Karl St. John Hoblitzelle and the Interstate Amusement Company

Photo by Beth Greenberg

Many thanks to friend Beth Greenberg who happened to be in Texas a few months ago and sent these photos back, prompting this post.

Missouri-born Karl Hoblitzelle (1879-1967) was one of 13 children. After working at a succession of menial jobs, he finally got the one that mattered — he became assistant to the director of works at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, eventually becoming acting director as well. His rapid immersion in show business made him aware that the vaudeville of his day had a big hole in the American south and southeast. The south had a great deal of religious and social prejudice against entertainment. But such forms as circuses, show boats, medicine shows, and various other kinds of travelling tent shows did tour the region, making the establishment of a vaudeville circuit there a gambit worth trying. So in 1905 Hoblitzelle founded the Interstate Amusement Company, initially in several Texas cities, but soon extending it all the way to Alabama. The Majestic, pictured below was the headquarters of the circuit.

In the 1920s he began showing films in his theaters as well. He sold off most of his theatres to RKO in 1929 and went on a honeymoon trip to Europe. When the Depression hit, these RKO theatres and other local houses owned by Paramount went into receivership, so in order to protect the livelihoods of his former employees he acquired these houses and organized them into the Interstate Circuit and Texas Consolidated Theatres. Given the location of his chain it is not surprising to learn that he was one of the first in the nation to air-condition his theatres.

In 1936 he was one of the planners of the Centennial of Texas Independence celebration, and he chaired the 1945-46 celebration of a Century of Texas Statehood. He was also a collector of objects and ephemera related to such show biz topics as his own business, vaudeville and cinema, but also circus, opera and puppetry. These items became the core of the Hoblitzelle Theatre Arts Library at the University of Texas at Austin in 1956. Hoblitzelle was a major philanthropist in his last decades, giving large suns to a wide variety of worthy causes. Learn about his charity here. 

Photo by Beth Greenberg
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