The Circle Theatre is the second-oldest surviving building on Monument Circle. Only Christ Church Cathedral (1859) predates it. It also was the first building constructed in Indianapolis expressly for the presentation of feature-length motion pictures. Indeed, it was one of the first such movie palaces in the Midwest. Until this time, movies were primarily shown in small storefronts of commercial buildings. Circle Theatre organizers, led by A. L. Block and Robert Lieber, invested over $500,000 in the project, which opened on August 30, 1916.

Circle Theatre marquee, October 1945 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

Rubush And Hunter, one of the most important architectural firms of Indianapolis during the early 20th  -century, took design inspiration from current trends in Neoclassical Revival architecture. What makes the Circle Theatre building unique is its expression of a style promulgated by late 18th -century British architects Robert Adams and his brothers. Exterior elements, such as the classical Greek figures in the terra cotta facade’s frieze and tympanum (sculpted or painted decoration in a semi-circular or triangular wall surface over a doorway or entrance), and interior features, such as the richly detailed, bas-relief proscenium (surrounding the top and sides of the stage) frieze and the plethora of intricate plaster moldings throughout the house, are characteristic of the style. Henry Behrens, the original interior designer, was also in charge of the 1930s renovation.

Films were shown in the 3,100-seat Circle Theatre for 65 years, interspersed with stage shows, musical performances, and a variety of other forms of entertainment. Following the movie theatre’s closure in 1981 and a brief period of vacancy, the building gained new life in 1984 as the concert hall of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. The local architectural firm Archonics was in charge of its $6.9 million renovations. The interior is of such significance that the city afforded design review under the aegis of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission.

Interior of Hilbert Circle Theatre, ca. 2000 Credit: Banayote Photo Inc., Indiana Historical Society View Source

The theatre was renamed Hilbert Circle Theatre in 1996 after being endowed by Stephen Hilbert, founder of CNO Financial Group, and his wife Tomisue.

Revised March 2021

Help improve this entry

Contribute information, offer corrections, suggest images.

You can also recommend new entries related to this topic.