by Alan Hague
from a series of interviews with owner Steve Ross in October 2002 through March 2003
The Vogue has been a Broad Ripple landmark since Carl Niesse opened the premier movie house June 18, 1938.
Film stars Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers suggested the name "Vogue" to Niesse while visiting Indianapolis.
Below is a photo of Carl Niesse (looking at the camera) with his crew looking at the plans during the construction of the 800-seat theater.
The contractor for the $65,000 job was William E. Mick.
Also shown are architect Edwin Kopf's sketches of the facade.
The newspaper noted
"The striking front is of antique cream and wine terra-cotta, graced with an ultra-type marquee and attractive sign illuminated in power green and amber neon."
Carl Niesse also managed The Ambassador, The Alamo and The Cozy, three other Indianapolis area theaters, under the name Central City Amusements Co.
His parents were Mr. & Mrs Charles Niesse and he was born in Madison, Indiana.
Carl had many jobs; carnival worker in southern Indiana, ticket taker at Enochs Airdome, usher at the Grand Opera House, auditor for the Skouras Brothers (Circle Theater) and a comedy writer for a number of Vaudeville comics.
He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, Scottish Rite and Murat Shrine.
Hoosier cowboy star Ken Maynard laid the cornerstone for the Vogue in a public ceremony.
Maynard said that this brick will be a good luck brick, since there is no stone in the construction of the theater.
Ken Maynard, in his cowboy outfit, is pictured below with Niesse.
Maynard was starring in "Whirlwind Horseman" showing at The Alamo.
Carole Lombard was part of the opening festivities.
Carole and her boyfriend, Clark Gable, signed the bronze star outside the theater.
Twenty-six other movie stars, all with Hoosier connections, also signed the star:
Irene Dunne, Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Marjorie Weaver, Dick Powell, Myrna Loy, Don Ameche, John Barrymore,
Tyrone Power, Ken Maynard, Ginger Rogers, William Powell,
Barbara Stanwyck, George Raft, Bing Crosby, Monte Blue, Joan Blondell,
Shirley Temple, Alice Faye, Loretta Young, Bob Burns, Claudette Colbert,
Francis Dee, Sonja Henie, Richard Dix and Bobby Breen.
The first picture shown was "College Swing" starring Martha Raye and Bob Hope.
Here is an advertisement for the opening of the Vogue.
Comedians Olsen & Johnson stopped in at the opening for some publicity shots and bought the first two tickets.
They were performing at the Lyric Theater.
Admission on opening day was 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children
Niesse tried a new idea. He eliminated the double feature and showed a new concept instead, "short subjects".
Up to that time theaters regularly showed double features and one of the films was usually considered "filler".
While many patrons did not like the double feature, surveys showed that women liked two movies for one price because they thought it was a bargain.
The movie studios agreed with the concept of the short subject, allowing them to produce fewer and better full-length movies.
Here is what the newspaper had to say about Carl's idea:
"Mr. Niesse is introducing a novel note, for these times, into his program.
He isn't cutting it brief with a solo feature, but simply substituting a carefully selected group of short subjects under the title of "The Vogue Variety Hour,"
for the much-abused second attraction.
The current bill, for instance, includes an Audioscopics (where the pictures jump out at you),
Pete Smith's "How to Train a Dog," one of the "Crime Doesn't Pay" series, a cartoon, a fashion subject, a musical comedy brevity
and a full newsreel--62 minutes of interesting this and that in addition to "College Swing."
He hopes you'll like the idea--and we suspect you will."
The single feature idea worked for a few months, but when Niesse returned to the double feature his ticket sales grew by 30 percent.
The Vogue was one of the first movie theatres to have air-conditioning.
Here is what the newspaper reported:
"Air-conditioning in the Vogue will be by water-cooled air.
The water used in the plant is drawn from deep wells.
The washed and cooled air reaches the auditorium through air-ducts, all of which are soundproof.
The ducts are equipped with deflectors to prevent drafts."
The Men's and Women's lounges were elegant and sophisticated.
The local newspaper description:
"Inside, the Vogue furnishings and architecture continue the modernistic motif with tubular divans in cream and black upholstery.
The women's lounge has a color scheme of ivory and orange and is carpeted with a futuristic rug pattern.
The men's smoking room, decorated in Roman buff, also is furnished with modernistic appointments."
The projection booth had two arc-lamp projectors and a bench for rewinding films.
Note - while the projection booth has since been converted into the general offices for the Vogue Nightclub, the original medicine cabinet on its restroom wall still remains.
On the left is the theater lobby in 1938.
The poster sitting on the floor by the lounge door is for "Three Blind Mice" starring Joel McCrea, Lorretta Young and David Niven.
On the right, the lovely Vogue ushers in their stylish uniforms.
Another new idea at the Vogue was a large (400 car) parking lot where movie patrons could park for free.
Below, left is a picture of the new parking lot taken from Carrollton Avenue and on the right, a give-away to promote the parking lot.
Note - in the upper right corner of the parking lot picture you can see two houses still on Broad Ripple Avenue, where Union Federal is now.
Throughout the late 1930's and 1940's the Vogue was one of the premier movie houses in the mid-west.
The Vogue was remodeled in 1948.
You can see the new light-up Vogue letters above a now larger marquee in the picture below.
The films listed on the marquee are "Kiss the Blood of my Hands" starring Joan Fontaine and Burt Lancaster and "Miss Tatlock's Millions".
Carl Niesse sold the Vogue in October 1954.
He died in January 1960 at the age of 63.
The last movie I remember seeing at the Vogue was "Tora, Tora, Tora".
My wife remembers seeing "House of Dark Shadows".
Eventually, in the early 1970's the Vogue changed from a premiere first run movie house to a first run X-rated movie theatre, featuring such classics as Deep Throat and Hard Candy
In 1977 John Ross and Doug Turnbull purchased the Vogue.
To announce the new ownership, the marquee displayed a take-off on the recent film "Born Free"...
They invested $500,000 in the old theatre and remodeled it, putting in tiered seating, oak floors, a balcony, a larger stage, and three full service bars.
On December 31, 1977, New Year's Eve, the club opened to a sold out show with a band named Coal Kitchen.
John and Doug ran the Vogue until May of 1986, when they sold it to Steve Ross and Dennis Burris, pictured below left to right.
In September 1993 the Vogue received another major remodeling.
Steve and Dennis invested $250,000 in changing the club's interior appearance.
They reconfigured the front bar area, added a deli, added the center dance floor bar, installed 100,000 watts of lighting and sound systems, quadrupled the size of the dance floor, and painted the entire club.
The Vogue presents all types of entertainment, including full production plays, musicals, talent shows, band contests, benefits for charitable causes, comedians, movies, and hundreds of local, regional, and internationally renowned artists.
A few of the entertainers that have played the Vogue:
Warren Zevon, Bo Diddley, Leon Russell, the BoDeans, The Romantics, Shawn Colvin, Johnny Cash, Buckwheat Zydeco, George Thorogood, The Psychedelic Furs, Huey Lewis, John Mellencamp, The Blues Travelers, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Jett, Frank Zappa, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Meat Loaf, Mick Fleetwood, Little Feat, Cheap Trick, Wynton Marsalis, David Crosby and Graham Nash, Todd Rundgren, Sonia Dada, Emmy Lou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Dave Matthews, Robert Cray, David Byrne, Maceo Parker, and Willie Nelson.
The Vogue has won many awards, such as "Best in Indy" from the Indianapolis Monthly Magazine and NUVO Reader Polls and Indianapolis Star critic's picks.
It is part of a family of nightclubs, comprised of the Vogue and the Patio in Indianapolis, and the Bluebird and Axis in Bloomington.
The Vogue remains successful.
This sold-out performance and the long line at the box office is a regular sight on College.
It has survived longer than any other business in Broad Ripple due to the hard work of its many owners over the years to adapt it to serve the ever-changing customer.
It stands as a Broad Ripple landmark and a piece of architectural history.
If someone gives directions for a location in Broad Ripple, chances are the Vogue is included in the description.
The familiar painted sign by the stage door (left) and the current owner, Steve Ross, out in front (right).
The story of the autographed star in the sidewalk is still a mystery.
It is believed that Niesse took it with him when he sold the theater in 1954.
It hung in a local bar for a time.
Then in 1994 it was "re-discovered" when a local TV reporter did a story on an eastside woman with a star.
Ross and Burris heard about the story, made a bid for the star and were able to reacquire it, partially because they were going to return it to its original home in the sidewalk.
They repaired the star and sank it back into the sidewalk under the marquee and celebrated with an unveiling ceremony.
The star can still be seen there today and is a reminder of Broad Ripple's connection to the Hollywood of the 1930's.
6259 N. College
Indianapolis, IN 46220
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