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The Empress Theatre was built in 1912 and owned by George A. Bleich. It was considered to be the most modern and largest theater in town at the time. Several years later, Bleich opened the Bleich Theatre next door. Community events such as private parties were held at the two theaters, including the annual Goodfellows Christmas Party. In 1937, The Empress was bought by Malco Theaters and underwent cosmetic renovations before re-opening on Christmas Eve, 1937. "Goldie" Payne bought the building in 1989 after new theaters were built and opened "Goldie’s Best Little Opry House in Kentucky." Goldie retired in 2008, and the Theatre Workshop of Owensboro became the new owners in 2011. They have since reverted the name back to The Empress.


  • Empress Theatre, ca. 1920s
  • Newspaper Announcement for opening of The Empress, October 1912
  • Empress Theatre around the time it opened, November 1912
  • Demolition of Bleich Theatre next to the Empress, March 1966
  • Goodfellows Christmas Party at the Bleich Theatre, 1944
  • Goodfellows Christmas Party at the Bleich Theatre, 1944
  • Advertisement for opening the new Malco Theatre, December 24, 1937
  • Empress Theatre, date unknown

The Empress Theatre was built in 1912 and owned by George A. Bleich. The original building seated 700 people, and had up-to-date theater equipment and electric globes lining the entrance. Bleich called it “the most beautiful theater house in the country,” even going so far as to offer cash to anyone who could name a more beautiful or better constructed theater for a town this size. It officially opened to the public on October 29, 1912, and retained full capacity the entire night. A year later, in 1913, an annex was added which provided 180 more seats.

On September 20, 1920, Bleich opened a second theater next to the Empress, the aptly named Bleich Theatre. This one boasted 900 seats, a ladies rest room, and a men’s smoking room. It was considered more modem than the Empress. In 1930, the Empress was remodeled, with the front lobby lowered to the sidewalk, restrooms added, and a “Lanvin green” color scheme incorporated. It was during this renovation that the electric neon marquee signs that swung in front of the building were placed. During this time, the annual Goodfellows Christmas was held at the Empress, before moving over to the Bleich.

Eventually, the Empress was sold to Malco-Memphis Theaters. After a showing of the jazz film “52nd Street,” on December 19, 1937, the Empress closed and was completely rebuilt. It received new draperies, a larger screen, and new sound equipment. The interior was redone, and the marquee enlarged. On Christmas Eve, the theater reopened as The Malco. It remained The Malco until 1989, at which point it became Goldie’s Best Little Opry House in Kentucky. New owner Beverly "Goldie" Payne re-opened the building with an enlarged stage as a performance hall for country, bluegrass, and gospel music. Goldie retired in December 2008, and the building was sold to the Theatre Workshop of Owensboro in April 2011. They renovated the building, and rechristened it The Empress. The Bleich Theatre closed in 1956, and was demolished in 1966 to make way for the Owensboro National Bank.

"Bleich Theatre is Nearly Ready for Opening, Sept, 20." The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro) September 12th 1920. Morning ed, B sec, 1-1.

"Capacity House on First Night." The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro) October 30th 1912. Morning ed, 3-3.

"Capacity of Beautiful Empress Theater is Now Larger." The Twice-A-Week-Messenger (Owensboro) December 6th 1913. Morning ed, 7-7.

Covington, Owen. "Goldie's Opryhouse sees final show." Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro) December 14th 2008. , C sec, 1-3.

"Empress Theater Opens Tonight." The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro) October 29th 1912. Morning ed, 2-2.

"Great Crowd at Bleich Opening." Owensboro Daily Inquirer (Owensboro) September 21st 1920. Evening ed, 3-3.

"Empress Theatre to be Modernized by Malco Along Semi-Modernistic Lines." The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro) November 14th 1937. Morning ed, 1-5.

"Empress Theatre to Close Tonight." The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro) December 19th 1937. Morning ed, 9-9.

Hunt, Steve. "Live Music to replace movies at Malco." Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro) January 18th 1989. , A sec, 1-8.

"Keiler Arranges Improvements at Local Theatres." The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro) April 16th 1930. Morning ed, 1-2.

"Malco Theatre Opens for Holidays; To Have Formal Presentation Later Date." The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro) December 25th 1937. Morning ed, 5-5.

"Malco Theatre to Open Tonight." The Owensboro Daily Inquirer (Owensboro) December 25th 1937. Evening ed, 3-3.

Messenger-Inquirer. A Pictorial History of Owensboro - Daviess County. Volume 1. Owensboro, KY. Owensboro Publishing Company, 1994

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"New Theatre More Beautiful Than Empress." The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro) December 25th 1919. Morning ed, 1-1.

Wilberdig, Beth. "TWO offers closer look at Goldie's." Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro) December 3rd 2008. , A sec, 1-2.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Charles Manion Collection, Kentucky Room, Daviess County Public Library

Owensboro Daily Inquirer, October 23, 1912

The Owensboro Messenger, November 10, 1912

Henry M. Wilson, Kentucky Room, Daviess County Public Library

Albert Davis Collection, Kentucky Room, Daviess County Public Library

Albert Davis Collection, Kentucky Room, Daviess County Public Library

Owensboro Daily Inquirer, December 24, 1937

Messenger-Inquirer. A Pictorial History of Owensboro - Daviess County. Volume 1. Owensboro, KY. Owensboro Publishing Company, 1994