I am more of a reader than a movie watcher. Circumstances conspired to move me in that direction: farm child, only four channels on our TV (and viewing time was restricted), and the influence of older siblings and parents, who, when not working, were reading. That said, I love the movies, and I especially adore historic movie theaters, where the patron is riveted not only by the action on the screen, but also by the carefully crafted architecture of the building, both inside and out.
During our recent trip to western Kentucky, I was delighted to walk by the Columbia Theatre on Broadway in Paducah, Kentucky. Opening night was April 18, 1927, with a showing of “It” starring Clara Bow. The brick building, clad in blue and white tiles, and bursting with ornament, is a typical “movie palace” of its day.
The stylistic details and motifs of historic movie theaters not only served to tempt patrons inside, but elevated the business of movies by linking it with classical themes and European precedents. Busts of Greek goddesses? Byzantine columns? Urns and friezes? Obviously, this temple to the moving picture was a classy joint, and the architecture was the first layer of cementing the importance of this entertainment venues. You might live in a smallish city or town, but you too could enjoy the little luxuries of life (including air-conditioning!) at your local picture palace.
Interest has been growing in restoring the Columbia for more than a decade. After closing in 1987, the building’s owner donated the theater to the city of Paducah in 2003. A local group has a Facebook page dedicated to the Columbia; stating that “we are a committed group working toward the resurrection of the historic movie palace as a future hub of downtown and a nod to our past.”
Historic buildings add so much to the streetscape of our communities, and movie theaters in particular can be a real boon to a downtown economy. Travelers even route trips based on the location of historic theaters, using the guide at Cinema Treasures to make their jaunts possible.* I look forward to a return trip to Paducah when the Columbia’s doors reopen, enchanting movie goers of all ages once again.
* The Theatre Historical Society of America is another resource to check out if you, like me, adore historic movie theaters. Their 2015 Conclave Theater Tour is in Richmond, Virginia, this year. “Each year, over 100 people join THS for its Conclave Theatre Tour. Hosted in a different geographic location each year, our architectural tour showcases a region’s theatres and gives our attendees unprecedented access to the buildings. Lasting four to five days, it includes visits to 15-25 theatres including neighborhood venues and movie palaces as well as presentations from each building’s historian.”