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Re-Creating The Palace Theater

Inspiration - Technical Notes - Back to Production Blog


History and Memories:

The Palace Theater of Olean, NY opened in 1917 and hosted thousands of live performances and feature films in its 80 years of existence. In researching the building, I found the original design to be different than the theater I remembered.


At some point, the seats were changed from what looks like wood and fabric to padded fabric metal seats. I remember there being large curtains draped down the walls, probably added to better control movie sound in the theater. In older pictures the walls appear to be decorated with elaborate patterns, resembling wallpaper and mouldings.


During various changes made to the theater, it looks like a separator curtain was added across the back portion where the stairs are, not seen in the earlier photo. Then that area was eventually walled off with swinging doors at each isle, the spot between the doors becoming a concession stand. I suspect the front door entrance was changed from original at some point as well. I remember the large blue-ish tiles and metal doorway. In most pictures of theaters built in that same time period, wooden front doors were most common. Often with a ticket booth as part of the entrance. No photos have been found to support that at the Palace, though. The sign and marquee were changed a number of times.
















The Demolition:

I was able to take some pictures during the demolition. It's very unfortunate that the building was taken down. The photos later turned out to be a good reference during digital reconstruction as to how the building was laid out, revealing room and hallway arrangements, and passageways behind the walls that lead to the balcony in the theater. Also, three floors of office and business space shown on the other side. Early city directories list billiards and other businesses there.




Rebuilding in the Virtual World:

I've used Lightwave 3D as my modeling software to rebuild the Palace Theater, inside and out. Texturing and rendering takes place in Substance Painter, Photoshop, Lightwave 3D, Blender Cycles, and Unity for various output formats.


It was a rather straight forward build, following the known room layouts and unique shapes and contours of the balcony. Details in decorations and lighting are estimated from old photos. The modeling process is on-going, updated as new facts come in and new pictures are found.


Early Renderings in 3D and 360° video:

A preliminary 360° video rendering of the interior is available to view now on YouTube, along with some exterior renderings. A more detailed tour of the theater is being rendered, with a true VR experience soon to follow.



Many web browsers support 360° video. Chrome or Firefox are recommended. Safari is not supported at this time. Mobile device users can view 360° videos through your YouTube app.













The Marquee and Sign:

In researching the Palace and thanks to people mentioning it, one of the first things I learned is that the marquee changed a few times over the years. The very original sign and marquee was a simpler design, with the sign portion I believe made to look like a fireworks launched into the air and exploding back down.



In later pictures and postcards, a different marquee is seen. One that has a raised hump in the middle of the signage. I'm not sure how long it remained like that. Notes say the 1950's. Looks quite awesome like that.



Closer in time, most people will remember a more square appearance, with the classic tall Palace sign with large letters across the front of the marquee. The sign was saved, and still exists in storage. A friend and I had a chance to stop in and look it over and take pictures. I was allowed to keep a bulb from the sign.



Other Memories and Speculation:

Walking in the front door of the Palace led you to the lobby with a ticket booth to the left. It ramped up slightly to the doors to enter the theater area. I haven't confirmed it yet, but based on other theater designs of the same time period and photos taken during demolition, it seems like the original layout may have had a ticket booth at the front door and the room where the later ticket booth was looks like it may have originally been a coat check room. That's all speculation though.



During the years that I went to the Palace, the balcony was always closed. I remember the large stairway to the right as you walked into the theater standing area. The stairway led up to restrooms on the second floor. Also there was a hallway with an office of some sort, and the projection room. The balcony appears to have had multiple access ways. I believe one on each side from the second floor level, and a few doorways that opened to stairways behind the wall leading back down to the standing area.



Thinking about the stage, it seemed very large and mostly forgotten during the years as a movie theater. Originally being a vaudeville theater, it must have been quite a place for live performances. I read a story that Harry Houdini modified the stage with a trap door for his performance there.



The upper floors, store fronts, and other half of the Palace building housed offices, businesses, and through the years many different tenants such as billiards, a dance studio, and an artist studio.





There is still a lot of guess-work involved, mostly because this recreation is based on written history, memories, and available photos. If you have something good to share about The Palace Theater; pictures, memories, facts, please do.






Some rendered views of The Palace Theater and other buildings of Olean, NY: