Jubilee World Buys Historic Orpheum Theatre in Downtown St. Louis

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Jubilee World, Inc. has purchased the long-vacant Orpheum Theatre in downtown St. Louis. In 2015, Jubilee World made the sprawling former St. Mary’s Orphanage at 5341 Emerson Avenue in the city’s Walnut Park East neighborhood its world headquarters.

While the Jubilee World website offers a lot of information, it’s a little unclear exactly who Jubilee World is, and what its plans for the Orpheaum Theatre may be. Its website lists 11 individuals under “Our Worldwide Leadership”, but does not provide any information about them. Dozens of countries around the world are listed on the organization’s “network” page.

An A. Merril Smoak Jr. is listed as Jubilee World president. A quick search finds that Smoak Jr. is an associate pastor of music and worship at Trinity Church in Livermore, California. He is also a professor and the dean of Olivet University’s Jubilee College of Music in San Francisco.

The Orpheum Theater was most recently owned by UrbanStreet, a Chicago developer that bought a package of Roberts Brothers owned properties in 2012. The theater came along with the Roberts Tower, Mayfair Hotel, and the Lofts at OPOP (AKA, the Board of Education building). The theater was renovated and the Orpheum name restored under the Roberts’ ownership.

{the Orpheum Theatre c. 1920}

The tower and Mayfair Hotel were the prizes. Once slated for 55 luxury condos but never completed, the tower was finished as 132 apartments. Sauce on the Side now occupies the plaza level retail space. The Mayfair underwent a complete restoration and reopened as a Magnolia Hotel in 2014.

UrbanStreet’s focus then turned to the vacant Crestwood Mall. The developer paid just $3.6M dollars for the 47-acre site in suburban St. Louis. A $104M redevelopment plan received a total of $25M in tax incentives. UrbanStreet then sold its row of former Robert’s properties along Locust Street in downtown to TWG Development of Indianapolis. That group has plans for market-rate apartments.

The Beaux-Arts style Orpheum was completed in 1917 at a cost of $500,000. It opened as a vaudeville house and was later sold to Warner Brothers in 1930, operating as a movie theater until the 1960s. After a restoration in the 1980s, it reopened as the American Theater and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

The 1,500-seat theater has played host to some of the biggest names in music and theater, including Pearl Jam, Phish, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Mathew Band, Cary Grant, Mae West, and Henry Fonda. Most recently the theater was used for private parties and corporate events.


A member of the Urban St. Louis forum received the following from Jubilee World in response to an email inquiry regarding future plans for the theater (2/11/2017):

“Thank you for your interest. Yes, that is a good question everyone is wondering about this since our organization is Christian based, but we are not a church. However, we are very community orientated and history preserving. We want to preserve the Orpheum name and the wonderful history. We will have a 100th Anniversary event for the public to be announced as well as concerts. Also, we are visiting and structuring the plan of public events celebrating the St. Louis culture as well as tasteful comedy. The theater will be a performing and arts venue. Although Jubilee World will utilize the space for performing arts and students, we want to be collaborative with the community.
News will post our vision shortly.”


Mission statement and organization history from Jubilee World:
Jubilee is a fellowship comprised of a globally diverse and eclectic body of musicians, dancers, actors, and members purposed to glorify God through the sacrifices of praise and worship.

Established in Los Angeles, CA, in 2002 as “Jubilee Mission” by a group of university students, the ministry began with a vision to form a non-denominational fellowship of Christian musicians to aid in increasing the presence and quality of Gospel music on campuses. Through partnerships with local fellowships and Christian organizations, the ministry began its growth, gradually extending its influence into other fields of the performing arts, as well as media and education.

In 2007, Jubilee Mission changed its name to Jubilee World to represent the organization’s diverse work in the field, which includes several
established ministries such as the Jubilee College of Music, BREATHE Music & Dance, (est. 2002), BREATHEcast (est. 2004), the Jubilee Chorus and the Jubilee Symphony Orchestra (est. 2007).

That same year, Jubilee also began to form a Senior Advisory Board to help broaden and strengthen the ministry’s goals and strategies. Jubilee exists to take up the yoke of the Lord, proclaiming to all peoples a spiritual trumpet call of hope, healing, freedom and rest in Christ through the ministry of the performing arts and mass media.

From Jubilee World regarding the former St. Mary’s Orphanage:
In 2015, Jubilee World acquired the former St. Mary’s Orphanage building at 5341 Emerson Ave. in St. Louis. The 164,000 square feet facility has since been getting a major facelift with constant renovations. The main chapel, offices, dormitories and bathrooms have all been since remodeled. Jubilee plans to finish the entire facility in 2 years to open up to the community once again.
Construction began in the summer of 1899 and was dedicated on November of 1900 having 225 girls and 13 sisters in residence. This facility has been a community landmark and staple for over 100 years.

Constructed to be completely self-sufficient, the facility featured a large olympic sized swimming pool, main chapel, cafeteria, 2 large gyms, boiler house, offices, baking oven, laundry plant, institutional kitchen and cold storage rooms for the over 200 residence. It also had classrooms, dormitories, playrooms, work rooms, vegetable gardens and chicken coops.
The facility and main chapel once again came to life with Jubilee’s 15th Anniversary Conference, concert and events for the community. The facility had not been utilized or in top working order for decades.

Jubilee and community leaders have a vision of rebuilding the campus to it’s former glory serving the neighborhood residence once again.

View Facebook pages for Jubilee San Francisco and Jubilee New York for additional information.

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  • Jean Cook

    Such a good news for downtown! We witnessed companies like Hardee’s moved their headquarters from St Louis to Nashville, its refreshing to see good people coming to St Louis from Nashville.

    • Adam

      Yeah, well, Hardee’s pays taxes. Jubilee doesn’t. Such a [sic] good news, though!

      By the way, what’s going on with these comments? “Hear ye! Hear ye! All hail the wonderful, inspiring, uplifting, glorious news of the coming of a weird cult that will reduce the patronage of a beautiful, historic, once-secular theater to just a handful of citizens!”

      • chase

        Isaac Newton was a fellow cult member, along with Dante, Milton, Johnson, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Strindberg, and CS Lewis!

        Good company!

        Finally, theater with something to say!

        • Adam


  • ME

    Watch out for these people- they lied to so many people to work for them in the remodeling of Jubilee World- look at their website under “Who are we” those top 3 people don’t even have the education to be in their positions! The CFO no financial education and was bouncing checks left and right in ST Louis. Also what they are trying to hide is they, https://culteducation.com/group/1290-jang-david-and-the-community/26759-the-second-coming-christ-controversy-more-leaders-speak-out.html Be careful this David Jang is the the HEAD of all Jubilee World as well the school in California.

  • John

    Wonderful, inspiring news about an organization that has a POSITIVE mission and purpose. Jubilee chose to move its world headquarters to St. Louis. That is a GOOD and rare thing for St. Louis. Jubilee also chose to invest in our community and redevelop two noteworthy properties. Win win!

    I am not surprised by a couple of the negative, judgmental comments posted here. Redevelopment like this is positive, and it seems that those who tout tolerance are intolerant of Christian organizations. It is ironic that no one posted similar comments on a story on this site few weeks ago featuring a building by another religious organization that “won’t be on the tax rolls.” The other building and religious organization wasn’t referred to as a “cult” either. And the other building’s use was not questioned about being “productive.” Those types of comments are divisive.

    Negative Nellies and Debbie Downers cannot ruin this good news for the St. Louis community. Thanks for sharing this positive story.

    • Scott Nauert

      100% spot-on!

    • Adam

      Oh, poor persecuted Christians. Building a mosque on a parking lot isn’t comparable to a large historic downtown theater becoming a Christian church for all intents and purposes. I won’t be attending the mosque for the same reason that I won’t be attending Christian-themed performances at the theater: I don’t want to be preached at. And if this were a story about some Christian group building a church on a parking lot I’m sure nobody would care (though I have to say I’m more supportive of the mosque because Muslims are underrepresented in our community–conversely there’s no shortage of Christians or churches). If “Jubilee” takes care of the building then great, but this is hardly a win for all of us in terms of usefulness. If they don’t pay taxes, even less so.

      • Guest

        Very well said, Adam.
        The thing that gets me is “an organization that has a POSITIVE mission and purpose.”. Anyone who thinks an organization serving the (too) many who put people in stereotyped boxes in order to take their rights away is a good thing is beyond worrisome.
        As far as Muslims, I sure don’t see any “Mohamed Saves” signs all over the place and countless t.v. programs threatening others with damnation if I don’t join their club. But when and if I do, I’ll protest those as well.

        This new ownership isn’t good news at all. It stinks, Big time.

        • chase

          If you die and resume consciousness in The Everlasting Lake of Fire then you will assuredly regret trampling on the blood of Christ; and thus, for your crime of hating Love you shall get what you deserve, and Almighty God will get the last scornful laugh.

          You are free to be wise not free to be a fool: folly makes one a slave.

          • Adam

            Cool. If we have any time in between all the regretting of blood trampling and love hating we’ll send you a post card from the lake.

            (P.S. These are fun!)

      • John

        Just as I expected. Lame and predictable negative-spewing reply.

        • Alex Ihnen

          I see what you’re saying, but will add that for anyone hoping it would return as a music venue for general shows/entertainment, that appears to not be happening. Bet is that it’s a private venue, or open to the public for only very specific types of shows. And it does appear that it won’t be paying taxes. The other stuff…seems less necessary.

          • Dominic Ricciotti

            Alex, a note about its history. If memory serves, already in the late 50s it became the American Theater, presenting touring Broadway plays some of which I attended as a college student. Shortly before the American occupied the long destroyed Schubert Theater in Grand Center. Before that the American had been on 7th and Market, demolished to make way for Gateway mall.

          • Everett Engbers

            You are correct, by the late 1950’s the Orpheum had been converted back to live stage shows and became the American. Previously it was a movie house operated by Loew’s, Inc.. Loew’s Theaters swapped venues with the American. Loew’s was in competition with itself with the Loew’s State Theater just around the corner on Washington Ave., so they took over the American Theater, (formally the Shubert), on Grand Ave. and renamed it the Loew’s Mid-City. Prior to the Loew’s operation, the Orpheum was managed by RKO as the RKO Orpheum. Through the 60’s and 70’s and part of the 80’s the American hosted many touring musicals and plays. Many of the great vaudevillians played on it’s stage, including Sophie Tucker, Al Jolson W. C. Fields and all that worked on the famed Orpheum Circuit. The Orpheum is a most historical venue with a beautiful design by the famed theater architect G. Albert Lansburgh.

          • chase

            Less necessary…

            Listen to Nature Preach:
            Moon Cycle
            Sleep/ Waking

            Everything points to the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ.

          • Adam

            EVERYTHING. Q.E.D.

          • Adam

            Also: reading comprehension. Try it.

        • Adam

          Well, I was raised Catholic so I guess it’s to be expected. 🙂

      • BudSTL

        This is an uplifting site about developmental progress in our shared community. Save your proselytizing for a social issues site. I comment not upon what was written…only the inappropriateness of posting this kind of sour social commentary on NextSTL.

        • Adam

          Proselytizing… oh, the irony.

          P.S. I have a pretty good idea about what this site is and isn’t (been reading it for years), but thanks for your rose-colored perspective.

          P.P.S. the “Foul!” made me chuckle. So Elizabethan!

          • chase

            Is a sign of good health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society?

            Must playwrights mandatorily be anti-Christian advocates of homosexuality, AIDS–
            and the abysmal delusion of microbes to men evolution– or are we free to advocate abundant life promoting and preserving institutions?

          • Adam

            You’re free to babble about whatever nonsense you like, Chase. I’m still not joining your weird cult.

      • chase

        You dont go because you are a dishonorable soul who doesn’t render due respect to (at minimum) the greatest personality in human history: Yeshua of Nazareth.

        Isaac Newton, Dante, Milton, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Strindberg were Christians… We are in great company.

        • Adam

          Sounds good. Couldn’t care less. I could name a bunch of really smart Atheists too but it’s irrelevant because belief in a thing isn’t equivalent to evidence for a thing.

  • RyleyinSTL

    Great, a cult bought it.

    I suppose the one upshot is they might keep it in okay shape until someone does something productive with it.

    • chase

      A cult which– in its initial purity– fed and doctored poor widows and orphans and helped the hopeless in the face of brutal Rome which fed families to lions for fun and actually killed slaves during stage plays.

  • Ihanaf

    Sooo, does that mean the theatre might be turned into a church? (!)

  • Adam

    “Jubilee is a fellowship comprised of … members purposed to glorify God through the sacrifices of praise and worship.”

    i doubt i’ll be setting foot in there. hopefully they’ll at least take care of the building.

  • GraciousGuest

    I hope it is to the liking of those interested in this theatre and what it has to offer. The building is a historic treasure.

  • Jakeb

    This theater is a St Louis treasure and it’s something of a miracle it has survived.

    At 1500 seats it fits an important niche in local venues with the Peabody at 3000 seats and the Fox at 4000+. I hope whoever this group is, they have the resources to threat this venue with TLC and fill it with bookings. This could be, and should be, an important music and comedy venue.