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In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Emma Avenue was the place to be in Springdale. Dry goods, the post office, drugstore and soda fountain, Emma had it all. In 1948, Bill Sonneman decided Emma needed one more destination- a new theater. With its ornate lobby, velvet seats and risqué marble statue, the Apollo Theater was the center of attention. Sixty-six years later, new owners Tom Lundstrom and Brian Moore hope the Apollo on Emma will once again be a breathtaking addition to downtown Springdale.
The Apollo Theater opened Sept. 29, 1949. It was the third theater Sonneman built in the area, including Dickson Street Theater in Fayetteville and another in Rogers, and the Apollo was his crowning achievement. Sonneman built the Apollo with elegance in mind. From its art deco finish, to the velvet curtains and seats in the theater and antiques in the lobby, the Apollo was stunning to its movie-going patrons. Many residents remember meeting friends for afternoon matinees, or taking a date to an evening show and perhaps stealing a kiss. On a warm afternoon in September, Tom Lundstrom walked me through the Apollo and shared his vision for reviving this beloved Springdale locale.
The first film shown at the Apollo was It’s a Great Feeling starring Doris Day, Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan. The marble statue of the god Apollo located in the lobby, wearing nothing but a fig leaf, caused quite a stir in town. Sonneman acquired the statue through local antique dealer Dallas Barrack and loved it so much he named his theater after the work of art. The scandalous statue was even draped with a tunic at one point to pacify more conservative residents.
After thriving during the 1950s and 60s, downtown Emma began to decline as more business moved out to Highway 71. The theater slowly spiraled into disrepair. In the 1970s, the Apollo created more scandal when a new owner showed X-rated films to try to turn a profit. The city closed down the theater. The story goes that the owner couldn’t pay his lawyer, who took some of the antiques, including the statue of Apollo, as payment. Today the statue’s whereabouts is unknown. “One day we’d love to return the statue, if we can find it,” Lundstrom says.
With or without the signature marble statue, the renovation of the Apollo Theater, officially renamed The Apollo On Emma, will be stunning. Lundstrom and Moore bought the building in June 2014. The interior was in such disrepair, it was condemned. The stage that had been built in the 1990s for a country music show had completely rotted and the roof allowed more rain in than it stopped. Moore and Lundstrom immediately gutted the building and built a new roof.
As we walked through the theater that September afternoon, I tried to imagine the grandeur of the original theater while envisioning Lundstrom’s ideas for the future. The lobby will be restored to its former glory, with plans to recreate the art deco look of the late 1940s. The mirror hanging in the lobby is the only original antique still in the building. The exterior facade will also undergo renovation, and Lundstrom asks for patience while they update the theater. “If we can do what we want to do, it’ll be jaw-dropping. People will not believe it’s in downtown Springdale.”
What Lundstrom and Moore want is to be the premier event location in downtown Springdale. The inside of the theater will be modified to seat up to 500 people theater style, or up to 300 at round tables. A catering kitchen will be added to the back of the theater and the interior will undergo its own transformation. Lundstrom is hush-hush with the details, except that he’d like to see eight chandeliers inside the theater.
The focus of the new Apollo on Emma will be weddings, private parties and corporate events. Upstairs, where the projectors and a cry room once stood, two private rooms will overlook the main floor, which can be used as bridal sitting rooms. The projectors are still inside the theater, as antique as the building. While movies won’t be offered regularly, Lundstrom hints at the possibility of special event showings. There’s a chance a flick may once again return to Emma Avenue.
The Apollo on Emma decorated for the 4th of July by Tom Lundstrom and used with permission.
Rodeo of the Ozarks parade in front of the Apollo Theater on Emma Street in Springdale, Arkansas, July 1950. Credit: Courtesy Shiloh Museum of Ozark History/ Maudine Sanders Collection (S-96-48-7)
“Belvedere Apollo Pio-Clementino Inv1015 n5” by Marie-Lan Nguyen – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
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