History of the Hilbert Circle Theatre

See the history of how things came to be.

In 1916, several local businessmen set out to finance the construction of a theater on Monument Circle, on a site occupied by a livery stable for much of the 19th century. Designed by Indianapolis architects Rubus & Hunter, the theater was built in a Neo-Classical Revival style – marked by symmetry, bright colors and simplicity and inspired by the arts of ancient Greece and Rome – and its interior was designed in the style of 18th-century architect Robert Adam, who employed motifs from Greek, Etruscan and Pompeian artists.

The pastoral-themed mural over the marquee, which still remains, was created by Irvington Group artist Clifton Wheeler.

For much of the 20th century, the theater served as a majestic venue for film and live acts. In 1928, the first movie with sound ever shown in Indianapolis, The Jazz Singer, was shown at the theater. In the 1940s, big band jazz groups, including the Glenn Miller Orchestra, played on the theater’s stage.

By the 1970s, however, the Circle Theatre had fallen into disrepair. Although its heyday as a movie theatre had ended, in 1982, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra decided to move back downtown and call the theater its home.

After an extensive renovation, the theater reopened on October 12, 1984, as the home of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. In 1996, Stephen and Tomisue Hilbert endowed the theater, which was renamed the Hilbert Circle Theatre.

In 2013, Hilbert Circle Theatre went through another renovation. This $1 million renovation that replaced the seats in the hall was made possible by a special grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. The new seats retain the historic integrity of the theater, and the installation allows for greater comfort and accessibility for patrons.

Today, the intimate size of the Hilbert Circle Theatre – the hall contains 1,660 seats – and stage area customized specially for the orchestra create a superb venue for live performances. The hall, lobbies, and Wood Room facility are available during non-performance dates for meetings, seminars, receptions, concerts, or public/private functions.