Oldest Movie Theaters in America

10 Oldest Movie Theaters in America

Do you want to know which of the movie theaters in the United States is the oldest? If yes, then you came to the right place.

With the advent of online streaming services, it seems that more and more people are watching movies in the comfort of their homes. Not only that, but the 2019 pandemic forced people to avoid going out. As a result, some movie theaters struggle to stay afloat.

Although this might be the case, movie theaters will not go away anytime soon. Some historians and their supporters try their best to maintain historic theaters and ensure they stay with us for the future generation.

So, with this in mind, you might ask, “What are the oldest movie theaters in America?” That’s exactly what we are going to discuss today.

Here is a list of the 10 oldest movie theaters in America. Please note that we have included both those that are still operational and those that have already closed.

10. Avalon Theatre

Opened: 1923 (99 years ago as of 2022)
Location: Washington, DC
Former name: Chevy Chase Theatre
Recognition: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Avalon Theatrephoto source: Historic Chevy Chase DC

Located in the Chevy Chase neighborhood, the Avalon Theatre is a historic site within the region that features the Classical Revival architectural design. It is currently among the oldest cinema theatre in continuous use.

Did You Know?

The Avalon Theater boasts the third-largest movie theater screen in the United States. In 2001, the Avalon Theater needed to be closed. Thankfully, a nonprofit community group worked together to reopen the historic theater.

9. Million Dollar Theater

Opened: 1917 (105 years ago as of 2022)
Location: Los Angeles, California
Former name: One of the National Register of Historic Places
Recognition: Langdon Street Capital

Million Dollar Theaterphoto source: Wikipedia

The Million Dollar Theatre was opened in 1917. Its first show was “The Silent Man” by William S. Hart. Because of its age, the theatre is part of the historical movie palaces in California.

Looking at the exterior wall, you’ll find elaborate sculptures made by the well-known artist, Joseph Mora. The design was inspired by the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style.

Did You Know?

Today, the Million Dollar Theatre is the movie palace of choice for various special movie screenings, especially films that have to do with history.

8. Al. Ringling Theatre

Opened: 1915 (107 years ago as of 2022)
Location: Baraboo, Wisconsin
Former name: Rapp and Rapp, an architectural firm
Recognition: Albert Ringling

Al. Ringling Theatrephoto source: Wikipedia

The Al. Ringling Theatre is among the movie theaters that have been continuously operating for the longest time. The construction cost was about $100,000. Some of the most notable shows it has featured include silent movies, vaudeville, and grand opera.

Did You Know?

The Al. Ringling Theatre is inspired by the Palace of Versailles in terms of its design. However, some argue that it is more similar to the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux.

7. Strand Theatre

Opened: 1914 (108 years ago as of 2022)
Location: New York City, New York
Former name: Mark Brothers (Mitchel and Moe)
Recognition: Mark Strand Theatre; the Warner Theatre; Cinerama Theatre; RKO Warner Twin Theatre

Strand Theatrephoto source: Daytonian in Manhattan

Strand Theatre or Mark Strand theatre as it was known when it first opened, was built in 1914. It is one of the movie theaters built by the Mark Brothers. At that time, the construction cost was about $1,000,000, which is roughly more than $27,000,000 in 2021’s money. This made Strand Theatre the most luxurious movie palace in its heyday.

Did You Know?

The Strand Theatre showed primarily films from Paramount Pictures. Later, it became the Warner Theatre after it was acquired by Warner Bros. The theater closed in 1952 for renovation and it reopened as the Warner Cinerama Theatre. It then underwent ownership changes and finally, in 1987, it was demolished to build a new one called the Morgan Stanley Building.

6. Regent Theater

Opened: 1913 (109 years ago as of 2022)
Location: New York City, New York
Former name: Venetian palazzo exterior
Recognition: Henry Marvin

photo source: Daytonian in Manhattan

The opening of the beautiful Regent Theatre is the start of a new era in movie theaters. It marked the time when theaters were made more elegant and upbeat, which was far from its current state at that time.

Before Regent Theater, the majority of theaters followed the pattern of Nickelodeon theaters. The Regent Theater looks beautiful with its Venetian palazzo-inspired facade. Inside was a Spanish-Moorish auditorium, beautified by various carpets, ceiling murals, and paintings.

Did You Know?

The opening of the Regent Theatre in 1913 wasn’t all rainbows and cupcakes. In fact, it was almost a huge disaster. Not all people were interested in moving into a new-styled and more beautiful theater. Thanks to S.L. Rothafel, the genius designer of the US, was able to transform Regent Theatre into a memorable place for all.

5. Plaza 1907

Opened: 1907 (115 years ago as of 2022)
Location: Ottawa, Kansas
Former name: The Plaza Grill and Cinema; Crystal Plaza; The Bijou; Yale Theatre
Recognition: Scott Zaremba

Plaza 1907photo source: Wikimedia

Plaza 1907 is considered to be the oldest purpose-built cinema in operation in the world and is confirmed by the Guinness World Records in 2017. However, it was later withdrawn when an older theatre in Denmark got the record.

In 1972, Plaza was included in the Downtown Ottawa Historic District. Historic photographs can still be seen in the Franklin County Historical Society.

Did You Know?

Plaza was originally the Pickrell Building, which was constructed in 1885. It was only in 1907 that part of the Pickrell Building was converted into a theatre, which was called the Bijou Theatre. In 1909, it was renamed Yale Theatre. Its name was changed several times until it was closed in 1929 due to a fire that broke out in 1917. It was only in 1937 that it was remodeled and became the Plaza Theatre.

4. Nickelodeon

Opened: 1905 (117 years ago as of 2022)
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Former name: 96 seats upon its first opening
Recognition: John P. Harris and Harry Davis

photo source: Heinz History Center

The Nickelodeon is considered to be the first type of indoor space that was used for showing motion pictures via a projector. The Nickelodeon started as a small simple theater and with just five cents, you can already watch movies.

Nickelodeon became the forerunner of the modern theaters today.

Did You Know?

The name of the theater is derived from the word, “nickel,” which refers to the five-cent coin of the US. The odeon refers to the roofed-over theater. Since it only takes a nickel to get admitted to the theater, Nickelodeon was a fitting name.

3. Electric Theater

Opened: 1902 (120 years ago as of 2022)
Location: Los Angeles, California
Former name: 1998
Recognition: Thomas Lincoln Tally

photo source: The Clio

Tally’s Electric Theatre is the first of its kind. Before the Electric Theatre was built, most motion pictures are simply viewed in vaudeville theaters or storefronts. However, the Electric Theatre is the first building constructed with the primary purpose of featuring movies.

Did You Know?

The Electric Theatre was only open for three hours during the night. However, due to growing public demand, it has to expand its operation. Every show was sold out.

The Electric Theatre was so successful that it has spurred a wave of Theatre construction across the United States. By 1907, there were around 3,000 theatres in the United States and it grew to 10,000 by 1910.

2. State Theater

Opened: 1897 (125 years ago as of 2022)
Location: Washington, Iowa
Former name: Guinness World of Records
Recognition: The Graham Opera House

State Theaterphoto source: Des Moines Register

Inducted as the oldest continuously operating movie theater in the United States by Guinness World of Records, the State Theater is considered to be a cultural heritage and treasure of Washington, Iowa. In its earliest days, tickets were just about 15 to 35 cents.

Because of its age, The State Theater has undergone multiple renovations and repairs throughout its existence. Today, the theater got a lot of improvements and it came a long way since its first opening. It has digital projectors, new seats and carpets, quality surround sound system, balcony, and concession area.

Did You Know?

In November 2010, the state Theater caught fire after a perone left a burning cigarette butt in a trash can. It led to the destruction of the projection room. The fire caused the theater to close.

Thankfully, After repair was done, State Theater was reopened in April 2011.

1. Vitascope Theater

Opened: 1896 (126 years ago as of 2022)
Location: Buffalo, New York
Former name: 72 seats
Recognition: Mitchel H. Mark, Moe Mark, and Rudolf Wagner

Vitascope Theaterphoto source: The Clio

The Vitascope Theater is the oldest movie theater in America. It was opened to the public on October 19, 1896, in the basement of the Ellicott Square Building located in Buffalo New York.

Admission at that time was only three cents. Since it’s the first of its kind, the movie theater shows a little blurry and flickering films. Most shows include travel scenes of people at that time.

Did You Know?

The Vitascope Theater stayed open for only two years. However, it has made history by becoming the first movie theater not just in the United States, but also in the world.

Aside from that, the Vitascope Theater was named after the invention of Edison, the Vitascope, which is among the earliest forms of a projector.

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