America’s Creepiest Abandoned Theaters

By Kate BoveLast Updated Jul 24, 2020 8:08:48 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: @JaredKofsky/Twitter

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @FreakyTheory/Twitter

In the 1940s, the theater changed its tune, becoming "Detroit’s biggest best" burlesque venue. When live burlesque went the way of vaudeville, the National showed X-rated adult films. In 1975, the theater finally shuttered, joining the abandoned storefronts that flanked it.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @Spaetfilm/Twitter

Although it closed back in 1988, the Fox has been remarkably preserved. In 2012, two nonprofits (LAHTF and IHPA) partnered to save the Fox, eventually earning the theater a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Along with other buildings on Market Street, there are plans to restore the Fox.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @WWLTV/Twitter

Renovated and renamed State Palace Theatre in the 1980s, the venue showed classic movies and hosted live concerts.Eventually, this silent film-era gem became the heart of the southern rave scene in the ‘90s, hosting the world’s top DJs.

After being flooded by Hurricane Katrina, a few raves were hosted at the State Palace in 2007 before it was officially closed by the fire marshal.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: David Johnsen/Google Maps

The lot that once held 320 cars now sits empty. And only a few relics, such as the iconic light-up wagon sign and the former concession booth, remain. In 2018, CEO Mark Falcone, who has ties to the area, announced plans to restore the drive-in and make the valley a hub for arts and culture.

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.)

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Photo Courtesy: @MattLambros/Twitter

Kings hosted vaudeville performances, live stage shows — complete with a pipe organ and orchestra — and movies. After decades of operation, Kings closed in 1977. Despite sustaining years of water damage and vandalism, Kings was restored and reopened as a performing arts venue in 2015.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @BoingTamarindo/Twitter

Some speculate that gangster Dutch Schultz ran a bootlegging operation out of the complex during Prohibition. Allegedly, two people were murdered in the second-floor lobby. Today, the theater is not only on the National Register of Historic Places, but it’s a popular spot for ghost hunters, who have recorded numerous EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon) here.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: Nate Whitney/@NahFam__/Twitter

Warner Bros. acquired the theater, closing it for the first time in 1933. Later, it reopened under the management of Standard Theatres, Inc. and hosted stars such as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and the Three Stooges. It officially closed again in 1963, and although some repairs have been made over the years, it will take a whopping $24 million to properly restore it.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @bbhcalifornia/Twitter

Some details from the iconic Streamline Moderne style remain, as seen in the curving forms of the marquee and the building’s horizontal lines. After the theater shuttered, the building was used as a church until 2007. Instead of advertising coming attractions, the Tower Theatre boasts a "For Sale" sign today.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @MattLambros/Twitter

This frontrunner to the modern movie-theater-in-a-shopping-mall shuttered in 1976 and escaped demolition in 1993, after years of sitting vacant. Now a nonprofit organization runs the theater and raises money for its ongoing preservation and renovation.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @emilyivyscott/Twitter

The theater also became a center for civil rights activism, with Georgie Woods producing "Freedom Shows" out of the venue. Today, Uptown Entertainment & Development Corporation is looking into renovating the Uptown Theater and finding ways to "revitalize communities that are underserved by providing jobs, education and housing services."

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @SeanLeidigh/Twitter

The Gem closed — without any accompanying fires — in 1978. For a time, the lobby became a video rental store called Gem Video, but by 1995, the building was donated to the city. Although there have been plans to reopen the theater since the ‘90s, renovations have been put off time and again.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @untappedcities/Twitter

Dubbed the Paramount Theatre following the deal, it operated until 1986 — a whole century! Since then, a few pop-up retail stores have called the lobby home. Today, there are plans to demolish the theater and turn it into an entertainment complex, leaving only the front facade intact.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @MattLambros/Twitter

For several decades, films played in the Studebaker’s four auditoriums, but in 2000, it closed its doors. Five years later, a new owner took over the Fine Arts Building and slowly renovated the entire complex. Finally, in 2016, the restored Studebaker opened for live performances again.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @XM_Chevalier_MX/Twitter

In the 1950s, Canal closed, but by the ‘60s, it was transformed: The lobby became a retail space, and the auditorium served as a warehouse. The terracotta facade of the theater is the only features that’s a protected landmark. Plans to turn Canal into a performing arts space or an 11-story condo complex were both scrapped.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @CurbedLA/Twitter

Although its sister theater in Beverly Hills was demolished in the ‘80s, the Huntington Park location sits vacant with a "For Rent" sign plastered to it. Listings for the theater suggest turning it into an entirely new space — restaurant, gym or retail store, perhaps. Sadly, only the facade is protected, so the Warner could become an Urban Outfitters one day.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @portaVOZtv/Twitter

Despite its initial success, the theater closed for a time and reopened in 1929 as "the only permanent Yiddish theater in New England."

After oscillating between motion pictures and live acts for years, Franklin Park was eventually bought by New Baptist Fellowship Church and became a space used by the National Center for Afro-American Artists. Sadly, a fire swept through the theater in 2009, leaving the church with plans to rebuild.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @argsanfrancisco/Twitter

City College of San Francisco purchased the building, aiming to raze it and build anew. Luckily, a group called Save New Mission Theater blocked that action. In 2015, Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain opened a renovated version of the theater, preserving its Art Deco detailings and famous marquee.

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).

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Photo Courtesy: @Lee_Adler/Twitter

In 1993, star Tom Hanks visited the Boyd for the premiere of his film Philadelphia (1993). Upon seeing the theater, Hanks reportedly exclaimed, "Wow, a real movie palace!" Unfortunately, not everyone shared his enthusiasm. After years of near-restorations, the Boyd’s auditorium was demolished in 2015 to make room for a 24-story apartment building.

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).

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Photo Courtesy: @thecuriousct/Twitter

In the ‘30s, folks stopped by the Capitol to watch newsreels. During World War II, Glenn Miller became one of the last big acts to perform there — alongside a 48-piece military training band — hoping to raise money through bonds. After showing several ill-received adult films during the ‘70s, the run-down Capitol finally shuttered.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @melindagharvey/Twitter

In 2000, a local resident restored Midway, but it shuttered again after just five years. After being purchased and restored by yet another new owner, the drive-in showed films intermittently until 2012, when it didn’t reopen at all due to the lack of availability of 35mm film prints.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @SFCV/Twitter

Built in 1939 as part of a New Deal-era project, the theater was a venue for soldiers, playing silent films and hosting the likes of Bob Hope and Jack Benny. When the Army moved out in 1994, the theater was left to rot. In 2019, the theater reopened after a $40 million renovation championed by Peggy Haas, daughter of Peter Haas, former CEO of Levi Strauss & Co.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @seph_lawless/Twitter

Private investors aimed to renovate the theater’s interior for half a million dollars but abandoned those plans in the late ‘80s. The theater’s facade was renovated ahead of the Miss USA pageant of 2002 — but just for looks. In 2012, supporters of the Palace started a Facebook page to generate interest in the theater’s restoration.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @BoingTamarindo/Twitter

Nonetheless, the Majestic was impressive and served as a proper movie theater for decades before closing its doors in 1971. Now, both theaters are on the National Register of Historic Places — and reportedly haunted.

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.

Photo Courtesy: @SFinformer/Twitter

Due to wartime blackout restrictions, however, some of its impressive neon elements weren’t utilized until later. In 1973, it reopened as Alexandria 3, but the hieroglyphics, twinkling lights of the dome and ornate columns were hidden behind plain walls to carve out more auditoriums. Although the Alexandria closed in 2004, the plan is to turn it into an aquatic complex by 2020.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @bookofjoe/Twitter

Although it’s debated when exactly this drive-in went under, Yerington locals estimate it operated into the mid-90s. It was able to compete with single-screen indoor theaters that opened in the early ‘90s, but multiplexes eventually put an end to Sage Crest.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @MattLambros/Twitter

In 1990, it reopened as a music venue, but even big names like Frankie Vali & The Four Seasons weren’t enough to keep the theater afloat. New York Deliverance Gospel Temple bought it in ‘95 and then sold it to All Nations Apostolic Tabernacle in 2006. As of 2019, the rundown building is for sale again.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @Worcester_Aud/Twitter

The venue held on until the late-1960s or early-1970s. Various retail stores, from Kelly’s Furniture Store to Duane Reade Drug Store, have rotated through the space. Currently, The Children’s Place, a clothing store for kids, occupies the building.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @LunaStellaBlog1/Twitter

Fifty years after its opening, the Alhambra was converted into twin theaters in 1976. After a series of closings and reopenings in the ‘80s and ‘90s, it closed for good in 1998. Crunch Fitness converted the space into a gym but preserved the theater’s details.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @IndianaLandmark/Twitter

The Rivoli nabbed a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. A few years later, the Rivoli Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.,. acquired the theater, hoping to restore and reopen it.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: @stabitha/Twitter

Since 1996, the Sky property has been used for flea markets and swap meets. Another good use? Since it’s an open lot with zero light pollution, it could make a great spot for stargazing from the comfort of your (air-conditioned) car.