24 Old Movie Theaters Across America Worth Visiting

Old movie theater

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Historic Movie Theaters
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The Golden Age of Cinema Lives On

Today's movie megaplexes may offer endless cinematic choices, but as buildings go, they all look the same. But once upon a time, movie theaters were marvels of gilded opulence, evoking romantic palaces and faraway exotic temples. Over time, many of these landmarks fell into disuse or were demolished. But you can still enjoy a new or classic film on the big screen at one of these historic movie theaters — if you know where to look.

Fox Tucson Theatre
United States Navy, Chief Mass Communication Specialist Gary Ward

1. Fox Theatre | Tucson, Arizona

The Fox Tucson Theatre opened in 1930, featuring movies and vaudeville acts on a regular basis. The Fox closed in 1974 and was threatened with demolition when it was purchased 1999 by the Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation. The renovation took six years and cost more than $14 million. A gala re-opening celebration was held on New Year's Eve 2006. 

Today, the Fox shows classic movies like "It's a Wonderful Life" on an occasional basis, but it's better known as a performance venue for concerts and live shows. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003 for its distinctive Southwestern take on Art Deco and exceptional acoustics.

Castro, San Francisco, CA
Castro, San Francisco, CA by Elisa.rolle (CC BY-SA)

2. Castro Theatre | San Francisco

The Castro, a striking Spanish Renaissance-style theater, is one of the few movie palaces built during the Roaring '20s remaining in the Bay Area. Designed by local architect Timothy L. Pflueger, the Castro opened in 1922 and showed first-run films until 1976. It changed hands several times in the following years but continued to operate as a movie theater. In 2001, relatives of the Castro's original owners acquired the theater and restored it.

Today, the Castro screens a regular mix of independent and classic movies, including documentaries and art films. Like many theaters of its era, the Castro's interior is an opulent mashup of Spanish, Italian, and Asian design motifs. The opulent exterior marquee and dramatic chandelier in the auditorium were both installed in the 1930s, and the theater can seat more than 1,400 people.

Historic Park Theatre: A Distinctive Neon Marquee
Historic Park Theatre: A Distinctive Neon Marquee by Hustvedt (CC BY-SA)

3. Historic Park Theatre | Estes Park, Colorado

There's a reason why "Historic" is the first name of this movie theater: It's the oldest movie theater building west of the Mississippi that's still in operation. Built in 1913, the striking "Tower of Love" over the entrance was added in 1926 by then-owner Ralph Gwynn to symbolize the love of his life. In 1984, two years after narrowly avoiding demolition, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It shows first-run movies on a single screen.

Step Up 4
Step Up 4 by Matthew Paulson (CC BY-NC-ND)

4. Tampa Theatre | Tampa, Florida

Built in 1926 as a Paramount Pictures movie palace, the Tampa Theatre showed many different kinds of movies in its life, from studio new releases to B movies, before closing in 1973. Local movie buffs and city leaders rallied to save the building, and it reopened in 1977 as a non-profit venue showing first-run and classic movies and hosting live events.

The ornate auditorium, with its Spanish, Italian, Babylonian, and Persian influences, was designed to resemble an airy courtyard with arched balconies and a constellation of twinkling illuminated "stars" in the ceiling. The Tampa Theatre was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. 

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The Zebulon Theater
The Zebulon Theater by Jimmy Emerson, DVM (CC BY-NC-ND)

5. Zebulon Theater | Cairo, Georgia

The Zebulon Theater has been entertaining patrons in this small southern Georgia community since it opened in 1936. Named after the owner's husband, this single-screen theater seats about 350 people, though when it first opened it could seat almost double that number. Today, it is now operated by the non-profit Regional Community Center.

Unlike some other theaters of its era, the Zebulon has been preserved remarkably well, with few significant architectural changes apart from an updated snack bar and restored marquee. The box office was installed in 1950, the seating in 1990, and a new digital projection system in 2014.

Related: Movies, Popcorn and Passion: The Best Drive-In Theaters in America

Antioch Theatre
Anthony M./Yelp

6. Antioch Theatre | Antioch, Illinois

This one-time vaudeville house opened in 1919 as the Majestic Theater, but was converted into a single-screen movie theater five years later. The rechristened Antioch Theatre operated under a succession of owners until 2014, when it finally closed. But thanks to a few determined locals and a successful Kickstarter campaign, the theater was restored and reopened in 2015.

Renovations added a second 29-seat auditorium, new sound and projection equipment, seats and curtains, a new marquee, and an updated fire-prevention system. Unlike some other renovated theaters, developers preserved the Antioch's balcony, and you can still sit there and enjoy a movie today.

Related: The 40 Best Places in America to Travel Back in Time

Artcraft Theatre, Franklin, Indiana
Artcraft Theatre, Franklin, Indiana by Brent Moore (CC BY)

7. Artcraft Theatre | Franklin, Indiana

When the Artcraft opened in 1922, it featured vaudeville performances and silent movies, plus a new technological marvel: air conditioning. The theater was renovated in 1936 and again in 1948, giving it the streamlined brick facade and glass-block windows it still has today.

Since 2004, Franklin Heritage Inc. has been restoring the Artcraft back to its Art Deco glory. They've restored the damaged and worn vertical blade sign, replaced the roof, and installed a new movie screen. Classic movies like "Young Frankenstein" are shown on a regular basis.

Kentucky Theater, Lexington, Kentucky
Jason B./Yelp

8. Kentucky Theater | Lexington, Kentucky

This opulent movie palace opened in 1922, showing popular features and short films of the day. Like many older theaters, the Kentucky Theater fell on hard times in the late 1970s and began showing classic, foreign, and cult films in an effort to appeal to a new generation of movie buffs. But in 1987, a fire at an adjacent building caused significant damage, and the theater closed temporarily.

The theater reopened in 1992 after restoration work was completed. Some of the stained glass ceilings and ornate wall textures remain, and as well as the tile lobby. Some past upgrades include energy-efficient LED lighting, new seats and carpet, and digital projection and sound. It now shows classic movies and new releases in addition to live concerts.

Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline, Massachusetts
Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline, Massachusetts by Devin Ford (CC BY)

9. Coolidge Corner Theatre | Brookline, Massachusetts

Originally built as a Universalist church in 1906, the Coolidge Corner Theatre was converted into a movie theater in 1933 and has operated as a cinema ever since. Operated as a community nonprofit since 1989, the Coolidge Corner now shows new releases from the big studios and indie distributors.

Originally, the theater had a balcony and could seat more than 1,000 in the auditorium. The balcony was later converted to a second theater, and two smaller screening rooms were added during a restoration in the 2000s. The main auditorium still retains all of its Art Deco glory, including the magnificent gilded friezes on the prosceneium.

The Senator Theatre
The Senator Theatre by zizzybaloobah (CC BY-NC)

10. The Senator Theatre | Baltimore, Maryland

Opened in 1939 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this Baltimore movie house is a classic example of the late Art Deco/Streamline Moderne architectural style. The Senator Theatre has operated as a movie theater ever since, closing only briefly in 2010 and again in 2012-13. Today, it's a first-run theater showing movies on four screens.

The Senator was originally a single-screen theater; the three smaller auditoriums were added during the 2012-13 renovation. The main auditorium seats 736 people and retains its Art Deco decor. The Senator shows a mix of first-run and revival films daily.

Uptown Theatre at Dusk Minneapolis, MN
Uptown Theatre at Dusk Minneapolis, MN by Richie Diesterheft (CC BY)

11. Uptown Theatre | Minneapolis

The Uptown Theatre is a landmark in the Twin Cities, opening in 1939 on the site of an earlier theater that had been destroyed by a fire. The cinema, a classic Streamline Moderne-style structure, is notable for its 50-foot neon sign that remains an icon of the trendy Uptown neighborhood to this day.

The single-screen Uptown has shown classic, foreign, and indie films since the 1980s, and it continues to offer art-house movies on a regular basis. It got a facelift in 2012, and today you can enjoy a coffee or drink at the bar before your movie begins.

Central Theatre | Ely, Nevada

12. Central Theatre | Ely, Nevada

Ely's single-screen Central Theatre is an architectural youngster compared with other cinemas in this roundup. The Central opened in 1940 and has operated as a first-run theater ever since, except for a brief closure in 2011. It reopened in 2012 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2013.

The single-story theater is a classic example of brick Art Deco design, particularly its streamlined marquee. Now owned by a local couple, the Central retains much of its original interior detail. The auditorium seats just over 700 people.

Loew's Jersey Theatre — in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Loew's Jersey Theatre — in Jersey City, New Jersey. by Wally Gobetz (CC BY)

13. Loew's Jersey | Jersey City, New Jersey

The Loew's Jersey is one of five "Loew's Wonder" theaters in the New York City era, each of them an architecturally opulent movie palace. The Jersey opened in 1929, showing a mix of live entertainment and movies of the day. Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby were just two stars of the era to have graced the stage. The Loew's Jersey theater was chopped up into three screening rooms in 1975, but business faltered; it closed in 1986 and was slated for demolition.

Preservationists persuaded Jersey City to purchase the derelict building in 1992, and renovation work began in 1995. But damage was extensive and funds were short; the Loew's Jersey didn't reopen until 2001, only partially restored. Ongoing renovation efforts have largely restored the theater to its original single-screen glory, and today the Loew's Jersey shows classic films and hosts concerts.

Village East Cinema
Brian M./Yelp

14. Village East Cinema | New York City

New York City has plenty of historic movie theaters, but none are older than the Village East Cinema in Manhattan's East Village. It opened in 1926 as a Yiddish theater, a reflection of the neighborhood's once-thriving Eastern European Jewish community. The auditorium and balcony could seat more than 1,200 people. It converted to a movie theater sometime in the 1930s and continued to show movies and occasional live events until it closed in 1988. Four years later, it re-opened as a seven-screen theater.

Ornate lobbies still have the Yiddish lettering from when the building opened as a Yiddish theater, and a large star of David frieze can be seen from the balcony. The Village East still shows first-run Hollywood and indie films.

Carolina Theatre
Bill W./Yelp

15. Carolina Theater | Hickory, North Carolina

The Carolina Theater opened on Christmas Eve 1934. Although they didn't need it at the opening, the Carolina was equipped with air conditioning, a rarity at the time. In 1974, the theater's balcony was converted into a second screening room. It continued to show first-run films until the mid-'80s, when it switched to a second-run films as a dollar theater. 

After being sold in 1998, the Carolina Theater has undergone a series of renovations that have restored its original architectural glory. The facade, which had been modified several times over the years, was also restored to its original appearance. The Carolina again shows current films on a regular basis. Fun fact: Box office agent Lacy Starnes worked at the Carolina from its opening until 1989.

Strand Theatre, Delaware, Ohio
Strand Theatre/Yelp

16. Strand Theatre | Delaware, Ohio

The Strand Theatre opened in 1916 and has been showing movies ever since in this Ohio college town. The single-screen cinema was expanded to a twin-plex in 1982, and the balcony was converted into a third theater in 1986. Locally owned since 1971, the Strand was sold to nearby Ohio Wesleyan University in 2002. 

Now part of the Strand Theatre and Cultural Arts Association, the Strand underwent a minor renovation in 2012. A new digital projection system was installed, the box office was moved into the lobby, and the marquee renovated. The Strand still shows first-run movies on a regular basis.

The Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon
The Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon by Visitor7 (CC BY-SA)

17. Hollywood Theatre | Portland, Oregon

With an exterior like a rococo palace, the Hollywood Theatre opened in 1926 as a vaudeville house before soon switching to movies. Originally seating 1,500, the main auditorium was split into three small theaters in 1975. The nonprofit Film Action Oregon acquired the Hollywood in 1997, launching a length renovation of the structure, which had fallen into disrepair. New front doors and marquee were based in the 1926 designs, and modern energy efficient lighting and neon have been added. Original light fixtures have been refurbished and the terra cotta facade cleaned and polished. 

The National Register of Historical Places listed this Portland landmark in 1983. The theater remains a tri-plex to this day, showing a mix of first-run and classic films while serving patrons food and drink, including craft beer and ice cream.

Hollywood Theater, Dormont, Pennsylvania
Hollywood Theater/Yelp

18. Hollywood Theater | Dormont, Pennsylvania

Originally a bowling alley and pool hall that opened in 1925, it became the Hollywood Theater showing silent films one year later. It's been renovated several times, first for sound film and later to expand the lobby and add a flashing marquee (which had to be reduced again in the '80s). 

The Hollywood has opened and closed in fits and starts; when it's open, it shows a mix of classic and first-run films. Some of the 2006 renovations including luxury seating, which reduced capacity from 650 to 300.

Paramount Theatre, Austin, Texas

19. Paramount Theatre | Austin, Texas

Opened in 1915 as the Majestic Theater vaudeville house, Harry Houdini and Katharine Hepburn both have graced this theater's stage. It was converted to a movie palace in the 1920s and was renamed the Paramount Theatre in the 1930s. By 1973, the Paramount was a shabby shadow of itself and threatened with demolition. But locals rallied in 1975, launching a fund-raising campaign to preserve and restore the building.

Now managed by a non-profit, the Paramount began showing classic films in the summer of 1975 and hosting live performances the following year. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and today remains a thriving venue, hosting concerts, performances, and of course, movies. It's also a focal point of the annual South by Southwest Film Festival.

The Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theatre, located at 328 Main Street in Park City, Utah as seen from the balcony of the Chrysler Lounge.
The Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theatre, located at 328 Main Street in Park City, Utah as seen from the balcony of the Chrysler Lounge. by Jere Keys (CC BY)

20. Egyptian Theatre | Park City, Utah

The discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922 set off a craze for Egyptian-style architecture, arts, and crafts. The Egyptian Theatre, which opened in 1926, reflects that era, decorated with hieroglyphics, obelisk-shaped pilasters, and other exotic details. Originally a movie theater and vaudeville house, the Egyptian closed in 1978.

Funded in part by a donation from Park City-based Mrs. Fields Cookies, the Egyptian reopened as a live performance venue in 1981. After additional renovation in 1990, it became one of the venues for the Sundance Film Festival. Today, the Egyptian shows a mix of classic movies, live shows, and other events.

Byrd Theatre, Richmond, Virginia
Kathleen D./Yelp

21. Byrd Theatre | Richmond, Virginia

The Byrd Theatre, built in 1928, is named in honor of town founder William Byrd II. One of the oldest operating movie theaters in the state, the Byrd's French Empire architecture has been largely unaltered since opening, and today is on the National Register of Historic Places and state historic register as well. It shows a regular mix of second-run movies and classic films for $1.99 a ticket. The original Vitaphone sound is no longer, but the Dolby Digital sound is a donation from Ray Dolby himself.

7th Street Theatre, Hoquiam, Washington
Chris C./Yelp

22. 7th Street Theatre | Hoquiam, Washington

Built in 1928 to evoke a dreamy Moorish temple, the 7th Street Theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a city landmark. Built in the "atmospheric" style popular at the time, the theater featured a tiled fountain near the restrooms, a beamed ceiling in the lobby, and seating for more than 1,000 people when it opened.

By the 1980s, the theater had fallen on hard times. A local nonprofit purchased it in 1986 and began restoring it to its former glory. Original murals were found behind rear walls during construction and were restored, as was the theater's pipe organ. Restoration work is ongoing, and the theater shows classic and foreign films only on occasion.

Avalon Theatre, Washington, D.C.
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23. Avalon Theatre | Washington, D.C.

The Avalon is Washington D.C.'s oldest movie theater. It's been showing films since 1923, when it opened as the Chevy Chase Theater. In 1970, a second, smaller screening room was opened. The Avalon continued to show movies until 2001, when the owner declared bankruptcy. After being sold to a nonprofit and restored, the Avalon reopened in 2003.

Today, the Avalon remains a part of Washington's thriving Chevy Chase neighborhood. It screens first-run films, along with occasional classics, and other programs. Digital projections systems were installed in 2013, and there's a cafe serving food and drink in the lobby.

Vintage Plaza Cinema
Wikimedia Commons

24. Plaza Cinema | Ottawa, Kansas

The oldest purpose-built movie theater still in operation, the Plaza (which has also gone by the Yale, Bijou, and Crystal Theatre) has been open since 1907, making 112 years of movie magic unspooling at the Plaza with no end in sight. Just don’t expect a lot of viewing choices. The two-screen property now shows feature films on one screen and older films on the other. The second screen is also used as part of a historical tour.

The Plaza Cinema has long held the title of America’s oldest cinema, but owner Peach Madl collected everything from court documents to photographs and building permits to finally receive the official certificate of world’s oldest cinema from Guinness World Records. But even if you aren’t impressed by the record-breaking status of the Plaza, you may still want to see the movie memorabilia museum located behind the screen featuring props, scripts, and costumes from popular films.