Movie palace

The Uptown Theatre in Chicago is reputed to be the largest movie palace in the United States.

A movie palace (or picture palace in the UK) is a term used to refer to the large, elaborately decorated movie theaters built between the 1910s and the 1940s. The late 1920s saw the peak of the movie palace, with hundreds opened every year between 1925 and 1930.

There are three building types in particular which can be subsumed under the label movie palace. First, the classical style movie palace, with its eclectic and luxurious period-revival architecture; second, the atmospheric theatre which has an auditorium ceiling that resembles an open sky as its defining feature and finally, the Art Deco theaters that became popular in the 1930s.



Grand vaudeville theatres began to show motion pictures in the early 20th century, but the development of the feature film led to the development of dedicated movie theatres. The Mark Strand Theater in New York City, opened in 1913 by Mitchell Mark at the cost of one-million dollars, is usually cited as the first movie palace of the United States, and its success in drawing the upper middle class to the movies spurred others to follow suit.

Many movie palace architects, like studio heads, were often first generation Americans, notably the Romanian-born John Eberson and Scottish Thomas W. Lamb. Other pioneers include the Chicago firm of Rapp and Rapp, which designed the Chicago, the Uptown, and the Oriental Theatres; the impresario S.L. "Roxy" Rothafel, originator of the deluxe presentation of films with themed stage shows; and Sid Grauman, who built the first movie palace on the West Coast, Los Angeles' Million Dollar Theater, in 1918.

As their name implies, movie palaces, like other products of the age, were advertised to "make the average citizen feel like royalty." While inscribed with democratic sayings and patriotic imagery, they consciously referenced the grandeur of aristocratic Europe and were often decorated in European fashion.[1]

Eberson specialized in the subgenre of "atmospheric" theatres. His first, of the five hundred in his career, was the 1923 Majestic in Houston, Texas. The atmospherics usually conveyed the impression of sitting in an outdoor courtyard, surrounded by highly ornamented asymmetrical facades and exotic flora and fauna, underneath a dark blue canopy; when the lights went out, a specially designed projector, the Brenograph, was used to project clouds, and special celestial effects on the ceiling.

Lamb's style was initially based on the more traditional, "hardtop" form patterned on opera houses, but was no less ornate. His theaters evolved from relatively restrained neo-classic designs in the 1910s to those with elaborate baroque and Asian motifs in the late 1920s.

The movie palace's signature look was one of extravagant ornamentation. The theaters were often designed with an eclectic exoticism where a variety of referenced visual styles collided wildly with one another. French Baroque, High Gothic, Moroccan, Mediterranean, Spanish Gothic, Hindu, Babylonian, Aztec, Mayan, Orientalist, Italian Renaissance, and (after the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922) Egyptian Revival, were all variously mixed and matched. This wealth of ornament was not merely for aesthetic effect. It was meant to create a fantasy environment to attract moviegoers and involved a type of social engineering, distraction, and traffic management, meant to work on human bodies and minds in a specific way. Today, most of the surviving movie palaces operate as regular theaters, showcasing concerts, plays and operas.

Image gallery

List of movie palaces

This is a list of selected movie palaces, with location and year of construction.

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^

External links

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