street a few feet north of Michigan. The theater seated 1,950. Broadway came to Indy with the Ziegfeld Follies and many wonderful shows. The performers all loved the style and, more importantly, the acoustics at Murat. The theater was formally dedicated May 16, 1910, followed by a ceremonial with 190 candidates.
The Murat Shrine is mostly known by the people of Indianapolis for its theater, which was built in 1910. In its early days it featured Broadway plays and even a 1932 speech by Winston Churchill. Between 1948 and 1963, it was the only road show venue in Indianapolis. Before Clowes Memorial Hall opened in 1963, it was the home of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra; the Orchestra only survived the Great Depression due to the nominal fee the Temple charged the Orchestra for using the theatre. The orchestra made recordings with Fabien Sevitzky in the theater for RCA Victor between 1941 and 1953. The Indianapolis Opera Company briefly used the facility during the 1980s.
By the 1980s, the leadership was aware of a growing problem with the older parts of the mosque, with seriously deteriorating terra cotta trim, copper roofing, marquee, and roofs. The temple embarked on a long campaign to “restore” the old buildings, including selling naming rights to windows, bricks, and so forth. The Elias J. Jacoby Foundation, Inc. was formed as the principal means of raising money on an after-tax basis, one of the first of its kind in the nation. The John Brush Society, Inc. was formed to promote renewed performances in the theatre; and the J. Worth Baker Library Foundation, Inc. was formed to be a repository for the masses of memorabilia.
In 1983, Murat reached its highest membership, more than 23,000 nobles; parades and parading units were in grand and full form; the Murat Shrine Circus was enjoying increasing attendance, theatre parties and travelogues were well-attended, and social events in the 70 Units and Clubs associated with Murat Temple were ubiquitous.
By 1995, faced with substantial necessary restoration costs for the older buildings, the nobility was debating a major change for the temple. Under Potentate Jerry Scott, a deal was struck to lease the two older parts to then Sunshine Productions and the city of Indianapolis. Sunshine and its partners modernized the structure and made it beautiful at a cost of 12 million dollars. In return they received a 99-year lease. Sunshine, now Live Nation, added another 681 seats, and 64 miles of electrical wiring was added. A mural now graced the west wall. The structure itself was strengthened with 550,000 pounds of steel; 4,480 yards of red carpet, 1,200 yards of drapes, and 3,000 gallons of paint made Murat the centerpiece of the Massachusetts Avenue Art District.
There are rumors the temple is haunted. They are so persistent that several years ago a group of experts in the paranormal stayed all night in the temple to check those many reports. Footsteps, lights, conversations, and strange noises all had been reported. The most enduring moment revolves around the portrait of Potentate Jacoby. He has been seen several times with a tear in his eye. No one is sure why the tear or why he haunts.
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