Robert Harris’s Princess Theatre opened on June 23, 1913, with the photoplay Mlle. Coquette accompanied by a six piece orchestra. The program also featured chimes playing Ethelbert Nevin’s “The Rosary.” As the first built-from-the-ground-up-movie theatre in Bloomington, it featured a 400-seat auditorium which sloped in a semi-circle to the screen. During these early days the Princess was the only theatre to feature Edison Talking Pictures, the original “talkies,” along with popular silent films.
In his autobiography Sometimes I Wonder, Hoagy described how his mother Lida helped supplement his father’s income by playing piano in the local movie theatres including the Princess, the Indiana, and the Wonderland. His mother, he said, “was dreamy, musical, and could rattle the eighty-eight keys of a piano with a speed and expertise that showed she wasn’t fooling. She accompanied the flickering celluloid epics of the day, busting out in fragments of Wagner for train wrecks and fires, bringing in the sobbing notes for Way Down East and giving the Indian Love Call its most cloying chords whenever the plot hinted of outdoor men enmeshed in turn-of-the-century sex.”
When vaudeville acts, French girlie shows, and tramp comics came to play at town theatres, Lida Carmichael played accompaniment, knocking out the zoom, zam, boffs, and socks on the theatre piano. Hoagy reminisced that, because she played picture-show music, he was admitted free and considered himself the most important kid in town.
Renovations to the Princess 1923-Present
An enlarged and remodeled Princess Theatre reopened in 1923. The new theatre doubled the size of the auditorium and began featuring Indiana University jazz orchestras that performed in the evenings. A variety of notable musicians, including Hoagy Carmichael, headed those orchestras.
In 1929, sound systems for Vitaphone and Movietone were installed and the Princess became a “talkie” theatre. The stock market crash and depression closed many theatres throughout the country, but the Princess remained open. The façade of the theatre was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The front half of the auditorium and stage walls collapsed in 1985. This area was razed and condominiums and commercial storeroom facilities were constructed in their place. The area that once contained the foyer and lobby has been renovated throughout the years for use as a variety of restaurants and was most recently home to a restaurant called the Village Pub.