The Village Theatre has probably the most interesting history. It was built as a pier near 8th Street sometime after 1910. Standing high up on pilings, above the water's edge, the theatre presented plays, vaudeville acts and silent movies. Doughty's Pier, as it was known, had rows of windows on each side to let the ocean breeze through. Benches offered simple seating for the crowds.
On April 30, 1903, Carrell Doughty purchased the land for Doughty's Pier for $375 at 8th Street. The Doughty Building was built on the new (1905) boardwalk along with a pavilion and a walkway to the water's edge. The Doughty Building had a unique second floor covered balcony that overlooked the boardwalk. Sometime around 1910 the pavilion was replaced with Doughty's Pier, a theater built with all wood framing. Very large wooden trusses held up the roof. "The original theatre was a barn of a place, open only summers, I recall...[and] was indeed a pier, extending seaward over the beach, and containing a dance hall," remembers Miriam Simms Piper, daughter of the owner of Simms' Restaurant.
Helen Kertland, who sold tickets at Doughty's from 1923 to 1988 told me of how the same group of ladies, including Mrs. Doughty, would sit in rocking chairs on the ocean side of the building, overlooking the Atlantic, each night and talk.
When the great fire of 1927 destroyed much of the boardwalk, Doughty's Pier survived. The new boardwalk was rebuilt much closer to the ocean, on the other side of Doughty's pier. The theatre found itself on the inland side of the boardwalk, and at least 200 feet from it. (Aerial view).
Carrell Doughty then purchased the land extending from Doughty's Pier outward 1,000' toward the Atlantic for $2,475 on June 18,1928. (But I am not sure how this works. From whom do you buy this land?)
On September 23, 1929, Doughty's Theatre closed for remodeling, only I don't know what was done to it. I suspect the interior was improved. The major remodeling occurred in 1932...
While other buildings that survived the fire were actually moved east to the new boardwalk, Doughty's pier remained in place, but was no longer a pier. The entrance was now on the wrong side of the building.
In 1932 (according to cashier Helen Kertland) carpenters were hired to turn the inside of the theatre around. After the theatre closed on September 10, 1932, the floor was re-angled, the seats were reversed, and the screen was placed at the opposite end of the building. A lobby and projection room were added to the building, on the side where the stage had been--now the entrance. Patrons would now enter the building from the eastern side, near the boardwalk. Lillian Wange designed a false seaport village front that was constructed near the entrance, with small village doors and windows lit from behind.
At some point it was sold to William Shriver. Helen Kertland told me (in 1988) that widow Phebe Doughty was left only $1 in her husband's will somehow the theatre was sold to Mr. Shriver. Helen was around back then and knew the people involved, but she is gone now and I have no way of confirming that story.
A sound system was installed in 1929.
In 1941 new air conditioning (deep well-cold water) was added to the Village and the Moorlyn.
In September of 1940, Shriver asked architect Armand Carroll (who designed the Strand) to draw up designs to make the interior of the Village larger. The original lobby area of Doughty's Pier was now unused and was not tall enough to become part of the auditorium. The screen sat inside the auditorium with the old lobby behind it.
Carroll made the theatre larger by extending the roof line further back to the rear of the building, making the old lobby area tall enough. The screen was pushed back and the entire floor was altered to allow 190 more seats on a gradual slope. There were two aisles dividing the seats into three groups. Two tall decorative arches were built on either side of the stage with draperies behind them. Lights hidden in coves accented the draperies. The screen was 24 feet wide.
The backstage area became the fan room, with vents to the outside that could be opened to let fresh air into the system; and a boiler was installed below the building. The theatre office remained backstage in the smaller space but at the old floor elevation. You had to climb a few steps to reach the office, which for many years served as the main office for the Shriver Theatre Company.
The 1940 plans called for Radio and Theater decorations painted on the walls near the ceiling. They also showed plywood cutout shields lining the walls on either side, but I suspect they were never installed. The blueprints of 1956 do not show them and I never saw any sign of them in the 1970's.
In 1956-57 the interior was changed again. The auditorium floor was removed and replaced with new flooring at a slightly steeper incline and 1,048 seats were installed with a single aisle down the middle. The exterior walls were covered with "Corrugated Galbestos". New steel lally columns were installed in the side spaces on either side of the seats. These were basically wide aisles with lower ceilings.
The stage area was rebuilt, making room for a new 39 foot CinemaScope screen.
The inside of the Village was simple with occasional odd angles in the walls where the building had been reversed. Behind the screen you could see marks in the floor from what used to be several front doors. Above the projection room you could find the fly space from the original stage. Until 1989 the theatre was still lit with very old Lumiline incandescent fixtures. Each light looked like a fluorescent tube but had an incandescent filament running its length instead.
The theatre was the home office for the Shriver Theatre Company and its general manager, Arthur Oehlschlager. Arthur started working as a rewind boy in 1929, became the general manager around 1961, and managed the entire theatre operation until his death in 1980. Employees hung a ship's wheel in the Village lobby in memory of Oehlschlager.
The Village and other theatres were sold in 1989 by Helen Shriver Schilling to a company secretly owned by local competitors. On June 12, 1990 the Village burned to the ground. The cause is still unknown.