Hi Everyone – I’m on another road trip to photograph America’s abandoned theaters. This time I’m traveling up the west coast of the United States. Keep checking back over the next week for more updates!
The UC Theatre originally opened in 1917 in Berkeley, California. It closed in March 2001, and was designated a landmark the following year. Plans are underway to turn the theater in to a live music venue. For more information check out their website and facebook pages.
The Russell Theatre opened on December 4, 1930 in Maysville, Kentucky. Plans to build the theater were announced in 1929 by Col. J. Barbour Russell, a local businessman. Russell hired the architectural firm of Frankel and Curtis to design the theater. It was built on the site of a grocery warehouse owned by the Russell family at a cost of around $200,000. Russell envisioned the 700 seat theater as a grand movie palace, saying, “what the Roxy is to New York, the Russell will be to Maysville.”
The Boyd Theatre was demolished in the spring of 2014, despite the efforts of the Friends of the Boyd. This demolition means that Philadelphia is one of the only large cities in America without at least one restored downtown movie palace. Fortunately, the Friends of the Boyd were able to come to an agreement with the owners to preserve some of the art deco features of the theater.
The OKLA Theatre opened on July 10, 1931 in McAlester, Oklahoma. It was built on the site of the Palace Theatre, which burned down in December of 1930. Wallace Wilkerson, the owner of the theater building, hired architect W. Scott Dunn to build a new theater on a budget of $50,000. Dunn converted the existing cinema walls into a partial atmospheric style theater. It was built for Robb & Rowley Theatres, but the lease was taken over by Howard Hughes’s theater company, Hughes-Franklin Midwest Theatre Corp LTD.
The opening day film was “The Man in Possession,” starring Robert Montgomery. Admission prices were 25 cents for the balcony and 35 cents for main level seats. The day after opening, the McAlester News Capital said that, “the theater, in the opinion of patrons, is on a par with the very best found in larger cities.” Hughes-Franklin only ran the 800-seat theater for one year before leasing it back to Robb & Rowley Theatres. In 1950, the premiere of “Rock Island Trail,” starring Forrest Tucker, was held at the theater. The movie was released on the 100th anniversary of the Rock Island Railroad line, part of which runs through McAlester.
Wilkinson’s heirs sold the building to United Artists Theatres in December of 1983. UA operated the theater for six years before closing on September 4, 1989 due to declining ticket sales. When it closed, the OKLA was the last surviving single screen movie theater in McAlester. A year later, the OKLA was bought by Kiamichi Actors Studio Theatre, Inc., a local performing arts group. KAST intended to restore the theater, but was unable to raise the funds and surrendered the deed to the bank. It was then purchased from the bank by the Ardeneum of Oklahoma Charitable and Educational Foundation, Inc.
Pride in McAlester, a local community improvement non-profit organization, leased the theater from the Ardeneum in June of 2010 with the intent to restore the theater. They’ve since held several events to raise money for the restoration. In 2012, Pride in McAlester applied for and received a $200,000 grant from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, to be used to remove the lead paint and asbestos in the theater. The current plan is for the theater to be used as a non-profit multi-use community center. It will host concerts, recitals, lectures, movie screenings, community theater, award ceremonies and business meetings. According to a 2010 interview with a Pride in McAlester representative, the renovations will be at least 50% complete by 2015. Donations can be made at the OKLA Theatre’s website.
The information in this post was obtained with the help of the Theatre Historical Society of America, for more information including how to join – check out their website at www.historictheatres.org
The Lyric is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.
The Lyric Fine Arts Theatre opened on January 14, 1914 in Birmingham, Alabama. It was built for Louis V. Clark by C.K Howell, the architect of many theaters on the B.F. Keith vaudeville circuit in the South. Clark leased the theater to Jake Wells who owned and managed a number of theaters, including the nearby Bijou Theatre. The Lyric’s opening was delayed due to a legal dispute with the Orpheum Theatre over where shows on the B.F. Keith’s vaudeville circuit would play.
The next stop on the trip was the Okla Theatre in McAlester, Oklahoma. The Okla opened on July 10, 1931 and closed on September 4, 1989. The city of McAlester is currently trying to restore and reopen the theater. For more information check out their website: http://www.oklatheater.com/