Visions of the Hollywood Heyday: Vintage Movie Theatres

In a world where televisions and home-entertainment systems are getting pretty extreme, it can be hard to justify going out to the theatre. Especially if you’ve got the same surround-sound deal going on in the comfort of your own home. Where you can also enjoy a nice glass of wine. In your pajamas.

Of course, the movies were once a pretty big deal. It was about the experience as much as the film – marble foyers, hand-painted murals and curtains of velvet sweeping the screen. While most movie theatres today are uncomfortable and overly air-conditioned plain old boxes, they were once practically palaces. Luckily, some of these luxurious legends still stand. So here’s a taste of what’s left of the Hollywood heyday: five of our favorite vintage movie theatres from around the world.

Bagdad Theater, Portland, Oregon



Portland’s Hawthorne District is still home to the beautiful Bagdad theatre, Universal Studios’ $100,000 project of 1927. (Yes, that was a whole lot of money back then.) The Middle Eastern-themed space was made as a lavish tribute to the late Ottoman Empire, complete with a central fountain and ushers in Arabian attire. In 1991, the Bagdad was bought and refurbished by the McMenamin brothers, who stayed true to the original Far East outfit.

Pathé Tuschinski Theatre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Theatres Amsterdam

On his emigration route to America, Abraham Tuschinski, a poor jewish tailor from Poland, got a little swept up in the Amsterdam cinema scene. And by a little, I mean he managed to open the grandest theatre the city had ever seen. The Tuschinski opened its doors in 1921, featuring Art Deco interiors and even a cabaret. Today it is owned by the movie distributor Pathé, and hosts red carpet events  and showings of all the latest films. Boasting 933 comfy seats and 24 boxes, the Amsterdam theatre is still the most lavish in the land. (And box seats even come with a bottle of champagne.)

Le Grand Rex, Paris, France



As one might expect, Paris produced the king of all theatres in 1931. The Rex, with 3,300 seats, faux-Venetian statues, potted palms and a ceiling spotted with tiny lights like stars, was never empty. Today, the theatre still shows all the latest movies, serves as a concert venue for major musicians and holds a few festivals throughout the year.

The Astor Theatre, St. Kilda, Australia



On April 3, 1939, the Astor theatre lifted the curtain for the first time to a full audience. The complaints of local residents leading up to its lavish debut, that it was “too close to churches,” and a “distraction from dignity and charm” never managed to stop the construction. The Art Deco interior, with stepped ceilings and chandeliers, still survives. Astor theatre is the perfect place to catch a double-feature – something new, followed by something old – and grab some of the legendary Astor Choc Ice, an ice cream exclusive to the establishment. (And all for less than your average American movie theatre.)

Centre Cinéma Impérial, Montreal, Quebec



In 1913, this Montreal theatre opened as a home to the fading vaudeville scene, but the real heyday came in 1936, when it became a movie-house under the authority of Léo-Ernest Ouimet (the owner of the first movie theatre in all of Canada, the Ouimetoscope). Known for its Greek Tragedy décor, with white marble columns and frescoes of nymphs and satyrs, the Imperial now hosts the annual Montreal World Film Festival, where movies from more than 70 countries are shown every summer.

About the Author: Elsie Sing


Elsie is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; her writing has appeared in a few university publications, under tables and on the sides of trains. She likes taking Polaroid pictures and planning rooftop picnics.


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