By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Even if you aren’t a movie buff, visiting old movie palaces is a treat. Below are descriptions of 16 of the several hundred classic theaters still in existence in the United States. Most of these theaters still show movies.
1. The Egyptian theaters “” Hollywood, California; Boise, Idaho; Coos Bay, Oregon; and Ogden, Utah
Back in the 1920s, the discovery of King Tut’s tomb inspired a widespread fascination with Egyptology. It even resulted in several theaters modeled after a pharaoh’s tomb. For example, the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood has an open courtyard lined with hieroglyphics, a tiled fountain, and a colonnade of palm trees to set off four massive Egyptian columns. “Tutmania” spread into other cities as well. Boise, Idaho, has had its own Egyptian Theater since 1927; in Ogden, Utah, Peery’s Egyptian Theater still shows movies and is a satellite site to the Sundance Film Festival; and the Egyptian III Theater still stands in Coos Bay, Oregon “” a testament to the locals’ love of movies.
2. Alabama Theatre, Birmingham, Alabama
Built in Moorish style back in 1927, the Alabama Theatre was a first-rate movie palace for more than 50 years. This classic theater then needed extensive repairs, and the owner could no longer afford its overhead. Luckily, the 2,200-seat theater was purchased in 1987 by a nonprofit corporation and converted into a performing arts center. The Alabama Theatre for the Performing Arts now hosts live shows and an occasional film. In 1998 the theater underwent an extensive restoration that returned it to its former glory.
3. Royal Theatre, Benton, Arkansas
Art Deco is the theme for this downtown theater. Back in the 1920s it bore the name “The Imp.” Thirty years later the owners remodeled it and renamed it the Royal Theatre. Since then it’s changed hands several times and now is home to the Royal Players theatrical group. Although the Royal no longer shows films, it is worth a visit, as most of the original fixtures remain in place.
4. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California
Since 1927, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, arguably the most famous theater in the world, has hosted thousands of movie premieres and has been the destination of millions of tourists. Grauman’s Chinese still makes the news when yet another celebrity leaves his or her handprints, footprints, or hoofprints in cement along the walkways or in the theater’s courtyard. A recent renovation of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre returned the exterior to its 1920s appearance. And, yes, you’ll still find dragon figurines twisting and writhing across the pagoda-style entrance.
5. The Castro Theatre, San Francisco, California
This is more a neighborhood movie house than a big city theater. But it’s no less pleasing to the eye. With its bright, white exterior and large mullioned window, the Castro resembles a Mexican cathedral. Renovations over the past decade give film buffs even more reason to step inside. The 1,500 original seats have given way to 800 new, wider seats “” with cup holders. Built back in 1922, this picture palace still prospers, and still plays a wide spectrum of independent films.
6. Boulder Theater, Boulder, Colorado
Here is one example of what it takes to get it right. When this showplace was built in 1906, it carried the name Curran Opera House and was used for live music, stage shows, and silent films. Two decades later, with the growing interest in motion pictures, the theater was renamed the Boulder Theater. Alas, by the late 1970s the moviegoing public was largely staying home and watching television, so the theater morphed back into a concert hall. Finally, in 1988, the theater was renovated to provide concert-friendly seating and better acoustics. Today it thrives as both a movie theater and live performance venue. In spite of its many renovations, the building remains true to its original Art Deco design.
7. Burley Theatre, Burley, Idaho
This wonderful single-screen theater, located in downtown Burley, was originally a vaudeville house. The original stage is still there, including barely used scenery flats that hang from the rafters. The theater’s Italian Renaissance facade was restored in 1991, and is also mostly original. One improvement speaks to your personal comfort: rocking chairs in the theater’s auditorium.
8. The Criterion, Bar Harbor, Maine
The Criterion is a glorious Art Deco theater located in the heart of downtown Bar Harbor. Opened in 1932, it has served the town as a movie palace ever since. The theater was once frequented by such prominent families as the Rockefellers while they vacationed on nearby Mount Desert Island. It has been well-preserved over the years and still has most of its original interior seats, curtains, and even the original lighting board for stage performances. The Criterion also contains a floating balcony, a rarity among most movie palaces.
9. Cozy Twin Theaters, Wadena, Minnesota
When the theater opened in 1914, its marquee bore the name Cozy, given to it in a naming contest in which the winner was awarded $5. Movies weren’t the only thing on the schedule “” vaudeville acts and concerts also took the stage. In 1938, the Cozy was closed for major reconstruction. When it reopened, it had a 200-seat balcony, as well as Art Deco styling inside and out. In 1996 a second screen was opened, providing the “Twins” part of the name. The Cozy you see today is still a lively entertainment center, as well as a treasure.
10. Canton Palace Theatre, Canton, Ohio
On November 22, 1926, a huge crowd welcomed the opening of Canton’s million-dollar vaudeville and movie palace. The design is that of a Spanish courtyard on a midsummer night, complete with a ceiling painted like a starry sky with wisps of clouds. Sadly, the Canton was another theater doomed by the advent of television “” the doors were locked in 1976. However, a group of concerned citizens saved the theater from the wrecking ball, restored it, and reopened it in 1980. Now the Palace Theatre hosts more than 300 events and attracts more than 100,000 movie lovers each year.
11. Palace Theatre, Manchester, New Hampshire
This palace wasn’t built on a grand scale. But when it opened in 1915, it was large enough to offer live musicals, theater, and vaudeville. Movies didn’t make the scene until the 1960s, but still the theater suffered from a decline in interest and finally closed. Eventually it was turned into classrooms for New Hampshire College, and still later into a large warehouse. The building was in serious disrepair in 1974 when the community brought the theater back to life. Many dollars later, the Palace reopened as a performing arts center and as the home of the New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra.
12. Bagdad Theatre, Portland, Oregon
This luxurious theater has a Middle Eastern atmosphere. When you enter the lobby, check out the beamed ceilings and the Spanish-style murals. In the main chamber, enjoy the original 1927 stencils on the ceiling. The 1991 addition was novel “” a bar where moviegoers can order pizza and refreshments and have it delivered to their table while watching the movie. Back in the 1940s the Bagdad showed first-run movies, with a little vaudeville tossed in. Today all you’ll see are movies, but who’s going to complain when you can enjoy a flick while munching on pizza?
13. Tivoli Theatre, Chattanooga, Tennessee
After nearly two years of construction, the Tivoli Theatre opened in 1921. In the French Renaissance style, it featured a domed ceiling in the lobby, with gilded plasterwork and imported crystal chandeliers. When the theater first opened, vaudeville acts and silent movies were popular. Since that time, it has closed, reopened, and closed again. Finally, in 1989, the Tivoli reopened once more, having been painstakingly restored to its 1920s glory, but with a new sound and light system, and a larger stage necessary for performances of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera.
Want to find a movie palace that fits into your travel plans? Visit www.cinematreasures.org to find lists and features of classic theaters in the United States, Canada, and around the world.