The History of the Vogue

The Vogue has been a Broad Ripple landmark since Carl Niesse opened the premier movie house June 18, 1938. Film stars Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers suggested the name “Vogue” to Niesse while visiting Indianapolis.
Below is a photo of Carl Niesse (looking at the camera) with his crew looking at the plans during the construction of the 800-seat theater. The contractor for the $65,000 job was William E. Mick. Also shown are architect Edwin Kopf’s sketches of the facade.
The newspaper noted.

Carl Niesse also managed The Ambassador, The Alamo and The Cozy, three other Indianapolis area theaters, under the name Central City Amusements Co.

His parents were Mr. & Mrs Charles Niesse and he was born in Madison, Indiana. Carl had many jobs; carnival worker in southern Indiana, ticket taker at Enochs Airdome, usher at the Grand Opera House, auditor for the Skouras Brothers (Circle Theater) and a comedy writer for a number of Vaudeville comics. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, Scottish Rite and Murat Shrine.

Hoosier cowboy star Ken Maynard laid the cornerstone for the Vogue in a public ceremony. Maynard said that this brick will be a good luck brick, since there is no stone in the construction of the theater.

Ken Maynard, in his cowboy outfit, is pictured below with Niesse. Maynard was starring in Whirlwind Horseman showing at The Alamo.

Carole Lombard was part of the opening festivities. Carole and her boyfriend, Clark Gable, signed the bronze star outside the theater.

Here are advertisements for the grand opening of the Vogue, and the bronze star in the sidewalk.

Twenty-six other movie stars, all with Hoosier connections, also signed the star:

Comedians Olsen & Johnson stopped in at the opening for some publicity shots and bought the first two tickets. They were performing at the Lyric Theater.

Admission on opening day was 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children. The first picture shown was College Swing starring Martha Raye and Bob Hope.

Niesse tried a new idea. He eliminated the double feature and showed a new concept instead, “short subjects”. Up to that time theaters regularly showed double features and one of the films was usually considered “filler”. While many patrons did not like the double feature, surveys showed that women liked two movies for one price because they thought it was a bargain. The movie studios agreed with the concept of the short subject, allowing them to produce fewer and better full-length movies. Here is what the newspaper had to say about Carl’s idea:

The single feature idea worked for a few months, but when Niesse returned to the double feature his ticket sales grew by 30 percent.

The Vogue was one of the first movie theatres to have air-conditioning.  Here is what the newspaper reported:

The Men’s and Women’s lounges were elegant and sophisticated. The local newspaper description:

The projection booth had two arc-lamp projectors and a bench for rewinding films.

Note – while the projection booth has since been converted into the general offices for the Vogue Nightclub, the original medicine cabinet on its restroom wall still remains.

Below is the theater lobby in 1938. The poster sitting on the floor by the lounge door is for Three Blind Mice starring Joel McCrea, Lorretta Young and David Niven.

The lovely Vogue ushers in their stylish uniforms.

Another new idea at the Vogue was a large (400 car) parking lot where movie patrons could park for free. Below is a picture of the new parking lot taken from Carrollton Avenue. In the upper right corner of the parking lot picture you can see two houses still on Broad Ripple Avenue, where Huntington Bank is today (2020).

A give-away to promote the parking lot.

Throughout the late 1930’s and 1940’s the Vogue was one of the premier movie houses in the mid-west.

The Vogue was remodeled in 1948. You can see the new light-up Vogue letters above a now larger marquee in the picture below. The films listed on the marquee are Kiss the Blood off my Hands starring Joan Fontaine and Burt Lancaster and Miss Tatlock’s Millions.

Carl Niesse sold the Vogue in October 1954.  He died in January 1960 at the age of 63.

The last movie I remember seeing at the Vogue was Tora, Tora, Tora. Another movie that played there near the end was House of Dark Shadows. Eventually, in the early 1970’s the Vogue changed from a premiere first run movie house to a first run X-rated movie theatre, featuring such classics as Deep Throat and Hard Candy.

In 1977 John Ross and Doug Turnbull purchased the Vogue. To announce the new ownership, the marquee displayed a take-off on the recent film Born Free.

The old Vogue movie ticket dispenser.

They invested $500,000 in the old theatre and remodeled it, putting in tiered seating, oak floors, a balcony, a larger stage, and three full service bars. On December 31, 1977, New Year’s Eve, the club opened to a sold out show with a band named Coal Kitchen.

John and Doug ran the Vogue until May of 1986, when they sold it to Steve Ross and Dennis Burris, pictured below left to right.

In September 1993 the Vogue received another major remodeling. Steve and Dennis invested $250,000 in changing the club’s interior appearance. They reconfigured the front bar area, added a deli, added the center dance floor bar, installed 100,000 watts of lighting and sound systems, quadrupled the size of the dance floor, and painted the entire club.

The Vogue presents all types of entertainment, including full production plays, musicals, talent shows, band contests, benefits for charitable causes, comedians, movies, and hundreds of local, regional, and internationally renowned artists.

The Vogue has won many awards, such as “Best in Indy” from the Indianapolis Monthly Magazine and NUVO Reader Polls and Indianapolis Star critic’s picks. It is part of a family of nightclubs, comprised of the Vogue and the Patio in Indianapolis, and the Bluebird and Axis in Bloomington.

The Vogue remains successful. This sold-out performance and the long line at the box office is a regular sight on College. It has survived longer than any other business in Broad Ripple due to the hard work of its many owners over the years to adapt it to serve the ever-changing customer. It stands as a Broad Ripple landmark and a piece of architectural history. If someone gives directions for a location in Broad Ripple, chances are the Vogue is included in the description.

The familiar painted sign by the stage door.

Steve Ross (former owner) in-front of the venue.

In 2019 Steve Ross retired from the Vogue and sold to Eric Tobias, co-founder and partner at High Alpha, Scott Kraege, co-founder and former CEO of MOBI; and Andrew Davis, former CFO of MOBI.

The story of the autographed star in the sidewalk is still a mystery. It is believed that Niesse took it with him when he sold the theater in 1954. It hung in a local bar for a time. Then in 1994 it was “re-discovered” when a local TV reporter did a story on an eastside woman with a star. Ross and Burris heard about the story, made a bid for the star and were able to reacquire it, partially because they were going to return it to its original home in the sidewalk.

They repaired the star and sank it back into the sidewalk under the marquee and celebrated with an unveiling ceremony. The star can still be seen there today and is a reminder of Broad Ripple’s connection to the Hollywood of the 1930’s.