The Vogue has been an iconic fixture on 6259 N. College Ave for nearly a century. Each marquee change told a new story to the Broad Ripple neighborhood, and every artist has brought a new flavor to Indianapolis’ music scene. But music isn’t the only language spoken by the storied venue.
The Vogue has a long history of transporting audiences to new places — before the music, it did so with movies, from 1938 to 1977. Broad Ripple natives look back on that time with fondness and nostalgia that so often, only film can evoke.
“I just remember it being so so big,” said Cynthia Boggs-Lawson, who grew up in Broad Ripple. She first visited the Vogue in 1961 for a friend’s birthday, when they watched “West Side Story.” “I’m just like 12 years old at the time so, you know, just for the first time going into a theater like that, I was in just in awe of it.”
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The theater helped people fall in love not just with films but also their community.
“I loved (West Side Story),” Boggs-Lawson said. “I’ve watched that movie several times and every time I do, I think of when I went to the Vogue Theater to watch it. It brings back a lot of memories.”’
In a Marion County history Facebook group, people reminisced about their visits to The Vogue: “I can remember going there when it was a movie theater,” wrote one man. I saw ‘Let It Be by the Beatles!'”
“I rode my bike there on Saturdays to see the matinee with my friends,” said one woman.
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Friz Garrison remembers watching his first movie there at age 7. And though he wasn’t a movie buff at that age, for Garrison and his group of friends, the theater offered a space to gather in their grade school years in the 1960s.
“We used to go there a lot,” Garrison said. “We’d sneak in the back door at The Vogue, in that little alley back there … When somebody would go out, we would go in,” Garrison recalled, laughing.
“It was a popular theater … This group of us friends, we always, was just always looking for something to do, and Broad Ripple seemed to be the place.”
Broad Ripple came into its own as a bustling, beloved spot over the years — and The Vogue played a key part. From the 1910s to 1920s, the advent of automobiles and greater home sales encouraged suburbanization and helped Broad Ripple begin its transformation “into the neighborhood we know today,” according to Jordan Ryan of History Concierge, an architectural history research firm in Indianapolis. The Vogue Theater first opened in 1938, following in line with the area’s economic boom and growing population.
“That is a form of entertainment that the residents can seek on your central commercial strip, which, you know, we know as Broad Ripple Avenue,” Ryan said. “So movie theaters are all over the place in the city because this was one of the major forms of entertainment at the time before the invention of the television.”
The Vogue was one of 57 Indianapolis movie theaters in 1938, according to Ryan. Founder Carl Niesse, originally from Madison, Indiana, worked his way up from theater usher to theater owner, according to his obituary. He was also a carnival worker and writer for Vaudeville comics before opening The Vogue. “A lifelong ambition will be realized after nearly 30 years in show business when Carl Niesse opens the doors of his new Vogue theater,” a June 1938 newspaper article said.
“Enjoy good entertainment in luxurious comfort”
“Relax in deep air-spring cushion chairs”
“Use the largest theater parking lot in Indianapolis — free to Vogue patrons”
The Vogue was one of the first theaters to offer air conditioning, and it boasted its 500 car capacity, “the largest free parking lot of any motion picture.” It was also reported to be the first neighborhood theater with female ushers.
Tickets were 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children. In 1938, 25 cents was the minimum hourly wage, and adjusted for inflation, it equals about $4.45 today. The first film shown was “College Swing,” starring Martha Raye and Bobe Hope, according to The Vogue’s online history.
In addition to free parking and air conditioning, Niesse was also innovative in his film choices. He got rid of the popular “double features” for a while and experimented with single features, where the theater just showed one film instead of two.
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The “noble experiment” worked for a few months, but Niesse eventually returned to the double feature once he realized it helped ticket sales grow by 30%. “Double features win,” an October 1938 newspaper article declared.
Over time, as films came and went, the theater continued to evolve. In October 1948, a new sound system was installed, promising to bring greater “listening pleasure” to audiences. In July 1948, The Vogue celebrated its tenth anniversary, with a showing of the color film “Albuquerque,” starring Randolph Scott and Barbara Britton. In the 1950s, The Vogue offered Saturday afternoon matinees, which were a delight for the neighborhood kids and parents, too.
“Mom could drop us off with assurance that we were safe and would be well entertained while she got in a couple hours of shopping. I think she gave us 50 cents for the afternoon,” wrote Brandt Carter, in The Broad Ripple Gazette. “Saturday movies were the best! We would go inside in full daylight and come out during winter months at dusk. Theaters held such allure with their double features, cartoons, snacks, and whispers of nearly 600 kids (sans chaperones) — the only adults were the ushers … Oh, what marvelous memories were made.”
In 1954, Niesse sold the theater. With the television becoming popular, theaters lost business as patrons preferred the convenience of entertainment at home.
“At this point, this is when some of these motion picture theaters turn to showing adult films,” Ryan said.
The Vogue made this transition in the early 1970s and continued until its final moments as a theater. Ryan found evidence the theater showed pornographic films for a brief period in 1977, the establishment’s last year, while waiting to obtain a liquor license and convert into the music venue.
The final movie curtain call took place on Dec. 31, 1977, when the theater officially became a nightclub. Since then, The Vogue has hosted a variety of musical artists and bands, including Willie Nelson, The Ramones, Blondie and Johnny Cash.
A new generation is now enjoying the sounds of The Vogue and making memories, just as the old one did. As a “rock and roll nerd,” Jordan Ryan said she’s most excited by the venue’s rich music heritage.
“I’ve seen old rock ‘n roll dad bands, I’ve seen ska bands there, I’ve seen Fleetwood Mac cover bands,” Ryan said. ” I love cover bands. It’s an indulgence.”
“What’s cool about The Vogue is that it is uniquely sized … It’s large enough to attract and pay for national acts, but it’s still small enough to feel like an intimate performance, and I think that’s why it’s so successful and has outlived so many other venues.”