Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Blue Front

Photo from the Armstrong Archives

On the corner of East Poplar and Main sits the Blue Front, one of Main Streets' most impressive buildings.  Built in 1887 in the Queen Anne style, with Romanesque details of rough stone arches and a corner tower, it gives the street a feeling of substance.  Its name was acquired from its best known business, the Blue Front Department Store, which operated there at the turn of the century.  James Isenberg and his brother started out there with a dry goods store and quickly expanded into a department store which always seemed to be ahead of its time.  Among its many innovations were an electric carrier system which took transactions to a central office where change was made, packages wrapped, and returned to the customer.  During the local street fairs, which took place right in front of their businesses, the Blue Front provided a nursery with “20 nurses in uniform, cradles and swings” for children to be cared for, “throwing open its doors to make the store your home while in town.”  After 58 years in business, the Blue Front closed in 1939.

Photo from the Armstrong Archives

These 1940s photograph shows Chenoweth Hall, a sad reminder of the beauty it once was.  In the foreground is the semi-circle balcony overlooking the stage.  The regular seats below cannot be seen because old merchandise, fixtures and other junk was brought upstairs when the Blue Front closed.  The photo below is an up close look at the stenciling done on the walls and ceilings.  This was not wallpaper - each stencil was hand painted. According to a 1991 quote by Mrs. Lucille Graves, “The Blue Front Theatre had the most beautiful ceiling and as a child I remember looking up and seeing the stars on that ceiling …” Harrodsburg native, Ralph Anderson, bought the Blue Front in 1988 and, after a lengthy renovation inside and out, returned the Blue Front to its original glory. However, the upstairs theatre is not open to the public.

Photo from the Armstrong Archives

Each Christmas Mr. Isenberg had a great party for all the children.  Santa Claus came with a noisemaker for every child.  Have you seen the Opera House on the second floor of this building?  It was restored by the late Ralph Anderson to its original beauty.  Many years ago the opera came to Harrodsburg and enjoyed this fine house as did the folks here in Harrodsburg.  

Grand Opening - Advertisement from The Danville News

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