Monday, June 22, 2009

Lost movie palaces

There's absolutely nothing that compares to watching a film in one of the grand, opulent movie palaces. Most palaces were built in the 1920s as a way to attract audiences by replicating their theatre experiences and attracting a wider clientele. Think massive lobbies, chandeliers, sweeping staircases, huge balconies, gigantic neon marquees and a theatre large enough to see one to two thousand moviegoers. You think a multiplex is a real theatre--it's not, a palace is the only real movie theatre.

Sadly, there just aren't a lot of movie palaces showing films anymore. If the buildings were lucky, they survived the incredibly destructive period of the 1960s-70s known as urban renewal. This period saw most of the historic theatres razed to create surface parking for evaporating downtowns as city after city spread out to suburbia. Hundreds and hundreds of theatres have been erased in the name of surface parking. It breaks my heart.

The fortunate theatres survived by fluke, concerned benefactor or by their sheer stubbornness. These structures aren't movie houses anymore as they've gone the way of Broadway touring shows, musical acts and other fare. It's not movies but it's comforting they still stand and people seem to love them for their charms and beauty. Their popularity with audiences further vilifies the individuals across the nation who knocked these magnificent buildings down. No good bastards.

Every city of any size had at least one movie palace--many cities had two or three or more. Tulsa had its share with the Ritz (pictured in the 1950s--note the temperature on the bank clock on the right and the long line of patrons to escape into the air conditioned splendor of the Ritz), the Orpheum and the Majestic all fitting into a few square blocks downtown. Faux marble columns, twinkling ceilings of stars blinked overhead as you watched a film, glamorous fabric and gigantic mirrors hung everywhere you looked. All of these theatres and the many of smaller neighborhood theatres in Tulsa such as the Alhambra/Plaza, Will Rogers, Delman, Cozy and Brook are all parking lots or have been converted to something non-movie like a restaurant. Only the Circle still has hope at new life, although the recent structural damage cost its original theatre walls.

If I had a time machine I'd travel back to the 1930s (I love those '30s films!) and travel around the country for a few years, just watching movie after movie in these unbelievable theatres. What a pleasant dream that is.

***Photograph is Courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society***

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