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The Palace Theater

The Palace 

By Jay Gravatte

At the turn of the century, many theaters lined “movie row” as 4th Street in Louisville, Kentucky was then known. All along the strip, movie houses sprung up to provide audiences with a splendid atmosphere of luxury they could only imagine in the movies. Many famous cinemas from that by gone era are no more, names like the Majestic, the Casino, and the Rialto are but a distant memory. Few recall the “Hollywood glitz and glamour” era. Today, all have fallen aside to history and parking lots. Where once these temples to the silver screen stood, the music, laughter, and tears are now silenced …. Save from one, The Louisville Palace Theater.

The tile facade building stands as it has for almost 80 years, its dazzling neon marquee a final reflection of a bygone time when Downtown Louisville and 4th Street was THE place to see and be seen. When the theater opened as Lowe’s Theater on September 1st 1928, very few theaters in Louisville could rival its opulence and luxury. Designed by John Eberson, the magnificent theater cost an estimated $1.2 million dollars. With the many fountains, tapestries, and statues all harkening to the Spanish revival motif, movie goers were transported to another place. Floating clouds and glistening stars lining the make believe sky on the ceiling awed theater patrons. In the mid 1950’s, due to business deals the theaters name was changed to United Artists Theater, however to almost everyone in Louisville, it was still known as Lowe’s. Along with the modernism of the 1960’s, more changes came to the Palace; the balcony was sealed off to provide additional room for another movie theater called the Penthouse in 1963 and an escalator was installed. The 1970’s brought lasting changes as well, with the rise of suburban living and the decline of downtown, the audiences once gathering there dwindled and the Palace ran its final reel in early 1978.

In August of 1978, two investors purchased the building and reopened it in November of 1981 as the Louisville Palace night club. Due to labor disputes and financial mismanagement the nightclub closed in 1985. In 1991, an investment group from Indianapolis Indiana, Sunshine Theater Co. gained the controlling interest, and began a massive renovation and refurbishing of the theater to its original splendor insuring that it is one of Louisville’s foremost entertainment experiences to this day.

This is where the story then takes a more intriguing turn. There is a legend to the Palace that dates back to the 1990’s restoration and reopening. It was during this time that workers began to see a man at a variety of places around the building. An older man, wearing work clothes, his hair in a flat top and wearing older style glasses. One worker swore that as he walked across the stage he saw the older man sitting in the balcony, leaning over looking at him. Another, while painting the ceiling on scaffolding, had fallen asleep. He related that he heard a voice in his ear telling him to “wake up”. Which he did, looking around he noticed that he was near the edge of the scaffolding, about to roll off. Had the spectral voice apparently saved him from plunging to his death? Other workers have avowed they have heard whistling, and have seen a name scribbled in the dust in the basement. Maintenance problems seem to be among the most common activities. At odd times the projectors will malfunction, doors will open, and unseen footsteps are heard walking, making the rounds late at night.

Interestingly enough, the chief engineer of The Loews United Artists Theater, a man named Ferdinand “Fred” Frisch, died of a massive heart attack in his basement office on October 27, 1965. Mr. Frisch had worked at Loews for almost 40 years, having relocated to Louisville from New Jersey and the merchant marines. Could this be his ghost roaming the theater he knew so well? On a wall in the basement, near where his office was once located there is a picture of Fred Frisch. Many workers that have encountered whatever spirit roams the Palace say that the man in the photo is their spectral visitor. The work uniform, the flat top hair, the glasses all identical.

In that photo of Mr. Frisch, you can see him sitting at his desk wearing the same glasses, same haircut and work shirt he always wore. You might be wondering how that picture ended up hanging in the basement. Well….. I have to admit, I gave a copy of his picture to them… I mean, doesn’t almost everyone have a photograph of their grandfather……..

Oh, and what is the name in the dust you might ask? Why, it’s “Ferdinand” of course.

Interior publicity shot of “The Palace Theater”
Fourth Street, Louisville Kentucky














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