The Most Beautiful Movie Theaters in America


If you haven’t noticed, we’re quite the bunch of architecture nerds here at Flavorwire, never missing an opportunity to feast our eyes on the most beautiful libraries, bookstores, opera houses, you name it. We’ve cast our eyes across America before looking for the best movie theaters in the land (we did it twice, actually) — but that search was more about the overall experience, with history and programming as important (if not more) than physical beauty. Just for fun, we decided to take another look, with an eye on pure aesthetics: what are the most beautiful movie theaters in the country? Several spaces on the previous lists qualified, but we decided to eliminate repetition; we also limited ourselves to venues that show films on at least a semi-regular basis (many gorgeous former movie houses now only showcase live events). Check out our top ten after the jump, and tell us more in the comments.

The Orinda Theatre — Orinda, CA

This theater, which dates back to 1941, was nearly demolished in 1984. Luckily, it was saved and restored, with two additional screens added before it reopened in 1989.

The Avalon Theatre — Catalina Island, CA

The Avalon, located in the Catalina Casino, opened in 1929 and was the first theater built specifically for exhibition of talkies.

Photo: Robert Reck

Photo: Robert Reck

Photo: Robert Reck

The Lensic — Santa Fe, NM

This gorgeous venue, built in 1931, underwent a decade-plus renovation before reopening in 2001 as a performing arts center — albeit one that still shows classic movies and new indies on its big screen.

Photo: Tom Paiva

Grand Lake Theater — Oakland, CA

Originally a vaudeville and silent movie house (opening in 1926), two expansions in the ‘80s added more beautiful auditoriums in vintage styles to Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater.

Heights Theatre — Columbia Heights, MN

This 1926 theater has survived three fires, one bombing, and a wicked tornado that twisted up its tower sign. Its restoration began in 1998; the Heights now offers up a selection of classics, indies, and foreign fare.

The Paris — New York, NY

One of the oldest art house theaters in the country, the single-screen Paris opened in Manhattan in 1948 and continues to offer offbeat fare in an low-key but elegant setting.

The Coolidge Corner Theatre — Brookline, MA

Like the Paris, the Coolidge Corner has been running indie and foreign films for longer than anyone cares to remember. Built as a church in 1906 and redesigned as an Art Deco movie palace in 1933, it has run movies continuously ever since.

The Plaza Theatre — Atlanta, GA

Atlanta’s oldest continually operating cinema, this Art Deco venue opened in 1939 (with a screening of The Women) and went through the usual run as an X-rated house in the ‘70s, but was repurposed and revitalized in the ‘90s and beyond. Bonus points for their monthly screenings of The Room.

Photo: M. Lewis Kennedy

Photo: M. Lewis Kennedy

Photo: M. Lewis Kennedy

The Alabama Theatre — Birmingham, AL

Originally built in 1927 as silent movie house (and still known for its mighty Wurlitzer organ), the Alabama supplements its busy concert schedule with screenings of classics like Casablanca and Gone with the Wind.

Photo: John Lewis

Photo: John Lewis

The Palace — Albany, NY

Designed by John Erberson, the renowned master of “atmospheric” theaters responsible for several of the most beautiful venues in the world, the Palace opened in 1931. After a decades-long restoration, it now mixes classic movies with concerts and theatrical presentations.

Those are some of our favorite movie theaters, but we’d love to hear about yours, so comment away!