Movie palace

Movie palace

Movie palace is an American English synonym for movie theater, but nowadays usually used within the USA for the grand cinemas of the 1910s to early 1960s, contrasting with modern multiplexes. In the United Kingdom such cinemas are referred to as picture palaces.

There are three building types in particular which can be subsumed under the label movie palace. First, the ‘standard’ movie palace , with its eclectic and luxurious period-revival architecture; second, the atmospheric theatre with its fantasy environments fashioned after ‘exotic’ cultures, 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 John Eberson, Thomas W. Lamb, and the impresario S.L. "Roxy" Rothafel. Other pioneers include the Chicago firm of Rapp and Rapp, which designed the Chicago Theatre, the Uptown, and the Oriental, 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.

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, the Brenograph magic lantern machine would begin to project clouds, constellations, and special celestial effects and illusions on the ceiling.

Lamb's theatre style was based on the more straightforward, 'hardtop' form patterned on opera houses, but no less ornate. Some of these theatres were ornamented to a ridiculous extent, in a kitchen-sink exoticism where referenced visual styles wildly collided with each other: church 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, all mixed, matched, and bastardized. This wealth of ornament was not merely for aesthetic effect. It was calculated social engineering, distraction, and traffic management, meant to work on human bodies and minds in a specific way. Today, most of these movie palaces operate as regular theaters, showcasing plays and operas.

Image Gallery

List of movie palaces

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


List of fictional theatres

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