Theater opulence reached its zenith in the early part of the last century. The boom in motion pictures, which quickly became the prime form of entertainment for the masses, coupled with the trend of studios owning their own theaters which they strove to make as lavish as possible in order to attract patrons, created this populist luxury. A few cents could get anyone into a palace, or as close a we could get to one on this side of the Atlantic.
This trend was to be short lived, however. Post-war demographics shifted, and as people fled the densely packed cities for the suburbs, the massive theaters had a harder time drawing the crowds they needed to stay profitable. A supreme court decision forcing studios to divest themselves of their theaters hastened their decline. In the present day, extant movie palaces have usually found their niche as small art-house film theaters, or fancy live performance venues.
Between the theaters that have managed to remain in use, and the ones that got torn down, are the ones that have been left to decay. Usually located in depressed cities that could ill afford the cost of demolition or refurbishment, they can be found around the country. Often, as these pictures hopefully show, they are no less impressive in their current states. On a recent visit to Philadelphia, we made a day trip to a nearby town that had a couple of these glorious hulks to see.
This theater likely had predated films as a vaudeville house, as the dressing rooms and piano backstage suggest.
But the big surprise was that this theater had a theater on top of its theater! If you kept going upstairs, there was a second venue to be found.
A short way across town was the second movie palace. This one had fewer surprises on offer, but when this is the splendor on display, you don’t need surprises.