America’s Creepiest Abandoned Theaters
Before the rise of cinema chains and multiplexes, cities and small towns alike boasted beautiful theaters. Used as stages for plays, concerts and films, these venues transported audiences to fictional worlds and made the experience special.
Now, many of these once-lavish buildings sit deserted, waiting to be renovated into something brand new — or demolished. Here’s a look at 30 of America’s creepiest abandoned theaters.
National Theatre | Detroit, MI
Detroit’s National Theatre opened back in 1911 as a vaudeville house. With an opera house and several family theaters nearby, this venue was located in a premium spot in the heart of the city’s entertainment district.
The Fox Theatre | Inglewood, CA
Built in 1949, the Inglewood Fox was constructed by a West Coast-based theater chain to host premieres and first-run films. Known for its innovation, the Fox boasted air conditioning, assistance for folks who were hearing impaired, automatic lobby doors and a "Crying Room" for disruptive children.
State Palace Theatre | New Orleans, LA
The State Theatre in downtown New Orleans opened in 1926 as part of the Loew’s Theatre circuit. (Yes, the company became that AMC/Loews.) Doubling as a performing arts venue, State Theatre hosted stars from the silent film era, such as Buster Keaton and Dorothy Phillips.
Frontier Drive-In | Center, CO
The Frontier Drive-In was self-described as the theater "11 miles north of Monte Vista on the Gunbarrel," the local nickname for the curve-less Highway 285. Already successful in the theater business, owners Herbert and Theta Gumper installed the 44-foot-by-80-foot screen themselves.
Kings Theatre | Brooklyn, NY
Located in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, Kings Theatre opened in 1929 as a movie palace under the Loew’s Theater name. The venue was one of five extra-opulent "Wonder Theaters" opened by Loew’s in the New York City area. (Each borough — except Staten Island, sorry! — and Jersey City had its own.)
Loew's Poli Theater (or Palace Theater) | Bridgeport, CT
The city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, is home to a 13-acre building complex that was once brought to life by two theaters and a hotel. One of those theaters was the Poli Theater (later Palace Theater), a vaudeville house that opened in 1922. As Connecticut’s largest theater, it even hosted the likes of Mae West.
Kenosha Theater | Kenosha, WI
Like other theaters of its time, the Kenosha Theatre in Wisconsin started as a vaudeville and silent film venue in 1927. Although it was commissioned by Universal Studios co-founder Carl Laemmle, the Kenosha resembled Spain’s Alcazar castle — the alleged inspiration behind Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World Resort.
Tower Theater | San Francisco, CA
Initially, this theater in San Francisco’s Mission District opened in 1912 under the name Majestic Theatre. In 1941, it underwent a second remodeling and reopened as the Tower Theatre the following year.
Jayhawk State Theatre | Topeka, KS
Opening in 1926, the Jayhawk State Theatre (now the Historic Jayhawk State Theatre of Kansas) made its mark in downtown Topeka. The theater was attached to the Jayhawk Hotel & Crosby Bros. shopping complex, meaning visitors could eat, sleep, shop and watch a show all in the same place.
Uptown Theater | Philadelphia, PA
The Art Deco-themed Uptown Theater in Philadelphia was built in 1927 to host the new "talkies" — motion pictures featuring sound — that were sweeping the nation. As part of the "chitlin’ circuit" of the 1950s, the Uptown hosted live music shows centered on Black artists and the blues, soul and gospel genres.
Gem Theater | Cairo, IL
The Gem Theatre first opened in 1910 as a venue for singing, dancing and photoplays (an early form of motion pictures). However, a fire ravaged the theater in 1929, leading to a $2.8 million — in today’s currency — renovation. Another fire destroyed the theater in 1934, leading to the Art Deco 1936 version that remains today.
Paramount Theater | Newark, NJ
Opening in 1886 as the H.C. Miner’s Newark Theatre, the Paramount Theatre is one of the oldest on our list of abandoned theaters. Originally a vaudeville house, the theater was renovated substantially in the early 1900s and again in the ‘30s, when the owners struck a deal with Paramount Pictures to show movies.
Studebaker Theater | Chicago, IL
Built in 1898 to house vaudeville acts, the Studebaker Theater was part of the historic Fine Arts Building. Talents ranging from Bob Hope to Vincent Price graced the Studebaker’s stage over the years, but in the 1970s, the venue shifted gears, trading live performances for more lucrative motion pictures.
Loew's Canal Theater | New York, NY
Named after its location on Canal Street in Manhattan, this theater opened in 1927 and claimed the title of second-largest motion picture theater in the area. Despite offering 2,300 seats, the Canal played mostly B movies, cartoons and serials. Loew’s sold the theater to the Greater M&S Circuit in 1928, but after the company went bankrupt in 1929, Loew’s bought it back.
The Warner Theater | Huntington Park, CA
Designed by prolific movie palace architect B. Marcus Priteca, the Warner Theater in Huntington Park, California, opened in the 1930s. Back in its heyday, the Warner showed a variety of motion pictures and even had a successful stint as a Spanish-language theater until it closed in the ‘90s.
Franklin Park Theatre | Boston, MA
The Franklin Park Theater opened in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood in 1914. Although the theater could only sit 2,000 people, 3,000 guests showed up on opening night to watch a silent film starring Mary Pickford and to enjoy vaudeville acts and an organist.
New Mission Theater | San Francisco, CA
Built in 1916, the New Mission Theater in San Francisco’s Mission District was renovated just 16 years after its opening, becoming an Art Deco icon. Showing mainly B movies during its early days, the theater transitioned to showing cartoons and children’s movies in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In 1993, the theater shuttered and became a retail space for a time.
Boyd Theatre | Philadelphia, PA
Built during the 1920s in Philadelphia, this movie palace operated for 74 years before closing in 2002. Notably, the Boyd — Philadelphia’s largest theater — showed notable first-run films, including The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Gone with the Wind (1940).
Capitol Theatre | New London, CT
Opening in November of 1921 to a sold out crowd, the Capitol Theatre became one of Connecticut’s most popular vaudeville houses. Wisely, the owner changed with the times, booking fewer live acts and more movies, including the first "talkie," The Jazz Singer (1928).
Midway Drive-In Theater | Sweetwater, TX
Erected in 1955 between Turkey and Quitaque, Texas — near Sweetwater — on Highway 86, the Midway Drive-In was just one of more than 300 drive-ins operating in Texas at that time. During the ‘50s and ‘60s, when car culture was all the rage, drive-ins cropped up between towns and cities — hence the name midway. By the 1980s, drive-ins across the country were closing.
Presidio Theater | San Francisco, CA
Located in the northernmost part of San Francisco, the Presidio is a former military base that’s now maintained by the National Park Service. Although restaurants, offices and residences now fill the park, many buildings are still abandoned. Until this year, the Presidio Theater was one of those sites.
Palace Theater | Gary, IN
Opening in 1925, the Palace Theater in Gary, Indiana, featured live stage shows, vaudeville gigs and movies. Unfortunately, when the U.S. Steel plant located in Gary went under, the rest of the town followed. For years, the once-grand theater declined before shutting down in 1972.
Majestic Theater | Bridgeport, CT
The Majestic Theater opened in 1922, alongside the Poli Theater and Savoy Hotel. All three venues were part of a 13-acre building complex in Bridgeport, Connecticut. While the Poli — the state’s largest theater — opened as a vaudeville house, the majestic was slightly smaller.
Alexandria Theater | San Francisco, CA
After its opening in 1923, the Alexandria Theater became San Francisco’s Richmond District’s leading second-run theater. After a remodeling in 1941, the theater took on a Moderne look, doing away with most of its original, Egyptian-themed features.
Sage Crest Drive-In | Yerington, NV
Located north of U.S. 95 near Yerington, Nevada, Sage Crest Drive-In allowed for 250 cars to enjoy movies on its lot. According to locals, the first film shown at the drive-in was a tad on the nose: Walt Disney’s Academy Award-winning The Living Desert (1953), an entry from his "True-Life Adventures" documentary series.
Queens Theatre | Queens Village, NY
Operated by Century Theatres for decades, the Queens Theatre opened in 1927 as a vaudeville house and movie theater. It showed its last feature film — Last Tango in Paris (1972) starring Marlon Brando — in 1974. For a time, Queens operated as an X-rated theater, but it closed again in 1989.
Spooner Theatre | Bronx, NY
The Bronx’s Spooner Theatre was opened in 1910 by a local business owner, who soon sold it to Loew’s Inc., which owned the neighboring Boulevard Theatre. Due to the proximity of the two theaters, Spooner became a second-run movie house.
Alhambra Theater | San Francisco, CA
The Alhambra Theatre is an example of the Moorish Revival look. It was designed by the same architect who crafted other iconic Bay Area venues, including San Francisco’s Castro Theater and Oakland’s Paramount Theater, both of which still operate to this day.
Rivoli Theater | Indianapolis, IN
Built in 1927 in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Rivoli Theater was a single-screen movie house operated by Universal Pictures. In 1937, following a rash of theater closures, Universal sold the theater. Until its closure in 1992, the Rivoli continued to provide a space for movie screenings and live entertainment.
Sky Drive-In | Yucca Valley, CA
Nestled in California’s desert region known as Yucca Valley, the Sky Drive-In opened in 1958 on a lot capable of holding approximately 500 cars. (That’s desert real estate for you!) In 1994, the drive-in — like so many others of its kind across the country — closed after showing Disney’s The Lion King as its last film.