A Downtown Mainstay for Generations

By Lilly Essex, Carroll High School

Izzy Hunter, Muchin College Prep

Samantha Enciso, Chicago Bulls College Prep

The Indiana Theatre, or simply “the Indiana” to Bloomington natives, has been a downtown mainstay for generations.The Indiana had been the home for a variety of events and entertainment over the years. It had housed vaudeville acts, live music, and even a few movies.

Casey Rich said,“Originally built by Vonderschmitts in 1922, it was used to be a silent films theater.” In November 1933, a fire threatened to destroy the theater, but miraculously, the Vonderschmitts were able to rebuild and reopen it within a few months.he cause of the fire was a mystery. Some said that the old film projector in the town hall overheated and caused the fire, but no one could be sure.

Casey Rich said,“…white patrons were able to sit anywhere while African American patrons had to sit in the balcony.”This segregation was a result of the Jim Crow laws that had been put in place to ensure that African Americans were kept separate from whites. Although this practice was widespread, it was not accepted by everyone. Many African Americans refused to accept the segregation and fought to end it. They protested in front of movie theaters, organized boycotts, and wrote letters to local newspapers to express their outrage.

In the Buskirk-Chumley theatre, everything changed in 1948 when A. B. Clark, the theater’s manager, called up George Taliaferro, a popular African American football player at Indiana University. Clark invited Taliaferro to the theater and told him he could sit wherever he liked. Taliaferro accepted the invitation and, because of his status as a sports hero, no one challenged his right to sit anywhere. The next week, he and another African American football player brought dates to the theater and again, no one challenged them. Casey Rich said, “…quietly integrating the Indiana Theatre.”

In December 1995, Kerasotes donated the theater to the Bloomington Area Arts Council (BAAC). The community rallied together and with donations from prominent citizens, the theater was restored and renamed the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in honor of the local family’s generosity. The theater was outfitted with state-of-the-art technical equipment and management was turned over to BCT Management, Inc. The Buskirk-Chumley Theater has since become a destination for Bloomington residents and theater lovers alike.