Modern theaters are a far cry from what they used to be a century or more ago, but Alabama has done well to preserve some of these beloved icons of the past. The theater used to be the center of all entertainment, from hosting traveling shows to silver screen movies to live musical acts and more. People can still get their fill of quality entertainment (and a glimpse of bygone days) at these 10 best historic theaters in Alabama.
Perhaps Alabama’s most iconic theater, the Alabama Theatre has been a long-standing pillar in the city’s performing arts community. Just over 90 years ago, the theatre opened its doors as a showplace for Paramount films. Having been purchased from bankruptcy after a 55-year run as a movie house, the theatre was revitalized in 1998 and now hosts over 300 live performances, movies, and other events each year. Fans love the regal seating and the authentic Wurlitzer organ they call Big Bertha.
This circa 1936 theatre is one of the Alabama’s best surviving pieces of the Art Deco theatre that ruled the 1930s. The theatre’s facade has been meticulously restored to mirror its former glory using the same materials and construction that made the Art Deco period so iconic. Today, the theatre serves as a performing arts venue that features musical acts, symphonies, and old movies.
This royal little theater has stood still in an ever-evolving city. It was initially a livery stable in 1887, then got transformed into a playhouse and vaudeville stage in 1919. Back then, you could see a movie for less than a quarter. The Princess acquired its Art Deco-style facelift in 1941, which is what visitors still see today. Many of its interior features and decor remain as a silent tribute to days gone by.
The Roxy has been an important part of Russellville culture since 1949. Back then, folks flocked to this theatre for the latest films of the silver screen. Today, patrons still rely on the theatre for movies in addition to recitals, concerts, talent shows, and other performances.
Dating back all the way to vaudeville’s heyday, the Lyric was a popular stop for traveling shows. Having opened in 1914, this theater is one of the only remaining theaters that still boasts the acoustics and seating requirements for vaudeville-style shows. Its stage has seen the likes of the Milton Berle, the Marx Brothers, and Mae West, to name a few. While tickets no longer cost a quarter, you can still see some amazing live performances just as they did in decades’ past.
Located on the campus of Troy University, the Paramount was a vaudeville house and showplace for Paramount pictures that opened its doors in 1930. Its last movie, “Gone with the Wind,” was shown in 1976. It reopened in 1983 as the Davis Theatre for Performing Arts. The theatre has undergone modern upgrades, such as a sound system and lighting, but restoration efforts helped it retain much of its original splendor. Patrons can visit the theatre to see concerts, plays, orchestras, and other performances year-round.
This long-standing icon began a new chapter of Gadsden history in 1947. It was one of the first movie houses to offer air conditioning. The theatre shuttered in 1983 and sat vacant for over a decade after the city purchased it. Restoration efforts have transformed this theatre into a multi-use community complex for events.
The Capri first welcomed guests into its halls in 1941 as the Clover Theatre, and is the longest continually-operating movie house in Alabama. The name changed to Capri Theatre in 1962 after a remodeling project, and was almost shuttered in the 1980s had it not been salvaged by a group of locals who were determined to keep the doors open. The theatre has faced several instances of near peril since then, but the Montgomery community has kept this iconic piece of history alive through donations, fundraising campaigns, and other capital-raising activities.
This 1927 theatre was formerly a silent movie house and continues to operate as a movie and performing arts venue. Its 1930s Art Deco interior has been well preserved. The theatre is also open to tour groups.
The Oxford Performing Arts Center isn’t quite as historic as the building they call home. Lovingly referred to as the “Grand Old Lady,” this structure has kept watch over Choccolocco Street for nearly a century. Having first served as an elementary school in 1921, the space was later used as Oxford’s City Hall beginning in 1953, and then later as the town’s police station. The Grand Old Lady finally became part of the artistic community in 2013 after a $10.4 million construction project that added on to the original structure. Much of its original architecture remains intact, giving this theater a long-standing history no other building could have delivered.