THIRD QUARTER 2014

VOL. 46 NO. 3

LOUIS F. GRELL
American Theatre Muralist

TABLE OF CONTENTS
FROM THE EDITOR 3
TO THE EDITOR 4
NOTES FROM PITTSBURGH 5
DISCOVERING AMERICAN THEATRE
MURALIST LOUIS FREDERICK GRELL

6

LESSONS FROM LOUIS 19
COVERED MURALS GET A FAIRY TALE ENDING

20

LOUIS GRELL, CHICAGO ARTIST, TELLS
FAIRY STORIES IN MURAL PAINTINGS
from GREENSBURG DAILY TRIBUNE, 1926

22

LOUIS GRELL RETURNS TO THE CLASSROOM

24

FROM THE ARCHIVES 30
OVERSEAS AND BEYOND 34

THE JOURNAL OF THE THEATRE
HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA
VOL. 46 • NO. 3 • THIRD QUARTER 2014

MANAGING EDITOR
Holly Berecz
COPY EDITOR
Becky Ritenour
PUBLICATIONS COMMITTEE
Lowell Angell
Donald Bohatka
Dale Carter
Richard L. Fosbrink
Barry Goodkin
Suzanne Leworthy
Craig Morrison
Janine M. Pixley
Theatre Historical Society
of America
152 NORTH YORK ST., 2ND FLOOR
ELMHURST, IL 60126

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Richard L. Fosbrink
ARCHIVES DIRECTOR
Patrick Seymour
DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
DIRECTOR
Janine M. Pixley

MARQUEE™ (ISSN 0025-3928) and the ANNUAL (ISSN 08853940) are the flagship publications of the Theatre Historical
Society of America, Inc. (THS), a non-profit organization founded
in 1969 by Ben M. Hall, author of The Best Remaining Seats.
THS documents and celebrates the architectural, cultural and social history of America’s theatres. Through its
many activities, THS seeks to increases awareness, appreciation and scholarly study of America’s theatres.

Join us online at historictheatres.org.

2 |Third Quarter 2014 | Marquee™

BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Craig Morrison, President
Dulcie Gilmore, Vice-President
Suzanne Leworthy, Secretary
Joe Masher, Treasurer
Lowell Angell, Ken Bloom,
Curtis Cooper, Lisa M. DiChiera,
Jon Flynn, Ed Kelsey,
Ward Miller, Dave Syfczak,
Mark Wretschko

FROM THE EDITOR
Thoughts from Holly Berecz, Managing Editor.

W

hat are the criteria that define fame amongst artists? Is
it the amount of money they
make? The number of paintings or drawings they sold? Is it their background and
education, or maybe their unique style?
Does an artist have to break the trends of
their era to gain fame? And exactly who
determines this fame? Is it in the eye of
the beholder, or is it something more?
These are the questions that surround
artist Louis Frederick Grell (1887-1960),
possibly America’s greatest “undiscovered” muralist and portrait artist. For
more than five decades, Grell traveled
the country painting exquisite murals
inside public buildings from banks to
movie theaters. Some of these massive
works measured hundreds of feet and
some featured intricately detailed human
figures. It’s estimated that Grell painted
more than 300 individual murals, many
of which graced the walls of the period’s
most distinguished movie houses. Yet,
Grell remains a relative unknown among
art historians.
In this issue, you’ll learn more about
Grell from the perspective of those who
have come to know him and his works
best: his grandnephew Richard, who is
on a mission to locate, and hopefully pre-

serve, any remaining works by the senior
Grell; a former student who shares anecdotes of the brief yet powerful encounter
that made a lasting impact on her life and
love of art; a professor who utilized Grell
and his works as the basis of a course on
curating providing hands-on experience
for university students; and a Pennsylvania theatre where a patron took great
measures to restore two of three Grell
murals found inside.
Louis Grell is commonly described
as a kind and humble man. He was so
humble, in fact, that he rarely signed his
artwork and often refused to discuss his
projects. Though Grell never sought fame
and painted merely for the love of his art,
it’s clear that he’s among the greats. With
the bulk of his works hanging in the most
ornate theaters across the country, his art
spoke to moviegoers and theater patrons
during the heyday of the great movie palace. But thanks to efforts by The Louis
Grell Foundation, his works are being
uncovered for a whole new era to appreciate and enjoy. We hope this issue will
inspire you to look around with a more
careful eye. Take time to appreciate the
artwork you see, especially in the theater.
You may be the one to uncover the next
Grell mural. You just never know!

Holly Berecz, Managing Editor

Pictured (front cover, main image) Louis Frederick Grell standing in front of his 1936 prize-winning portrait of Julius Mossell (1872-1960), on
display at the Art Insitute of Chicago. (Back cover) Auditorium of the Chicago Theatre, Chicago, Illinois.

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 3

TO THE EDITOR
Thoughts, opinions and reactions
of members from coast to coast.

Dear Holly,
It was gratifying to read in Marquee how
students of Belmont College volunteered to
restore windows in Wheeling WV’s historic
Capitol Theatre.
I would be remiss, though, not to mention that the Capitol for many decades was
the home of “Jamboree USA”(nee: “WWVA
Jamboree.”)
As a result the Capitol was known from
Newfoundland to Florida by thousands of
Canadian and US listeners to the 50,000 watt
WWVA every Saturday night.
-BILL KNOWLTON
Liverpool, New York.
From THS:
Bill, you’re completely right! We had to see
this one ourselves, so while en route back
to Elmhurst after Conclave Theatre Tour,
some of the THS staff stopped in for a tour
from Belmont College’s Cathie Senter and
Jeremy Morris, Executive Director of the
Wheeling National Heritage Area.
Good news! The original organ, a 4 manual
Marr & Colton, has finally come home
after 40 years. It was donated to the theatre
by the Connecticut Valley Theatre Organ
Society.

SUMBIT CORRECTIONS :
To submit corrections, email letters@historictheatres.org.

SUBMIT A LETTER TO THE EDITOR:

We want to hear from you! Submit a letter to the Editor via:
Email: letters@historictheatres.org | Twitter: @ThrHistSociety | Facebook: facebook.com/TheatreHistoricalSociety
Mail: THS, 152 North York Street, 2nd Floor, Elmhurst, Illinois 60126 USA

4 | Third Quarter 2014 | Marquee™

NOTES FROM PITTSBURGH
Curated quarterly news from “Around the Circuit.”
Featuring the 2014 Conclave Theatre Tour Wrap Up.

BELMONT COLLEGE
TUDENTS TAKE ON CAPITOL THEATRE
Submitted by Belmont College

E

ach year’s Conclave Theatre Tour includes the presentation of several awards. This year, we were proud to recognize the following
individuals and organizations for their outstanding contributions to
the field.

OUTSTANDING
BOOK OF THE
YEAR AWARDEE:

Columbus Indiana’s
Historic Crump Theatre,
by David Sechrest

HONORARY
MEMBER OF THE
YEAR AWARDEE:

Arthur P. Ziegler, founder
of the Pittsburgh History &
Landmarks Foundation

MEMBER OF THE
YEAR AWARDEE:

PRESIDENT’S AWARD:

Father Francis J. Early,
founding THS member

JEFFREY WEISS
LITERARY AWARDEES:

Gina DiBella (First Place) for
A Richer Theatre Experience
Joe Muskin (Second Place) for
The Sunday Movie Fight

THOMAS R. DU BUQUE
RESEARCH FELLOW:

Jeff Thompson

Curtis Cooper

CREATING THEATRE
HISTORY AWARD:

Pittsburgh Cultural Trust,
presented to Rona Nesbit,
Executive Vice President,
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

Pictured: (from top)
David Sechrest; Curtis Cooper;
David Newell, Rona Nesbit &
Mark Price; Arthur P. Ziegler;
Craig Morrison & Father Francis J. Early

Send us your news and notes!
By email to enews@historictheatres.org or via Twitter @ThrHistSociety
Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 5

Discovering American
Theatre Muralist
Louis Frederick Grell
BY RICHARD GRELL

Excerpt from “The Louis Grell story of his prize painting Man and His
Destiny,” dictated by Louis Grell in 1930. Courtesy of Rick Strilky.

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Pictured Paramount Theatre, Aurora, IL.

“All life is drawn according to a pattern. A pattern which is above and beyond us. History
evolves and we try to find a design in its transition. Numerable forces are entwined and
working against one another, but behind the whole thing lies unity… Few people really
try to get beyond the nebula of their senses. Truth lies in the correlation of ourselves with
outside existence. Humanity has built up many concepts of values.”

M

y granduncle, Louis Frederick Grell (1887-1960), is
possibly America’s greatest undiscovered muralist and portrait
artist. Commissioned to paint an estimated 300 individual murals, some
as large as 300 feet in length, Grell
produced breathtaking scenes, which
graced the walls of public spaces all
across America. Many of these spaces
included some of the country’s grandest movie houses built from the 1910s
until the 1940s, when the regal palaces
were no longer designed and built.
Grell served as the personal muralist for theatre owner and operator Balaban & Katz. We know that he painted
at least ten of their great movie palaces. He also worked on several Rapp &
Rapp designed theatres. While some
of these spectacular murals are likely
gone forever, my research has led me
to discover that some of his paintings
still exist, and several have even been
restored to their original glory.
But there is still much to be discovered. I expect the number of murals attributed to Grell will likely climb over
the next decade or so. It’s my hope that
by sharing a bit about my research,
and the life of Louis Grell, with the
Theatre Historical Society of America,
some of you may help lead me to more
clues which will help solidify Louis
Grell’s important role in American art
and theatre history.

WHO WAS LOUIS
FREDERICK GRELL?

A simple man who genuinely loved
to paint, Louis Grell’s art, and life,
spanned two World Wars, The Great
Depression, and the dawn of a century that ushered in such technology as
electricity, the automobile, and flight.
Perhaps even more remarkable is that

he enjoyed a successful career of creating very traditional-styled paintings
during a time when Modernism basically took over the art world.
Growing up, I remember hearing
about Louis Grell. Family members
often talked about him being an art
professor at the Art Institute of Chicago. There were tales of him painting murals inside the Chicago Theatre,
and that Walt Disney may have been
one of his students. While I do believe
all of this is true, these were the early
“facts” that helped launch my fascination with my granduncle. Once I began looking into his life and career, I
quickly found out that there was much
more to know about Louis Frederick
Grell.

is the Place.” No known photographs
of this mural have yet been discovered.

GRELL, BY WAY OF
GRANT WOOD

My formal research into Grell’s
career began in February 2012. While
at my home in Florida, I received an
email from Richard “Dick” Miller,
a local historian and blossoming art
patron from our family’s hometown,
Council Bluffs, Iowa. In this email,
Miller included four articles from the
Council Bluffs’ newspaper, which detailed some facts about Grell’s career.
Basically, while Miller was researching mural fragments painted
in 1927 by the famous Grant Wood
(“American Gothic,” 1930), he hap-

“LOUIS FREDERICK GRELL IS POSSIBLY AMERICA’S GREATEST
UNDISCOVERED MURALIST AND PORTRAIT ARTIST.”
In his early years, Grell earned
many scholarships and studied at Europe’s finest art institutions, particularly in Germany, with some of the
world’s most prominent professors. In
1907, while on a break between European academies, Grell visited family back in Salt Lake City. It was on
this visit that Grell, at age 19, assumed
control of a failed mural commission
by an unknown artist for the Utah
State Fair. He hired two men to help
him complete it, and once finished,
the mural spanned a length of 275 feet
and hung high above the crowd inside
Manufacturers’ Hall during the 1907
Utah State Fair. Little is known about
this particular mural, except that it depicted Brigham Young’s entry into the
Salt Lake Valley and was titled “This

pened upon more than 20 paintings
by Grell, which had been willed to the
library by Louis Grell’s younger sister, Helen Grell Bellinger in 1999. The
town put them on public exhibit and
reached out to the Grell family members to try to learn more about the man
and his art. (See the letter from Richard Miller on page 9)

UNCOVERING
GRELL’S LEGACY

Inspired by what I learned from
Miller, I dove head first into discovering exactly who Louis Grell was
and precisely what his many accomplishments entailed. Clues come from
many sources, including Who’s Who in
America, historic newspaper articles,
the few interviews that he was persuaded to do, and my simply leaving

Theatre
Society
of America
| historictheatres.org
|7
Pictured: Reproduction Nickelodeon postcard circa 1900. from
the Historical
American
Theatre
Architecture
Archive.

no stone unturned. Another important
source has been his sister Helen.
Besides leaving her paintings to
The Bluffs Arts Council, Helen Grell
Bellinger was quite possibly the only
person who knew details of Grell’s
commissioned projects and successful endeavors. As Grell’s biggest fan,
she was the only person with whom he
shared details about his very private
life and career. I have located letters
from Helen to Louis, and have only
one handwritten letter from Louis to
Helen. In this letter, he details a handful of projects he had been working on
sometime in the late 1940s.
I’ve also come across several photos of Grell murals reproduced as
postcards, but it’s rather challenging
to prove they are Grell’s work since he
frequently did not sign his work and
property owners typically didn’t know
who had painted them many years
prior.
Through my research, I discovered
that Grell painted 14 murals depicting
French fairytales, painted in the Chi-

Greensburg, Pennsylvania’s Manos
Theatre, known today as The Palace
Theatre. Inside, two of the three Grellcreated murals can be seen, having
been preserved by the Westmoreland
Cultural Trust.
Grell also designed and hand-painted grand entrances, auditoriums, and
other spaces for the Paramount Theatres in Toledo, Fort Worth, Denver,
and Times Square. Additionally, we
know that he created wall and ceiling
decorations for the Gateway, Uptown,
and Paradise Theatres in Chicago.

LEAVING NO STONE
UNTURNED

Since Grell had no children and
lead an extremely private life, especially regarding his professional
career, finding new clues has been
no easy task. My quest to locate and
document Grell’s works has taken me
across the country many times. I’ve
visited Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh,
Western New York, Washington, D.C.,
Detroit, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and

“INSIDE, I DISCOVERED A TREASURE TROVE OF LETTERS,
PHOTOS, AND ARCHIVES ON GRELL’S CAREER AND OUR FAMILY,
MOSTLY COMPILED BY HIS SISTER HELEN. THIS WAS THE SINGLE
MOST REWARDING PERIOD OF MY JOURNEY, THUS FAR.”
cago Theatre for its grand opening on
October 26, 1921. Just 12 years later,
he was again asked to paint the same
14 spaces when that theatre was renovated in 1933 to celebrate the Chicago
World’s Fair. Miraculously, these murals remain and can still be seen today.
In 1926, Grell painted three magnificent French themed murals for

8 | Third Quarter 2014 | Marquee™

many places in between, in search of
clues and existing murals.
Most of what we now know about
Grell, artistically, was discovered
in December 2011 after my father,
Grell’s nephew, passed away. For, after his mother’s passing, my father had
secretly stashed two large boxes of
family archives in the basement. Like

Grell the artist, my father wished for
his story to remain private. It wasn’t
until I was taking an inventory for his
estate that I discovered the two boxes,
tucked away only ten feet from where
I had sat, day and night, pondering and
researching the elusive facts of Louis
Grell’s career.
Inside, I discovered a treasure trove
of letters, photos, and archives on
Grell’s career and our family, mostly
compiled by his sister Helen. This was
the single most rewarding period of
my journey, thus far.
My second most important reward
came when I stopped by the Theatre
Historical Society of America (THS).
Here, in the vast collection of archives, I discovered original photos of
Grell’s masterful brushstrokes and inspirations, along with additional data
on him and his projects. In June 2013,
I spent a week at THS researching and
receiving priceless information about
my granduncle’s most significant mural commissions.
Through THS, I not only learned
new facts, but I have also had the
opportunity to research Grell’s colleagues and contemporaries. I have
found few, if any, who measure up to
the vast number and size of Grell’s mural projects. In fact, most of Grell’s remaining works are now housed in National Historic Landmark structures,
including The Mayflower Renaissance Washington, D.C. hotel, Hilton
Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, and the
Notre Dame de Chicago Church. This,
in my opinion, solidifies the importance of the commission location and
the significance of Grell earning them
in a time when there must have been
fierce competition.
Beginning in January of 2013, I

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Paramount Theatre, Toledo, Ohio From the Chicago Architectural Photographing Company Collection.

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 9

Pictured :
(top) The rendering for a Spanish
mural that was once at the top of the
staircase at the Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, Illinois.
(middle) A vintage postcard that
displays the mural in situ at the Aragon.
(bottom) the staircase as it stands today, with no mural.

10 | Third Quarter 2014 | Marquee™

spent 33 days traveling through Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, western
New York, and Chicago. I was on the
hunt for a mural titled “Man’s Confidence in Man.” Armed with only a
black and white reproduction of this
mural, I figured out that it had been
commissioned for a Citizens Bank
of New York. I eventually learned of
a potential match in Springville, NY.
During my stay in this town, I discovered another depression-era mural
titled “Confidence and Trust” inside
the former Bank of Gowanda, which
is now the Town of Persia government
building. This was an amazing discovery for me, and I’m happy to say that
both murals still exist today!
Another important discovery came
recently at Union Station in St. Louis. Here, Grell was commissioned to
paint a seven-foot high by 28-foot
long mural depiction of downtown St.
Louis during the 1880s. This train station happens to be classified now as a
National Historical Landmark and was
the busiest passenger train station in
the country during World War II.

FAMOUS VS.
FORGOTTEN

Yet another goal of this article is
to challenge scholars to prove or disprove my claims regarding Grell’s
prolific career. What other muralist
has been commissioned to paint as
many important public works on such
a grand scale as Grell? I have estimated that the Gateway Theatre’s Grand
Hall mural, which Grell hand-painted
with as many as eight assistants, must
have been 200 feet by 300 feet.
The same is true of the Toledo Paramount Theatre’s grand entrance and
foyer. These were massive undertak-

ings that most easel painters and few
muralists could have achieved.
From 1920 through, in many cases even today, if you walked into the
grandest theatre, bank, hotel, or train
station, from Denver to New York,
you might find a Grell masterpiece.
You just may not have realized it since
he rarely signed his large productions.
Not only that, but he rarely even talked
about his commissions or kept any records of them.
While sharing my findings on Grell
and his career, I’ve often been asked
“Why isn’t he famous?” Yes, he was
commissioned to paint several prominent theatres, at least 20 churches,
dozens of hotels, and countless other
projects. But, by all accounts, he was
a very humble man. His blue-collar
background coupled with his German
heritage and down-to-earth midwestern upbringing molded him into a man
who never sought fame. His work ethic
is what kept him thriving even during
the Great Depression, and after Modernism ripped through the art world,
changing everything around him.
Quite often, as I discover a new
mural or painting, I’m reminded that
Grell was in a class above most of his
contemporaries. Though my opinion
may be biased, he never seemed to
sway from his own artistic style. Even
when the rest of the world was evolving, artistically, the rebel inside of
Grell seemed to say: “I will continue
to do things my way, be the best at it,
and be extremely successful doing it.”

IN GOOD COMPANY

Over the length of his career, Grell
lived among the Tree Studios art colony where his friends were a collection of some of America’s brightest

Artist Louis Grell at work

and most gifted artists. Colony members included sculptors John Bradley
Storrs (who created the statue atop the
Chicago Board of Trade Building),
Emil R. Zettler (who created the 1933
Century of Progress medal for the
Chicago World’s Fair), Albin Polasek
(internationally famous and fellow Art
Institute of Chicago professor), Pauline Palmer (Impressionist), J. Allen
St. John (Tarzan & Jane illustrator),
Antonin Sterba (Grant Wood’s art instructor), E. Martin Hennings (Taos
Society of Artists early member and
Grell’s best man in his 1922 wedding),
Edgar A. Payne (California landscape
painter), Edgar Cameron (painter),
John and Anna Stacey (artists), Macena Barton (known for her nude selfportraits), Boris Anisfeld (RussianAmerican Expressionist painter) and
some 500 additional artists who lived
in the colony from 1894 until around
2001.
The peak of activity at Tree Studios

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 11

Right side murals, Chicago Theatre, Chicago, Illinois. From the Chicago Architectural Photographing Company Collection.

12 | Third Quarter 2014 | Marquee™

was from 1910 through 1950. It was during this time that
Grell, his German wife Friedl, and other resident artists entertained elite artists and entertainers from both Hollywood
and New York. The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Daily
News regularly covered many gala events and costume parties held at Tree Studios, which included countless famous
movie stars, stage actors, musicians, and artists.
In 1960, though Grell was seventy-two years old and
troubled with an ailing heart, he and fellow resident artist
Donald Anderson chained themselves to one of the last remaining trees in the historic building’s garden courtyard to
prevent bulldozers from demolishing the structure. Their act
eventually saved both the garden courtyard and the building.
Just a few months after this brave act, Grell succumbed to
his heart condition.

THE SEARCH CONTINUES

Grell’s story has just begun to unfold. I believe that, as
we continue to delve into the details of his work and life, that
we may discover twice as many mural commissions that are

already known. As we continue to research his paintings, I’m
looking to learn how much input Grell may have had on the
actual design of these grand spaces and determine if, indeed,
Grell should be considered one of America’s most prolific
portrait and mural artists. It is my hope that these questions,
and more, will be answered by the appropriate experts in due
time.
I, along with the entire Louis Grell Foundation, would
like to express our deepest thanks and appreciation for what
the Theatre Historical Society of America represents and
holds dear…the American movie palace and the memories
echoed throughout those that remain. I leave you with one
particular assignment: Have a look at some of your old photographs of these movie houses and see if there are murals
depicted in any of them. On your next theatre tour, take a
minute and just stop and look up. You may be amazed at
what you discover.
You may help lead us to uncovering the next Louis Grell
mural. §

For more information on the career of Louis Frederick Grell and the Tree Studios artist colony please visit:
www.LouisGrell.com or www.treestudios.org

Pictured:
Grell family at the
opening of Discovering
Louis Grell: American
Muralist at University of
Omaha Nebraska. Image
courtesy Ali Peterson.

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 13

Grand rotunda to mezzanine level, Paramount Theatre, Toledo, Ohio From the Chicago Architectural Photographing Company Collection.

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Grand foyer mural work, Gateway Theatre, Chicago, Illinois. From the American Theatre Architecture Archive.

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 15

Lobby, Paramount Theatre, Fort Wayne, Indiana. From the American Theatre Architecture Archive.

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Lobby, Paramount Theatre, Fort Wayne, Indiana. From the American Theatre Architecture Archive.

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 17

Auditorium murals, Paramount Theatre, Aurora, Illinois. Image courtesy the Louis Grell Foundation.

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Lessons From Louis
Jayne Harrold, a former Grell student,
reminisces about her time under his tutelage.
INTERVIEWED BY HOLLY BERECZ

I

n the very early 1950s, art and expression began taking a firm hold
in United States culture. Rock
and roll music came into popularity
with the success of performers such
as Elvis Presley, I Love Lucy sparked
the Golden Age of Television, The
Peanuts comic strip by Charles M.
Schulz began publication, and Jackson Pollock became famous for his
Drip Paintings—nothing more than
random paint drippings on canvas.
It was right around this time that
Chicago-area native Jayne Harrold
enrolled in a night school art course.
It’s this course, Life Drawing, taught
by Louis Frederick Grell, that she
credits for her lifelong love of art.
“He was a wonderful instructor,” says Harrold. “Not only was
he a very kindly man, but he had the
ability to immediately spot what was
wrong in your work and help you fix
it,” she adds noting that Grell was
always very nice in his critique. “He
was never mean or negative in his
instruction.”
For Harrold, who continues to
take art lessons even today, reminiscing about her class with Grell
brings back very fond memories. It’s
under his instruction that she learned

how to draw human forms—a Grell
specialty.
“He told us, if you can draw a refrigerator—or maybe he said icebox—then you can draw anything,”
Harrold explains. “I didn’t have any
idea what he meant at the time, but
over the years, I came to understand.
When you draw people, you break
them down into basic shapes…ovals,
circles, and rectangles. Once you master these shapes, you really can draw
anything. And a refrigerator contains
all of the shapes you need to know.”
Harrold modestly mentions that
her sketches of humans draw frequent
compliments from her classmates today. “As anyone in an art class where
most do it for a hobby knows, there
aren’t a lot of students who have an
instructional background,” she says.
“Folks ask me if I’ve had lessons and
where they were. I always credit Mr.
Grell with my understanding of how
to draw people.”
Grell was a smoker. And one particular memory that makes Harrold
chuckle is thinking about how he mastered the art of letting his ashes pile up,
Jenga-like, on the end of his cigarette,
while keeping it tightly held in his
mouth: “When he would come around

the room to critique our work, we
were always on eggshells. We didn’t
know if the ash was about to fall
upon us, or our works-in-progress.
We were always very nervous!”
Grell also shared the story of how,
when he was a student in Germany,
his instructors would lock him and
his fellow students inside a small
broom closet until they understood a
concept. “I remember thinking that
something like that could never happen here in the U.S.,” says Harrold.
Though her time with Grell was
brief, and many years have passed
since then, Harrold says that the one
thing that sticks with her was his
kindness and gentle nature—truly a
testament to the humility of an artist
who rarely shared details about his
many projects and who rarely signed
his work. Luckily, Grell’s influence
lives on in the art of students such
as Harrold, and thanks to those who
have made great efforts to restore his
magnificent movie house murals. §

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 19

Covered
Murals Get
A Fairy Tale Ending
BY TERESA BAUGHMAN

Left side auditorium mural, Palace Theatre, Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Image courtesy the Louis Grell Foundation.

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R

ichard Grell first made contact with The Palace Theatre
in February 2012, on a quest
to document his great-uncle’s works
throughout the country. Two of Louis Grell’s three murals in our venue,
which opened as the Manos Theatre
on September 2, 1926, were restored
in the late 1990s by Christine Daulton,
renowned Greensburg, Pennsylvania-based conservator. The third mural, spanning horizontally above the
stage’s proscenium arch, had long ago
been painted over in off-white and
covered with large golden comedy and
tragedy masks. It is not yet known if
the original mural can be revealed and
restored.
Grell’s murals here depict French
fairy tales, so reads a copy of the
Greensburg Daily Tribune (August 31,
1926). We forwarded transcripts of the
newspaper story and photographs of
the murals that we had taken in-house
to Richard. He, in turn, forwarded to us
more information about Louis’ life and
works. How thrilling for us to see the
larger scope of Louis Grell’s career! It
was nearly a year later in January 2013
that Richard sent an email that he’d be
in town, asking to stop by and see the
murals in person. Our venue was to be
one of the first stops of his cross-country whirlwind tour to research and personally see Louis’ works.
Decades ago, the two Loge area
murals in The Palace had been covered with tapestry, affixed by furring
strips and more than 1,500 nails on
each. The fabric was removed in the
mid-1990s, exposing these treasures
to generations of new eyes. After
funding was secured several years
later, Ms. Daulton and her team spent
several months repairing the nail holes
and restoring the paintings. Plaster-

ers replicated the decorative moldings
that crowned each mural.
Richard was excited to see that the
murals flanking our loge seating had
been painted on the actual walls, rather than on canvas that was installed
on site. He was honored to know that
Westmoreland Cultural Trust—owner
and developer of The Palace Theatre
since 1990—cared enough to have
them restored and preserved. Richard
noted the rare signature of his greatuncle on the house’s left mural: Louis
Grell’s printed name with a slight slant
to the font and ending with a distinctive period after the name. He said that
Louis, a humble man, more commonly
left his works unsigned. I remarked
that Ms. Daulton was from the area,
and within minutes, Richard was talking to her by cell phone as he stood
before these magnificent artworks,
discussing her restoration and affirming that his uncle’s signature was a
part of the original mural.
Richard took quite a few photographs of the murals and their placement within the theatre that day. We
are delighted to see them included as
a part of exhibits on Louis’ works and
prominently featured behind speakers
in the recently produced documentary
“Discovering Louis Grell.” Becoming
acquainted with Richard and learning
more about Louis adds another element to our relationships with descendants of the Manos family, who built
the theatre, and even the granddaughters of the original musical director
during its vaudeville heyday, Emil O.
Raspillaire.
We hope that one day, we will be
able to explore the possibility of restoring Louis Grell’s third mural still
hidden above The Palace Theatre’s
stage. §

Pictured:
(top) Right side auditorium mural,
Palace Theatre, Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
(bottom) Grell’s signature.
Images courtesy the Louis Grell Foundation.

Teresa Baughman is the Director of Operations, Programming & Marketing for the Westmoreland Cultural Trust.

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 21

LOUIS GRELL, CHICAGO ARTIST, TELLS
FAIRY STORIES IN MURAL PAINTINGS
Reprint from
MANOS THEATRE SPECIAL EDITION
Tuesday August 31, 1926

GREENSBURG DAILY TRIBUNE | GREENSBURG MORNING REVIEW

G

reensburg, last winter, enjoyed an exquisite showing of art pictures conducted under the auspices of the
American Legion, and so when the
visits for the New Manos theatre
are made it is advised that particular attention be paid to the mural
paintings which have been worked
into the interior decoration of the
main auditorium.
The work is that of the wellknown artist Louis Grell who is
associated with the United Studios
in Chicago, and who is the professor of art at the University of
Chicago. Professor Grell does this
mural work when not engaged in
his classroom and own studios, so
it was considered fortunate that he
was secured for the Manos.
Many art museums have examples of this man’s handiwork
so in the future they will not be
surpassed by Greensburg and its
theatre paintings.
Professor Grell’s life is an interesting one. Fourteen years of his

training was secured in foreign countries and he there studied under some
of the best known masters.
Since coming to the United States
many years ago he has won an enviable reputation.
In the wiring of the theatre care was
taken that sufficient light be placed so
that the murals would show up to the
best advantage. Concealed spot lights
take care of the correct illumination of
the paintings.
The three paintings were primarily conceived as wall decorations and
the composition of lines and color are
designed to harmonize with the architecture and increase the beautiful appearance of the theatre.
The three murals are taken from
different subjects, from three old
French fairy tales.
The painting above the stage shows
the character of Aremond, after many
struggles and tribulations, who finally
wins his lady-love, Lucille, and leads
her away to his fairy castle where they
live happily ever after.
The painting on the right wall, the

first shown in the above group of
pictures, represents Ancassin and
Margaret seated on their throne,
which was presented to them by
the magic wand of the good fairy
queen.
On the opposite wall there is
found a scene from the famous
legend of Pellias and Melisande,
the wife of his elder brother. The
latter discovers their affection, so
the story goes, and in a fit of rage,
killed his brother. Melisande later
dies a sad and miserable woman.
In this painting the artist had
the desire to represent a romantic
world and everything seems to express love and emotion. The distant mountains, the climbing rose
bush, the large dark leaves of the
tree and the rustic stones are only
there as a background for the two
youthful lovers for one another.
The three paintings, although
being love scenes, are composed
in color and presentation quite different from each other. §

Original text from Greensburg Daily Tribune, printed August 21, 1926.
Note: Pellias is spelled incorrectly in the original article copy. The correct spelling is Pelleas.

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Pictured (top) Full right side auditorium mural. (bottom) Location of the original sounding board mural. Images courtesy the Louis Grell Foundation.

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 23

Louis Grell
Returns to the
Classroom
Inspires Course on Curation at University of Omaha Nebraska

BY AMY M. MORRIS, Ph.D.

I

n the fall semester of 2013 the
talented American muralist and
teacher, Louis Grell, re-entered the
classroom. This classroom experience
was different than before. Instead of
teaching the principles of drawing and
design to his students at the Chicago
Fine Arts Institute, his art became the
subject of study. At the University of
Nebraska Omaha (UNO), the students
of a special topics Curatorial Seminar
course created the first exhibit to focus solely on the art of Louis Grell. In
some respects, Grell’s role as teacher
and educator remained the same, as
his art and talent guided students to a
much greater appreciation of his role
in the American muralist movement
and to a better understanding of the
curatorial process.
The opportunity to teach a Curatorial Seminar featuring the art of Louis

Grell came about through a series of
coincidences. The idea was born in the
painting conservation lab of the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center in
Omaha. Richard Grell, Louis Grell’s
great-nephew, brought several paintings to Kenneth Bé, Head of Painting
Conservation, to be restored. In the
conservation lab, Bé learned that Richard was interested in his great-uncle’s
stellar career and in bringing recognition to Louis’ talent and achievements.
It became evident that an exhibition
of Louis Grell’s works would be a
launching pad for future study of his
great uncle’s art. Also an instructor at
the University of Nebraska Omaha, Bé
brought the Art and Art History Department into the project, suggesting
that Louis’ work be the topic of a curatorial seminar that would culminate
with a Louis Grell exhibit in UNO’s

art gallery. At a joint meeting with
members of the Grell family, Bé, and
myself, the UNO Chair (Dr. Robert
Carlson) and Gallery Director (Denise
Brady) selected the time and dates for
the course and the exhibition.
In hindsight, the challenges that
I faced preparing a syllabus for the
Curatorial Seminar turned out to be
a great opportunity, because I was
forced to work outside of my comfort
zone. Not only am I not a specialist in
American art, but I also had little curatorial experience. The course design,
therefore, relied on lectures from professionals in the local art community
and the opportunity for students to be
involved in all stages of the exhibition
process, including the selection and
documentation of the art works and
the layout of the exhibition.
The first, and perhaps the most sig-

Amy M. Morris, Ph.D., teaches survey courses and upper division courses in Early Modern European art history,
including Italian Renaissance Art, Northern Renaissance Art, and Baroque and Rococo Art at University of Omaha Nebraska.
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Image courtesy Mike Bell Photography.

nificant task in creating the exhibition,
was the selection of the works to be
included. At the first class meeting,
Richard Grell provided an overview
of Louis’ career and art works in a
digital presentation. While the majority of art works from which students
could select were part of the personal
collection of Richard and his immediate family, other distant relatives from
Los Angeles and Chicago agreed to
lend their paintings by Louis if chosen
by the students. Richard’s aunt, Ruth
Applegate, also agreed to lend works
from her collection.
To provide a hands-on experience it was imperative that students
see Louis’ paintings and drawings in
person. Students made field trips to
Council Bluffs, Iowa, to experience
Louis’ scale and technique. On the
first trip to Council Bluffs the UNO
students viewed Louis’ images at the
Grell family farm. Richard hung Lou-

is’ art, salon style, in the two main
sitting areas of the house. Students
were divided into two groups to facilitate the viewing process. While
one group examined the works, the
other group looked at the family archives, which Richard had compiled
by decade. The following week the
class made a trip to various locales in
Council Bluffs, including Pottawattamie County Courthouse, St. John’s
Lutheran Church and Council Bluffs
Public Library. Viewing the works in
person helped students appreciate the
quality and importance of Louis’ art
and generated the excitement to create
an outstanding exhibition.
After becoming familiar with Louis’ art, students faced the onerous task
of selecting the works to be included in
the UNO exhibition. Students learned
that successful exhibitions were organized around a particular theme or
themes and that art works need to be

grouped in a meaningful way. To allow all students to have a voice in selecting the art works, they submitted
preliminary lists that included their
favorite art works and categories in
which Louis’ works could be grouped.
From this master list, students submitted a list with their twenty-five favorite works. Any work that scored more
than three votes was included in the
exhibition.
Fortunately, the guest speakers invited to lecture on Louis’ art or curatorial skills guided students in the selection of art for the exhibition. Toby
Jurovics, Chief Curator of Omaha’s
Joslyn Art Museum, reminded students that the curator’s primary obligation is to put the artist’s best foot
forward in selecting specific works
for an exhibition. He advised students
to consider Louis’ body of work and
identify which category best displayed
the artist’s strengths. Students decided

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 25

Image courtesy Mike Bell Photography.

to give Louis’ murals and mural studies the spotlight in the exhibition.
Jurovic’s insights aligned with
those of the class’s first speaker,
Mark Moseman, agrarian artist, curator and collector. Mark shared some
interesting observations about Louis’
art and career at the Pottawattamie
County Courthouse. He emphasized
the unique relationship between artists
and architects in the heyday of Louis’
career. In contrast to the role of architects today, those designing buildings
in the early- to mid- twentieth century
conceived of the painting and decoration as an integral part of the whole.
The relationship of painting and architecture is evident in Louis’ murals in
the Chicago Theatre. The numerous
commissions that Grell received prove
that he had a solid working foundation
with architectural firms. Moseman
also pointed out that being a successful muralist requires a specific skill
set. Louis had the ability to conceive
how images and colors would appear
in a specific architectural environment. He clearly was also able to meet
the deadlines that architects gave him.

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Jurovics and Moseman helped students recognize that Louis’ mural studies should be the focus for the exhibit.
Other speakers assisted in helping students think about how a successful exhibit is laid out and how to tie together
various rooms. Denise Brady, UNO
Gallery Director, presented successful
past exhibits held in the UNO Art Gallery. She also presented various options for arranging and hanging art in
the four different rooms of the gallery.
Karin Campbell, the Curator of Contemporary Art at Joslyn, led students
around a Joslyn exhibit. During her
tour she pointed out devices she used
to link rooms together and to visually
make the art works hang well together.
After selecting the works and considering how the show should be laid
out, the class concentrated on making it a reality. The only way to make
the show happen was to divide up
the various tasks. The class selected
a curator and co-curator. I was very
fortunate to have one of the UNO gallery assistants, Candace Berger, in the
class. After creating an initial layout in
two different formats (InDesign and

thumbnails) the curators presented
their ideas to the class. Fortunately,
they had put so much effort into the
design that few modifications were
needed. In the meantime the other
students in the class worked on the labels, educational programming, archival material and design. Several class
periods were devoted to unloading the
artwork and documenting the images
out of their frames.
The class and exhibition were such
huge successes that they both received
media attention. Several of the local
newspapers covered the exhibition
and a documentary was made about
the life and art of Louis Grell and the
UNO exhibition. Students benefited
greatly from having this type of handson opportunity and count on it helping
their chances of going onto graduate
school or finding a job. They gained a
great deal of confidence by applying
their knowledge to a real world situation. For UNO it was an honor to exhibit the work of Louis Grell and take
part in his rediscovery. §

Pictured:
(above) Allegory Rising, 1932. Watercolor tempera gouache. Signed.
(right) A photo depicting an assistant next to the full-sized canvas
intended for the lobby of the Fort Wayne, Indiana Paramount (as seen
on page 16.) This image can be found in Grell’s artist file at the Art
Institute of Chicago Ryerson and Burham library within the folder for
the Toledo Paramount Theatre. This canvas is very similar to Grell’s
award-winning Destiny from 1930.

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 27

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Pictured: (above)
“Indian Phantasy” c. 1920s, watercolor
mixed, signed “L. Grell.”
(far right) This drawing once hung
on the wall of Grell’s Downers Grove,
Illinois home and is photographed next
to a Christmas tree in his summer home
where he and Friedl would escape the
summer heat.
(right) Helen (in purple) standing in
front of “Indian Phantasy” with an
unknown woman c. 1957.
(left) A letter written by Grell to his
family in Nebraska describing the piece
and its intended unidentified theatre.

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 29

FROM THE ARCHIVES
From Patrick Seymour, Archives Director.

THE DRAWINGS
OF ANTHONY DUMAS

T

o be quite honest, I must have
walked by the flat files in the
THS archive a couple of dozen
times my first few weeks on the job
without batting an eye. When I finally
realized they were one of the remaining components of the collection left
to do for the full collection assessment
that was completed this past spring I
decided it was time to dig in.
As I was venturing through the
large metal pull-out drawers, I was
intrigued by what I was finding. But
when I got down to drawer number 18,
I stumbled upon one of the many treasures of the archives. Beneath a large
brown envelope lay a collection that
was donated to THS in the early 1980s
by photographer and librarian Lee Sievan, at the suggestion of author David
Naylor. Sievan had donated her collection of 60 theatre drawings by artist
Anthony Dumas.
The drawings in our archive were
created between 1918 and 1939 and
feature theatre facades and street views
in New York state as well as a handful
of theatres in Manhattan. Dumas appears to have been a trained draftsman
with his ability to create meticulous

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yet simplistic looking ink-line drawings impressively capturing only the
necessary details of his subjects. Each
drawing is done on 10x15 inch Bristol Board patented stamped paper
sketched in pencil and later filled out
with a fine-tipped ink pen. You can
almost visualize Dumas, like a landscape painter in the park, sitting with
an easel, measuring proportions with
his pencil and figuring out what detail
was or was not essential to his capture
that particular theatre. That notion
however, may be a touch romantic. In
his book Theaters, author Craig Morrison writes that Dumas often drew
using photographs since some of the
theatres had since been demolished by
the time he produced the drawings (p.
100).
Information about Anthony Dumas
is somewhat hard to come by. What is
known is that he was born in France
in 1882 and came to the United States
as an infant. By the turn of the century his family located to New York
City where he would live until he
passed away in 1943. I have read that
he worked as an ornamental plasterer
and another source states the 1940s

Patrick Seymour, Archives Director

census listed him as working for the
government. Morrison states that Dumas worked professionally preparing
submission drawings for patent applicants. While THS’ drawings are
on artist’s illustration board, many of
Dumas’ drawings in the Library of
Congress are on the reverse of patent
application forms (p. 99).
Was Dumas creating these drawings for a living, creating a survey of
theatres across the country similar to
the way Sanborn Maps traced neighborhoods for insurance purposes? Or
was he a well-trained hobbyist combining his love of drawing with a love
of theatres, much like contemporary
artist (who is considerably less technical mind you) James Gulliver Hancock, who is trying to draw all the
buildings in New York?
Aside from the scant biographical
information I was able to dig up on
Dumas on the Internet I was surprised
to see how much more work of his is
out there. The Library of Congress

has about 240 of his drawings, the
Museum of the City of New York has
over 220 drawings, and an archive in
the northwest has a handful too. Those
drawings, also primarily of theatres, in
addition to ours cover cities on the east
coast, midwestern states, and cities in
the northwest all drawn between 1916
and 1940.
The uniformity, the range of dates
and focused nature of his work make
me think these were works for hire.
But, that he was drawings buildings
that had already been demolished
leads me to think that theatres were
just a muse, his chosen subject for
creative output. And with that, we

are right back where we started, with
more unknowns than knowns. Ultimately I suppose after 70-80 years or
more the whys, in this case, don’t matter quite so much. What does matter
to me is that these drawings still exist
and are here to be appreciated as the
well-crafted works of art that they are.
Stay tuned! While we now only
have a handful digitized and available
to view on our online catalog, I will be
working to digitize the complete THS
collection in the coming months.
For a full list of drawings in our
collections please refer to the Lee Sievan Collection finding aid at historictheatres.org.

Pictured:
Poli’s Theatre, Scranton, Pennsylvania
Opened September 2, 1907. The Poli was taken
over by the Comerford circuit in 1924 or 1925
and was renamed the Ritz. In 1930, the Ritz
was renamed the Comerford. On September 16,
1937 the new Comerford Theatre opened on the
site of the Poli/Ritz Theatre. Closed 2008.

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 31

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Pictured:
(left, top)
Van Curler Opera House, Schenectady, New York.
opened March 1, 1893; demolished 1943.
(left, bottom)
Shea’s Buffalo Theatre, Buffalo, New York.
C. W. & George L. Rapp, architects. Opened January
16, 1926, currently open.
(this page, top)
Criterion (originally Star) Theater, Buffalo, New York.
William Worth Carlin, architect. Opened December 24,
1888, demolished 1924.
(this page, bottom)
Strand Theatre, Port Chester, New York. Operating by
1920, closed 1940.

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 33

OVERSEAS AND BEYOND
News and tales from our
counterparts on other continents.

BRITAIN’S FAMOUS LEEDS CITY VARIETIES MUSIC
HALL MEETS THE CHALLENGE OF FUTURE YEARS

I

t is with great pleasure that Britain’s OLD THEATRES
magazine can announce that following the completion
of its refurbishment, the famous Leeds City Varieties
Music Hall is going from strength to strength.The building
is known to date back to 1876, and maybe even before that.
It is believed there was a White Swan Tavern singing
room in existence as early as 1762, and that the multi-purpose music hall was built before 1865 over the old structure
which was granted a music and dancing licence two years
later.
The interior comprised a three-tier hall, plus two balconies. It is thought that the flat supper room floor was converted to a raked floor and that side balcony slips were also
added. The ceiling is flat with simple ornamentations originally for the gaslight roses, which were converted to electric
lighting.
In this new restoration the backstage areas have been
considerably improved and a passenger lift is now available
to take patrons to the upper floor.
Leeds City Varieties is considered to be one of the most

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important early grand music hall survivals in Britain.
Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Ltd is the company which manages the Leeds Grand Theatre, City Varieties Music Hall and the Hyde Park Picture House, three of
the regions’ most distinguished cultural institutions. It prides
itself on entertaining the people of Leeds and the surrounding area with the best in musicals, plays, comedy, music and
film as well as being the home venue for both Opera North
and Northern Ballet.
The company is controlled by Leeds City Council who
provide regular funding. Both the Grand Theatre and City
Varieties have undergone major refurbishments to bring facilities up to date. Neither of these projects would have been
possible without the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund who continue to support its Learning Programme.
For more information and images, visit OLD THEATRES
magazine online at www.oldtheatres.co.uk

Restored for you and for future generations, the famous Leeds City Varieties Music Hall is now a joy to behold. It brings back memories of the
good old days—essential viewing during our early television days. (The
interior décor is even more beautiful!)
Today’s audiences, of course, have abandoned their Edwardian attire...
Images courtesy Ian Grundy.

Theatre Historical Society of America | historictheatres.org | 35

A PUBLICATION OF

Theatre Historical Society
of America
ONLINE AT HISTORICTHEATRES.ORG