Theaters 1 - Theaters 2
Theaters have always been known for being places for entertainment. When a person goes
to a theater, they expect to have a pleasurable experience, whether it is to see an
opera, ballet, play, or a movie. Having a theater within a community for recreation is
not a new concept, however, movie theaters are a relatively new creation.
Movie theaters were originally called movie palaces. They were known for being rather
extravagant in design in order to attract as many paying customers as possible. The Regent
in New York City was built in 1913 as the first movie palace. Its success could be
attributed in part by the extravagance, but it was also the appeal of low admission
prices and unreserved seating, unlike the theaters of Vaudeville productions. The appeal
of the first few movie palaces that were built spurred a boom of buildings from 1914 to
1922. There were 4,000 new theaters in the United States built during that time.
Impressive lobbies with rich European décor were intended to give moviegoers the feeling
of being royalty and be an escape from the day-to-day world.
There were different permutations of theaters from that point on. Many became themed, or "atmospheric theaters", in the 1920s. There were those that had Egyptian, Turkish,
Chinese, and Persian themes, along with theaters that simply had skies painted on the
ceiling, or box seats that were formed to look like a street scene.
The Depression and World War II drastically changed the way theaters were built. The
Depression-era theaters were decorated in Art Deco style and were simple compared to the
palaces of the 1910s and 20s, although they were still meant to impress customers. The
function of World War II-era theaters was as a place to view newsreels about the war and
learn about bond drives. This was also the time when drive-through theaters were
The creation of unique theaters with character is mostly a thing of the past. There are a
few large chains of movie theaters and they are all practically the same inside and out.
This is all the more reason to appreciate the history of the theater, or movie palace and
try to preserve them for future generations.
© Cathryne L. Parish 2005