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Majestic Theatre

October 19, 2012

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

The Majestic Theatre opened on February 26, 1928 in East St. Louis, Illinois. It was designed by the Boller Brothers for Harry Redmon and Fred Leber. The Boller Brothers were known for the Missouri Theatre in St Joseph, Missouri. The Majestic was nicknamed “The Million Dollar Theatre” due to the high costs of building the theater.

View of the main level from the side of the balcony.

The 1,743 seat theater opened with a performance from Al Jolson and George Jessel, two famous vaudeville performers. Redmon ran the Majestic for a year before leasing it to Great States Theatres which was part of the Paramount Theatre empire. A vitaphone system was installed in September of 1928, making the Majestic one of the first in the area to have talking motion pictures. It was also one of the first theaters in the area to have an air conditioning system. In 1954, a curved Cinemascope screen was installed in the Majestic. The new screen was double the size of the original, and a new projector had to be installed to compensate for the increase.

The lobby of the Majestic Theatre.

The Majestic closed in 1960 due to declining ticket sales and high operating costs. Numerous proposals were made over the years to restore the theater and some renovations were made — a new roof, new windows, and new doors were added to the theater in the 1970s, but the rest of the theater remained untouched. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, and in 1998 a bill was proposed to fund the restoration of the theater, but the bill did not pass.

The seats and ornamental fixtures were removed after the theater closed.

The balcony level hallway of the Majestic Theatre.

View of the stage from the main level.

A close up of some of the plaster work to the right of the stage.

The blue tarp was placed on the balcony to help divert the flow of water from a hole in the ceiling.

The roof above the stage collapsed in the years after the theater closed.

27 Comments leave one →
  1. Truron permalink
    October 19, 2012 8:19 am

    Is it beyond saving at this point, or could some major restoration happen if the funding were there?

    • October 19, 2012 8:24 am

      It’s not beyond saving in my opinion, but it would take a lot of work to restore it. However, I’m not sure if the population could support it.

  2. October 19, 2012 8:43 am

    Hi Matt,
    Who currently owns the theater? Do you know what their plans are for it?

    • October 19, 2012 9:33 am

      Robert – The city of East St. Louis currently owns the theater, and as far as I know there are no plans for it at the moment.

  3. Darcey Konruff permalink
    October 19, 2012 11:34 am

    Good post, thanks. Hello from Russia :)

  4. Chris permalink
    October 19, 2012 12:31 pm

    This place must have been charming. Great scale in architecture and cast decor. Unfortunately without a stage roof it might have two Illinois winters left before it’s beyond hope. East St. Luois is not an economic engine for the region (to put it nicely).

    • October 19, 2012 1:27 pm

      I think it will have a bit longer than that. The stage roof rotted away years ago, and the rest of the auditorium is still there. The stage itself has collapsed though.

  5. Kevin permalink
    October 22, 2012 9:58 am

    Thanks for this post. I live downtown St. Louis and have always wondered what was behind the tiled facade of this theater. Love your blog!

  6. Tom permalink
    December 23, 2012 6:13 pm

    Loved the photos. I used to go to movies here as a kid. My brother and I would ride the bus downtown without our parents when we were about 7 and 8. The town was perfectly safe and kids were everywhere. It was 25 cents for the kids Saturday double feature plus cartoons and the place was packed. Bus fare was a dime. The Wurlitzer organ from the Majestic is now the lobby organ at the FOX theatre in St. Louis. When we were a bit older, we could ride the bus over to the FOX theatre or any of the other St Louis theatres to see movies there as well. East St. Louis was a wonderful, safe middle class city until the Black Power Movement began in the late 1960’s.

  7. Bob permalink
    December 25, 2012 5:35 pm

    I doubt that it can be saved. You can see the rear of the building from the Metrolink station at 5th and Missouri and the center of the structure has collapsed from top to bottom. Driving down Collinsville Avenue in downtown East Saint Louis is disturbing because I’m old enough to remember when this street was thriving.

    • December 26, 2012 12:39 am

      Bob – I think you’re thinking of the apartment building next door to the theater, unless the Majestic has collapsed in the past 6 months.

      • Elwood permalink
        February 4, 2014 4:50 pm

        You are referring to the back of the Murphy Bldg., next (south) to the Majestic. Murphy Bldg. is the one with the trees growing out of the roof.

  8. June 8, 2013 3:49 pm

    I can’t imagine that it would ever be restored. What would be the point?

    I hope the people who systematically destroyed what was once a nice place to live are pleased with themselves.

  9. Mike Carson permalink
    June 23, 2013 1:55 pm

    This building caught my attention, even in its current state of abandonment, as I traveled west on I-55/70. I had to get on google maps to find it so I could get a better look at it, and find out what it was. My research led me to this page. Thanks for posting all the images. The architecture is awesome. Wish I’d have been around to see buildings like this in their glory days.

  10. Shae N. permalink
    October 29, 2013 9:53 pm

    I was wondering if there was a way to get inside? i saw where it said new doors were added and i wasnt sure if that meant it was locked up or not? i wouldnt want to break in or anything like that but if it is not open do you know a person i could talk to and see if they could open it for like an hour of one day? ive been searching for a different place for senior pictures somewhere i havent seen anybody else go and i feel like this is a good place.

    • October 30, 2013 9:49 am

      You’d have to contact the city. They’re the current owners.

  11. Gerald "Jerry/Red" Keeney permalink
    November 19, 2013 2:45 pm

    I also grew up in E St L, went into the Army in 1/67. You could still visit “downtown” ESL in the 60s, but when I came back from the ‘Nam in 1/70 ESL was about “gone”. The city’s industrial base had left (primarily due to too many union demands) and the population had changed. The city died an agonizing, slow death. No government money will ever resolve the problems in ESL…I’m glad to see that “the government” didn’t spend the funds (our tax monies) to save the Majestic. It would’ve been an extreme waste of money. The current population of ESL depends on “government” money for food stamps, ADC, etc. Too bad, really sooo sad. Nice memories of going to the Majestic as a kid, too bad the current inhabitants of ESL care little about their city or environment.

  12. Kay Reeves permalink
    November 21, 2013 9:55 pm

    It is a shame what neglect, a lack of funds, vandalism, time and the elements have done to this “majestic” edifice. I, too, remember the days when the street was lined with clothing shops, jewelry stores, etc., and was THE place to shop. Unfortunately, even if the funding was available to restore the building to its previous grandeur, who would visit the area as it now is to see it? Sad.

  13. Dolores Kelley --Gwaltney permalink
    December 5, 2013 3:12 pm

    I worked in the Majestic in the 50’s. I was born and raised in East St. Louis and it was a wonderful family town–extremely safe–no locked doors–good people. Many churches and different ethnic groups. People looked out for their neighbors and the children. I wouldn’t give a plug nickel for the place now–it is a total devastation. What a sad ending to a lovely, friendly family town.

  14. December 25, 2013 1:22 pm

    It must have been something in it’s day. While it is a shame to see it deteriorating beyond repair, it is a fitting symbol of what led to the city’s state; the Dems had their way from A to Z with this town for a long time now. Gotta love it.

  15. March 5, 2014 4:50 pm

    Reblogged this on Flying Tiger Comics.

  16. Bill permalink
    January 15, 2015 7:15 pm

    Went to many shows there as a kid. Would take the bus downtown with my parents. It had a frosty look on the marquee saying “Cool Inside”. Even the concrete in front of the Majestic was green. Air conditioning was a big draw when it was built. In the balcony level the walls were green with a woods looking touches. Have always thought someone would buy the front facade. It is still beautiful..

  17. Jim permalink
    January 30, 2015 7:58 pm

    Many shows there as a kid. A couple of years they had a “Midnight Show” that began at midnite. Kids lined up for half a block waiting to get in. Nothing to be afraid of. Full length feature (usually a Universal Picture) and a live stage show….”Dr. Silkini’s Chamber of Horrors” which featured Frankenstein and other creatures. At stage right was a set of steps…the monster came down and as he got to the audience, all lights in the house went out. Then pandemonium. This was in 1950-51-52. Hard to forget these kinds of memories. Great theatre, 2nd floor mezzanine was plush. Down Collinsville Ave., and across was the old Avenue Theatre. Kids got in for 10 cents. But it was’nt the place the Majestic was.

  18. Frog permalink
    February 28, 2015 7:25 am

    I was born in East St. Louis in 1960. The theater closed that year so I never got the chance to experience her glory. I’ve always had a love for this building and this town. City government could never restore the Majestic, the funds are just not there. A job like this would take the efforts of the people! The same people that claim to great memories of her. You see it’s so easy to pass by on the interstate and lay blame! If you took a hard and honest look at the truth, you would understand why the Majestic is in the state it is in today. With all that aside, no problem is too great to tame! This project would be a tall order but it could be done! Just think, where would we be as a people if we turned our backs at every little sign of adversity. I may not be the ONE to start the movement but all it takes is ONE!


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