Atmospheric theater

An atmospheric theater is a type of movie palacewhich was popular in the late 1920s. “Rather than seating the theater bosses in a boxlike, formal setting as passive observers of stage entertainment, the atmospheric design transported them to an exotic European courtyard or garden.A cerulean sky, often intricately dotted with accurately depicted starry skies with wispy floating clouds produced Rather than crystal candlesticks and gilt ornamentation there are arches, trellises, balconies and statuary to evoke a sense of the outdoors. the stars twinkled above, creating in the audience a sense of infinite space, when the entertainment was created as colors changed from yellow to red to mauve. The atmospheric theater design made the boss an active, comfortable resident of an imaginary time and place, not a passive, aloof occupant of an oppressive formal space.[1]

The extravagantly designed theaters of the early twentieth century were expensive to build. These classically designed theaters required an elaborate auditorium ceiling, usually with one or more great candlesticks. An atmospheric theater only required a simple, smooth dome with low-wattage lights to simulate twinkling stars. This is not to say atmospheric theaters were always simple in design. The side walls of the theaters are often used in a village, garden, or on the grounds of a grand palace.

The most successful promoter of the style was John Eberson . He credited the Hoblitzelle Majestic Theater (Houston, 1923) as the first. [2] Before the end of the 1920s he was born around 100 atmospheric theaters in the US and a few other countries,

Atmospheric theaters in the United States

Designed by John Eberson

John Eberson was the most successful promoter and designer of the atmospheric style. Sixteen of his atmospheric theaters in the United States are still in operation:

  • New Regal Theater (Originally Avalon Theater) ( Chicago )

Moorish Revival

  • Akron Civic Theater ( Akron, Ohio )

The theater was built in 1929 by Marcus Loew and designed by John Eberson . It opened as Loew ‘s (Akron) Theater and seats 5,000 people. The auditorium is designed to resemble a night in a Moorish garden. Twinkling stars and drifting clouds across the domed ceiling. Located on Akron’s South Main Street, the theater’s entrance lobby extends over the Ohio and Erie Canal. The theater has a small multicolored terra cotta facade dominated by a large marquee. The interior of the lobby and lobby is designed to resemble Moorishcastle with Mediterranean decor, complete with medieval carvings style, authentic European antiques and Italian alabaster sculptures. A large full-sized Wurlitzer organ hidden beneath the stage rises to the stage level on a special elevator. [3]In June 2001, the Akron Civic Theater closed its doors for the most expensive and extensive renovation in its history in order to bring the theater back to modern performance and patron standards, and to restoring its failing 75-year old infrastructure. just over $ 19 million, which includes additional restroom facilities, new concession stands and expansion of the lobbies. The renovation allowed for the Civic to a new location. To bring the theater up to new standards the dressing rooms were all redone and the stage was expanded from twenty-six feet to forty feet. Also added to the Civic was a freight elevator, a new loading dock and a cross-over space behind the stage’s back wall. [4]HVAC, roof exterior, electrical service and modernizing the plumbing. [4] The newly renovated Civic Theate re-opened in November 2002.

  • Indiana Theater ( Terre Haute, Indiana )

The Indiana Theater has a Spanish courtyard and is one of the first Eberson theaters to exhibit atmospheric elements. While not fully atmospheric, the Indiana Theater’s original lighting system has given a glimpse to the auditorium and scattered light to simulate stars. The tile and terrazzo flooring, shapes of windows, prominence of Spanish coats of arms, Churrigueresque exterior, and more plaster designs that were seen first in the Indiana Theater became a framework for later designs. Eberson stated, “Into this Indiana Theater I have put my very best efforts and endeavors in the art of designing a modern theater like this. [5]

  • Majestic Theater (Dallas, Texas)

Renaissance Revival. The Majestic Theater, built in 1920, was the first Eberson Theater to use a simulated outdoor sky ceiling.

  • Majestic Theater, San Antonio

Spanish courtyard

  • Olympia Theater and Office Building (Miami, FL)

Moorish Revival

  • Orpheum Theater (Wichita, Kansas)

Spanish courtyard

  • Palace Theater (Canton, Ohio)

Spanish courtyard

  • Palace Theater (Marion, Ohio)

A John Eberson -designed theater, the Palace Theater (Marion, Ohio) was built in 1928 and renovated in 1976. With a Spanish Revival courtyard design, the theater features low voltage lighting in the ceiling to mimic stars and the original reconditioned cloud machine simulate moving clouds. Alcoves in the theater contain stuffed birds, Eberson is one of the most popular works of art, and most of the original Pietro Caproni statues. [6]

  • The Louisville Palace (Louisville, KY)

Spanish Baroque

  • Richmond CenterStage (formerly Palace (Carpenter) (Richmond, VA)


  • Paramount Theater (Anderson, Indiana)

Spanish Courtyard

  • Astro Theater (Omaha, NE) (formerly Riviera Theater) (Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center)


  • State Theater ( Kalamazoo , MI)

Spanish courtyard

  • Tampa Theater ( Tampa, Florida ).

The Tampa Theater was built in 1926. Designed by John Eberson , the Tampa is a superior example of the atmospheric style featuring an auditorium that resembles a Mediterranean courtyard under a nighttime sky. Featured on the theater’s opening night was the silent movie The Ace of Cads starring Adolph Menjou.

  • Uptown Theater (Kansas City, Missouri) .

This John Eberson-designed Italian Renaissance atmospheric theater opened in 1928 and features an outdoor Mediterranean courtyard motif. It was built to seat 2,300, but the current configuration allows for 1,700.

Designed by other architects

Other architects also designed atmospheric theaters. These include the following:

  • 7th Street Theater ( Hoquiam , Washington ).

The 7th Street Theater was built in 1928, seats over 950 people, and features an outdoor Spanish garden motif.

  • Fox Theater ( Atlanta, Georgia )

The Fox Theater was built in 1929 and is the city’s only surviving movie palace. The original architecture and decor can be divided into two architectural styles: Islamic architecture (building exterior, auditorium, Grand Salon, mezzanine Gentlemen’s Lounge and Lower Ladies Lounge) and Egyptian architecture (Egyptian Ballroom, mezzanine Ladies Lounge and Lower Gentlemen’s Lounge). The 4,678-seat auditorium replicates an Arabian courtyard complete with a night sky of 96 embedded crystal “stars” (a third of which flicker) and a projection of clouds that slowly drift across the “sky.”

  • Fox Theater ( Visalia, California )

The Fox Theater was built 1929-30. It was designed to evoke the garden of a South Asian temple. [7]

  • Gateway Theater ( Chicago, Illinois )

The Gateway Theater was built in Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood, the Gateway Theater is an atmospheric theater designed by architect Mason Rapp of the prestigious firm of Rapp & Rapp in 1930. It was the city’s first movie theater built exclusively for the talkies .

  • Midwest Theater ( Oklahoma City, Oklahoma )

(1931). John Eberson’s last atmospheric design, 17 N. Harvey Ave., Oklahoma City.

  • Paradise Center for the Arts ( Faribault, Minnesota ).

The Paradise Center for the Arts was built in 1929 on the site of the Faribault Opera House, the Paradise was recently renovated. The pattern is one of a moorish courtyard with turrets and stonework walls. Originally built to seat 915, the Paradise has been altered to seat 300.

  • The Polk Theater ( Lakeland, Florida )

The Polk Theater (Lakeland, Florida) was built in 1928 and designed by architect James E. Casale and was built to simulate a Mediterranean village.

  • Saenger Theater (New Orleans, Louisiana)

The Saenger Theater (New Orleans, Louisiana) was built in 1927 for the Saenger Theater chain by architect Emile Weil , its interior evokes a Baroque Florentine courtyard. Originally seated approximately 4,000, in 1980 its seating was reduced to approximately 2,736 and it began to function as a performing arts center with occasional film screenings.

  • Keith-Albee Theater (Huntington, West Virginia)

The Keith-Albee Theater was opened to the public in 1928 as part of the Keith-Albee-Orpheum tour , the first vaudeville tour on the East Coast of the United States. Later on in its life, it shows movies and is now a performing arts center with occasional film screenings.

  • Orpheum Theater (Phoenix, Arizona)

The Orpheum opened in 1929, and was used for vaudeville, movies, and a touring Broadway theater. After falling into disrepair for some years, the Orpheum Theater was purchased in 1984 by the city of Phoenix, which then began a 12-year, $ 14 million restoration. The Conrad Schmitt Studios created the transformation and the Orpheum reopened on January 28, 1997, with a performance of Hello, Dolly! starring Carol Channing . After the performance, Ms. Channing, still in costume, thanked the audience for “not turning this beautiful theater into a parking lot!”

  • Arlington Theater (Santa Barbara, California)

The Arlington Theater was built in 1931 on the site of the Arlington Hotel, which was destroyed following the 1925 earthquake. The current structure was erected in 1930 as a movie house house for Fox West Coast Theaters . It was restored and expanded in the mid-1970s by Metropolitan Theaters Corporation. It opened in its current incarnation in 1976.

Atmospheric theaters outside of the United States

The following are atmospheric theaters located outside the United States:

  • Auckland Civic Theater ( Auckland , New Zealand ).

The Auckland Civic Theater is the largest surviving atmospheric cinema in Australasia , built in 1929 and featuring an India-inspired motif. Seating 2,750 viewers, in 2000 it was restored to near-original condition. [8] Peter Jacksonused the Civic in his remake of the King Kong movie .

  • Capitol Theater Port Hope, Ontario

The Capitol Theater is located in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada, and is one of the last three atmospheric movie theaters still in operation in Canada. Constructed in 1930, the interior of the auditorium was designed to resemble a walled medieval courtyard surrounded by a forest. It was also one of the first cinemas in Canada built expressly for talking pictures. It opened on Friday, August 15, 1930 with the movie “Queen High” starring Charles Ruggles and Ginger Rogers.

  • The Grand Rex ( Paris , France )

The Grand Rex is the largest cinema, theater and music venue in Paris, with 2,800 seats. Opened in 1932, the cinema features a starred “sky” overhead, more interior fountains, and a Mediterranean courtyard at night. The cinema features one of the largest screen in Europe. John Eberson assisted architect Auguste Bluysen with the project by putting in input.

  • Lido Theater ( The Pas , Manitoba , CAN ).

The Lido Theater was built in 1929 and designed by Max Blankstein. The Lido is the world’s longest continuously operating atmospheric theater (87 years straight as of 2016). The interior features an outdoor Mediterranean courtyard motif. It was built to seat 350 people. The Lido has avoided major renovations, remaining close to its original design. A rare survivor in its class, one of the few cinemas to stay in the same family for four generations, it remains owned by the Rivalin family. [9]

  • Rialto Cinema ( Dunedin , New Zealand ).

The Rialto Cinema originally seated 2,000. The cinema has been converted into a six-theater multiplex. Renovations in 1998 restored its Moorish-themed features and night sky.

  • Roxy Theater Saskatoon , Saskatchewan .
  • Cineteca Alameda ( San Luis Potosí City , Mexico ).

Located in the city center. The Cineteca Alameda was opened on 27 February 1941 with Marlene Dietrich in “Seven Sinners”. Seating was originally provided for over 1,000 in orchestra and balcony levels. In recent years it was used for concerts, film festivals and for screening classic movies, it seems to have closed in 2012, but had reopened by 2014 offering a mix of art house movies and live performances. It seems only the orchestra is being used.

  • Palacio Chino ( Mexico City , Mexico )

The fancy Palacio Chino opened in March 29, 1940. It used the shell of a short ball, which was a big movie theater. It was the only one built in Mexico in Chinese style, but unlike the Grauman’s Chinese, the interior was of the atmospheric type. In 1945 it was listed as having 4000 seats in two levels, orchestra and balcony. It is a pretty big stage, enough to make a symphony orchestra, and indeed was sometimes used as a music theater. Celibidache once directed the National Symphony Orchestra here, as an alternative theater to Bellas Artes, itself the home theater of said orchestra. The inevitable comparison with Grauman ‘s Chinese stands only as original inspiration goes, because both buildings are very different. The Palacio Chino has a big, traditional flat facade, right in front of Iturbide street. The many windows of this facade are adorned as small pagodas, and there is a big, ornate marquee. The vestibule was spacious and full of Chinese decorations, as well as pagodas. The auditorium was of the atmospheric type, with pagodas, temples and gold Buddha statues amid gardens. The ceiling was vault-like, not flat but very arched, and of course was painted deep blue. The screen was protected by a heavy black curtain, with Chinese motifs painted upon. The screen arch was very much decorated, with dragons appearing here and there. temples and gold Buddha statues amid gardens. The ceiling was vault-like, not flat but very arched, and of course was painted deep blue. The screen was protected by a heavy black curtain, with Chinese motifs painted upon. The screen arch was very much decorated, with dragons appearing here and there. temples and gold Buddha statues amid gardens. The ceiling was vault-like, not flat but very arched, and of course was painted deep blue. The screen was protected by a heavy black curtain, with Chinese motifs painted upon. The screen arch was very much decorated, with dragons appearing here and there.


  1. Jump up^ Hoffman, Scott L.A History Theater of Marion, Ohio: Eberson’s John Palace and Beyond. Charlotte, NC: The History Press. 2015.
  2. Jump up^ Eberson, John. “New Theaters for Old.” Motion Picture News, December 30, 1927.
  3. Jump up^ Akron Civic Theater ArchivedDecember 22, 2008 at theWayback Machine. (official theater website)
  4. ^ Jump up to:b “Capital Campaign” The Civic. Web. nd
  5. Jump up^ The Indiana Theater: An Achievement . Terre Haute, IN: William R. Simmons. 1922. p. 8.
  6. Jump up^ Hoffman, Scott L.A History Theater of Marion, Ohio: Eberson’s John Palace and Beyond. Charlotte, NC: The History Press, 2015.
  7. Jump up^
  8. Jump up^ “Civic Theater Building” . Register of Historic Places . Heritage New Zealand . Retrieved 2009-12-21 .
  9. Jump up^ Lido Theater(theater official website)