Extravagant materials, bold lines and shapes, and lots of color! These are some of the most recognizable characteristics of the Art Deco architectural style that was so popular during the 1920s and 1930s. During these decades, Art Deco practically became synonymous with the glamorous and majestic new theaters popping up all over the United States. With names like Fox and Paramount, these amazing theaters brought Hollywood and “talkies” to the doorsteps of America.
While few of these grand old theaters survive today, even fewer have been restored or maintained enough to retain their original Art Deco elements — a devastating loss of American history. Fortunately, the 10 amazing Art Deco theaters on this list are the exceptions, and continue to thrill their audiences with flashy lights, ornate architectural details, and other Old Hollywood glam.
Fargo, North Dakota
It’s hard to miss the amazing Art Deco details of the Fargo Theatre in Fargo, North Dakota. The theater’s facade is dominated by the gorgeous light-up marquee and tower. The Art Deco architectural details continue inside with an inverted dome ceiling, lots of color, and an ornate stage. Today, the Fargo is used as an art house theater and concert venue, and has been given a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
The old Fox Theaters were some of the best examples of Art Deco architecture built in the United States, and the Fox Theater in Hutchinson, Kansas is no exception. In 1999, this Fox Theater was lovingly restored to its former glory and rewarded with a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of the theater’s best examples of Art Deco style include a colorful and flashy neon marquee, terra cotta reliefs, elaborate door moldings, plus plenty of cartouches, friezes, pilasters, and stepped treatments.
Grand Lake Theater
Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater has been a vaudeville stage and a Fox movie palace, and is today one of the most amazing theaters built in the Art Deco style. The theater, which still functions as a popular cinema, has retained many of its original architectural details. A stunning crystal chandelier still hangs in the lobby, an old Mighty Wurlitzer organ is still brought out for special occasions, and classic frescoes still adorn the walls of the auditoriums (our favorite is the Sahara themed fresco, complete with palm trees and sand dunes).
Middletown, New York
There may not be any celebratory parades planned like there were when it opened for the first time, but the Paramount Theatre is still one of the most amazing Art Deco theaters in the U.S. Located in Middletown, New York, the Paramount boasts such details as colorful ornate walls and ceilings, balconies, and a heavy red curtain that opens before each show. Today, the Paramount is used as a performance arts venue and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Despite spending more than three decades closed and neglected, the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California is today once again one of the most amazing Art Deco theaters around. During the 1970s, the Paramount was saved by private donors, the City of Oakland, and the Oakland Symphony. After an extensive renovation, the theater was restored to its former glory, magnificence, and most importantly, authenticity. Today, visitors can step into any auditorium and find ornate ceilings, hand-painted murals on the walls, dozens of chandeliers, and large red curtains that still open for concerts, theater, and movies.
Park Ridge, Illinois
Located in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois, the stunning Pickwick Theatre is one of the most amazing Art Deco theaters still in existence. The first thing people notice about the Pickwick is its stunning 100-foot tower and colorful marquee — staples of the Art Decor style. Inside, the lobby and main auditorium have been designed to look like a Mayan or Aztec temple. The Pickwick, which was originally opened in 1928 as a vaudeville stage and movie palace, has been lovingly restored into a four-screen theater and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Providence Performing Arts Center
Providence, Rhode Island
Amazingly, during the 1960s and 1970s, when so many other beautiful old theaters were being torn down, the Providence Performing Arts Center was being lovingly restored into one of the most amazing Art Deco-style theaters in the world. Today, the theater boasts dozens of crystal chandeliers, hundreds of columns made of solid imported marble, and thousands of square feet of ornate gilded plasterwork. Used sparingly for special occasions and performances, the Providence Performing Arts Center is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Baltimore’s Senator Theatre, a beloved local landmark, is another amazing Art Deco theater. It’s chock-full of stunning architectural details including original terrazzo floors in the lobby, skybox-style balconies, and murals depicting classic performing arts themes. There’s even a massive gold curtain that still opens before the start of each movie. Not only has the Senator been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it has also been named a Baltimore City Landmark.
The State Theatre
Well-known theater architect S. Charles Lee designed this theater, so it’s no surprise that the State Theater in Modesto, California is one of the most amazing Art Deco theaters around. The theater, which was completely renovated in 2006, boasts a stunning facade complete with a colorful light-up marquee and vertical signage. A beloved local landmark, the State Theatre hosted premieres and other special showings of Star Wars and other films by Modesto native George Lucas.
The Washoe Theater in Anaconda, Montana was one of the last Art Deco-style theaters built, one of the reasons it has been named to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The theater boasts all kinds of beautiful architectural details, including doors of etched glass, ornate relief patterns on nearly every joint and trim, and a domed ceiling with a mural painted by Colville Smythe. Perhaps most impressive is the Washoe’s original painted silk curtains — though the theater itself admits they remain mostly because curators are fearful that removing them, even for restoration, could cause them to disintegrate.