Two generations of Albany children remember the Eagle Theatre, on the corner of Eagle and Hudson. It opened in 1926—a year before The Jazz Singer inaugurated the sound era—and remained in business for over thirty years.
The theater was housed in an antebellum armory, owned by the Catholic Union. Akin to the YMCA, the Union was a fraternal organization (with ladies auxiliary) dedicated to “the moral, intellectual, physical, and social well being of Catholic youth and adults.” Founded in 1887 with the encouragement of Bishop Francis McNeirny, the growing organization acquired the old arsenal later that year.
By the 1920s, the Catholic Union’s membership had declined and, along with it, funds—until local impresario, George Roberts, proposed a multi-year lease of the Union Hall’s main floor. He and his son, Ormond, converted the old armory’s 130 x 60 foot drill room into a 1,000-seat movie theater. But Ormond died soon after the Eagle opened in 1926. The following year, Roberts sold the theater to Abraham Stone, a 20-year veteran of the motion picture business.
Although the Union’s finances improved, relations with the local diocese soured. In 1928—five years before the founding of the Legion of Decency—Albany Bishop Edmund Gibbons complained that the movie theater was “a disgrace to the Catholic name” and threatened to denounce the organization publicly. The bishop urged Union leaders to dissolve the organization and sell the hall, proceeds to benefit the rival Knights of Columbus. The bishop’s threats and pleas, however, appear to have had little effect.
In 1929, Stone’s Eagle Theater converted to sound. In 1938, the familiar marquee was installed. A final round of renovations took place in 1944, after Capitol City Theater Corporation acquired the Eagle. The new owner instituted a policy of showing first-run films. Unfortunately, motion picture distributors discriminated against independent operators, forcing Capitol City to sell seven years later.
When the State of New York acquired the theater via eminent domain in 1962, the Eagle Theatre was already closed. The Catholic Union relocated to rented facilities at 480 Ontario St. And the city of Albany lost another landmark to the South Mall.