In America, there were 17.500 movie theaters 80 years ago. Today, there are close to 5700 movie theatres across America. It is no surprise that there are still many cinemas in America from years past.
Romain Marchand and Yves Marchand were two photographers that have traveled the world looking for film temples. A new hardback book, ‘Movie Theaters’, captures what they found: spooky edifices repurposed in a variety of different ways, or sometimes just left to decay slowly.
The photographs are eerily redolent of the turnstile-clicking salad days of the silent era – haunting images of grand buildings fallen into disrepair. These are just a few of the photos from this book.
25th Street Theater in Waco (Texas)
The 750-seat 25th Street Theatre, Waco’s original home for moviegoers from 1945 to 1982, was the place where many generations lived. It had a brief renaissance as a nightclub in the ‘80s, before standing empty until its eventual demolition in 2019.
Sattler Theatre (Buffalo, New York)
The kind of place Scooby-Doo might find himself haunted by the ghost of William Castle, Buffalo’s Sattler Theatre first opened in 1914, right in the glory days of the silent era. But local department store owner John G Sattler’s no-expensive-spared edifice – it cost $35,000 to convert from a casino – suffered for its poor location and eventually shuttered in the ‘60s. It was transformed from a gambling establishment into a church, before being demolished in 1996.
State Theatre West Orange (New Jersey).
Now functioning as a bus depot, New Jersey’s State Theatre first opened its doors back in the Jazz Age, welcoming West Orange residents into its 981-seat auditorium for silent comedies and epics. Its exact closing date is unknown but it didn’t survive the ‘60s and was finally gutted in 2013.
Fox Theatre Inglewood in California
In 1949, this LA horror cinema was established as a film theatre. This theatre had advanced technology such as hearing aids and automatic lobby doors. For children traumatized from the films noir that their parents brought them, there is a crying room. In its golden days, it was a hotspot for Hollywood premieres, hosting Marilyn Monroe and the Three Stooges, but has been closed since the mid-’80s.
Lyric TheatreMinnesota, Virginia
You can feel the ghosts of silent era greats like Mae West and Boris Karloff in the 1912-constructed Lyric Theatre in Minnesota. Both of them performed here in its heyday, prior to its acquisition by Paramount Pictures and renaming it ‘The State’ in 1935. The storefront was only used for a short time before being closed down in 2005. Demolition was staved off in the late ‘90s and it’s now owned by the non-profit Laurentian Arts and Culture Alliance.
Robins Theatre, Warren, Ohio
Situated in the Ohio city of Warren, the ornate, Italian Renaissance-style three-tier Robins Theatre ran from 1923 to 1974. Subsequent to its closure, thirty years’ worth of decay left it a shell of the building that once cost $200,000 to build, with even its projector crumbling to dust. But the Robins is a good news story among this boneyard of derelict cinemas: it’s been a fully functioning cinema and concert venue again since 2017.
PA Loew’s Palace Theater, Bridgeport, Connecticut
Sylvester Zefferino Poli was an Italian Marie Tussaud. The wax-sculptor discovered a way to channel his talent for giving Joe Public what it wanted. In 1920s Connecticut that meant vaudeville shows and silent movies – all at one of his newly established theaters, like Bridgeport’s vast, 3642-seat PA Loew’s Palace Theater (then Poli’s Palace Theatre). It was sold to the Loew’s chain in 1934, before changing hands again in 1964, becoming a porno cinema and then finally closing in 1975. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places – at least partly, you’d like to think, due to its appearance in 2020 Ryan Gosling/Kirsten Dunst romcom All Good Things.
Metropolitan Opera House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
William H McElfatrick (New York architect) designed forty theaters in his 40-year career. McElfatrick created the Oscar Hammerstein II theater. None of these were as spectacular as McElfatrick’s. The theater was first opened in 1908 and became the Philadelphia Opera House. The theater was used as a ballroom, theatre and pentacostal revival area. After the fire, it was rebuilt with $45 million. After the renovation, it was reopened with a Bob Dylan concert.
Elmwood Theatre Queens, New York
A lot of fading cinemas have been repurposed as churches – both are places of worship, after all, just with different gods – and New York’s Elmwood is one of them. It operated from 1928 to 2002 – it was subdivided into a four-screen Loews Cineplex for the latter portion of that time – before closing and being used by the Rock Churches Worldwide (Photo).
Uptown Theatre Chicago (IL)
Balaban & Katz were local entrepreneurs who opened it during the silent era. Uptown Theatre was a thing of serious scale. It sat 4300 Chicagoans and covered 46,000 square feet: ‘an acre of seats in a magic city’ as the marketing slogan had it. Millions of locals flocked to its colossal auditorium over the decades, until the Uptown started to struggle in the ’60 with box office takings falling and maintenance costs soaring. It diversified into live music in the ‘70s and hosted everyone from Prince to Springsteen, before closing for good in 1981. In 2018, the city approved a $75 million renovation.