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|With Movies, You're Never too Old to Dream
Some History of New Castle, Indiana's "Castle Theater".
By Mark Sean Orr
Movies are a way for us to have wonderful dreams while we are awake. They take us to different
places around the world and even other worlds; full of excitement, adventure, love, sorrow, "good"
horror and more. They are the great escape. And they are a gathering place for friends, family
and even strangers to share a common love of movies from Disney epics to high-tech special
This October will mark the 80th anniversary of the Castle Theater serving up entertainment in the
form of movies and special events for New Castle and Henry County since October 10, 1935. It is
the last in a line of as many as eight theaters that have entertained New Castle residents since
1907. The Castle Theater opened just six years after the introduction of the first "talkie" film was
shown here at another theater "The Princess" that was located just across the street from where
the Castle would be built.
The first movie shown to county residents at the Castle was "Annapolis Farewell", a movie
"Dedicated to all the sea-going sons of Annapolis and their sweethearts!"
The first music heard in the theater would include the Annapolis soundtrack that featured the
song "When I Grow Too Old To Dream".
A plaque on the north, outside wall of the theater states that on the property was once the home
of Judge Joshua H. Mellett, an early Henry County pioneer. The property that was to become the
site of the Castle Theater was donated by Mellett's granddaughter Nellie Catherine Bundy Bailey.
The property was dedicated in trust to the James Whitcomb Riley Memorial Association in it's
program of service to the handicapped children of the James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children.
The theater at 221 South Main Street when built was a modern/art deco theater made of brick with
a front facade made entirely of beautiful swirled red and black Vitrolite glass imported from
Belgium, some of which survives today and can be seen around the door and ticket booth areas.
The theater had/has a capacity of 800 seats. At some point much of the Vitrolite was covered or
destroyed and replaced by brick. It must have been an amazing site with all that glass when first
built in 1935 as it most certainly would be as well today. People say that it was hard to
photograph the building as the reflections from the glass were so bright. Photographers had to
choose just the right time of day to make a good photograph of the theater. ( I have seen an old
black and white photo of the Vitroite, and even printed in colorless ink it is stunning!).
The inside of the theater is just as impressive, but that's a whole other article that maybe
someone else or myself may write some day.
The Castle has been operated over the years by Ray Brenner, Bill Denney, Kerasotes, Dave and
Wanda Battas and most recently by Rick and Elaine Dearduff. Bill Denney probably operated the
theater for a longer period of time than anyone. Denney began his employment at the Castle as
an usher under the management of Ray Brenner. Denney went on to become the projectionist
and then managed (but still retained the job of projectionist) the Castle Theatre for 35 years. He
also worked at the Princess, the Royal and the Starette theaters in New Castle. Denney was
known to have a great sense of humor and he was also an avid collector of movie posters (more
than 4,000 pieces), some of which the author of this article purchased from Denney in the 1980's.
I bought all the Stephen King related movie posters my paycheck and my wife would allow! In a
1988 interview Denney told the story of how a good movie can make audience members feel like
they are right on screen experiencing what the actors are portraying. "The night 'Lawrence of
Arabia' played here, there was no way you could keep the soft drink machine filled," Denney said.
Denney was infamous for his humorous messages he would put on the marquee taunting friends
about local basketball game outcomes and even the announcement of the birth of his first
grandchild. He also had his own desk at the Courier-Times where he would write up and even
illustrate the theater's ads. Bill Denney passed away in 1996. The man was so beloved that many
stood in line for two hours during the funeral visitation.
In January of 2010, the theater under the then management of Kerasotes closed it's doors for the
first time in the theater's history. It was re-opened in March of 2010 by Dave and Wanda Battas
who ran it until the Dearduff's took over management in June of 2010. The Dearduff's continue to
operate the theater today but it is once again facing a possible closure. With new technology, all
theaters are being forced to purchase (or lease) digital projectors as film movies are no longer
being made except by a very few film-makers. The cost of these projectors is in the tens of
thousands of dollars; theaters are faced with "going digital or going dark".
The Dearduff's have just today opened a Kickstarter campaign online to raise money for the
conversion to the digital format. We wish them much success! Just as our monumental courthouse
is the very foundation of New Castle and Henry County, the Castle Theater with it's marquee lights
and thrilling movies is the pulse of the county. It should continue to provide first-run movies and
old "B" horror films and lighting up Main Street with it's impressive marquee. Its should continue to
be a place where dreamers and movie lovers can watch their favorite films on a giant screen with
friends and family. Let's keep this place of dreams around for many more generations.
The Castle Theater is currently part of a trust overseen by JP Morgan Chase Bank, which has
delegated the property management responsibilities to the Indianapolis commercial real estate
firm of Colliers, Turley and Martin. The Dearduffs are tenants while Riley Hospital for Children
receives some of the proceeds.
Mark Sean Orr
March 5, 2015
Darrel Radford - Courier-Times staff writer (Bill Denney quote)
Uptownadviser - (Dave and Wanda Battas information)
*UPDATE: On March 28, 2015 the Castle Theater reached their fund raising goal of $10,000 that
will be used to covert the theater from film to digital. Congrats!!!!
|ANNAPOLIS FAREWELL The first show to run
at the castle Theater. 1935 ad.
|1964 ad for the "5 Big Happenings of Horror!"
|1891 home that stood where the Castle Theater would be built some 40 years later.
Article from local newspaper about the Castle Theater. In this photograph you can see that the theater's front
side was once completely made of Vitrolite. It would be interesting to know if that ornate glass was destroyed
or just covered up by bricks when the theater was remodeled. Some of the Vitrolite remains around the ticket
booth and entrances.
|One of the entrances to the theater's seating and screen. I've walked through those doors countless times!
|Inside New Castle Indiana's 800 seat "Castle Theater".
|The stairs to the projection and poster rooms.