5 historic theaters in Alabama that you need to visit

Alabama Theatre In Birmingham
The Alabama Theatre in Birmingham. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Grab some popcorn (and your history buff friend). At these historic theaters in Alabama, you can step back in time to enjoy movies in the same atmosphere that folks did a century ago. From Mobile to the Shoals, here are five theaters you need to put on your Alabama bucket list.

1. Lyric Theatre—Birmingham

Lyric Theatre In Birmingham
(Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Built in 1914, the Lyric Theatre is one of the oldest theatres in Alabama! The iconic marquee above the entrance is the same that hovered there on opening day more than 100 years ago, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama. Equipped with technologically-advanced additions like artificial cooling and a light-dimming system, the Lyric was considered an extravagant theater.

But the Lyric wasn’t free from trouble. After a two-year hiatus in the 1930s, it reopened for a short period before closing again in 1958. There were several attempts to transform and revitalize the theater from the ’60s all the way through the ’80s.

The Lyric’s most recent chapter started in 1993, when Birmingham Landmarks Inc. purchased the theater. After a fundraising campaign that they started in 2013, the Lyric reopened in 2016. Today, visitors fill the 750-seat, blue-and-gold theater to watch films and shows throughout the year.

2. Crescent Theater—Mobile

Outside Of The Cresent Theater
Crescent Theater is located right at the heart of entertainment in downtown Mobile. (Clorissa Morgan / The Bama Buzz)

Crescent Theater was originally built in 1885 according to Sweet Home Alabama. Over its years entertaining locals and travelers, it served several purposes. First, it was home to vaudeville shows (featuring dancers, magicians, comedians and more) and then transformed into a silent film theater in 1912 before being torn down.

In 2008, the theater was rebuilt and opened its doors to movie lovers once again on Halloween. In March of 2023, the theater closed after 14 years of showing modern films.

However, as we reported in August 2023, Crescent is reopening under a new name—Push Cinema.

3. The Princess Theatre—Decatur

Princess Theatre In Decatur
The Princess Theatre in Decatur. (Nathan Watson)

In 1919, an old livery stable in Decatur in Alabama became a silent film and vaudeville playhouse still bringing in theater lovers today. The iconic neon marquee that lights up Decatur’s 2nd Avenue Northeast was part of a 1941 renovation.

That revamp wasn’t the last, though. After the Princess Theatre closed in 1978, the City of Decatur started yet another renovation to the art deco-style theater. Now a performing arts center, this 677-seat venue hosts films, shows, live music, theater camps and private events.

In addition, the Princess Theatre is an important center of arts education for the community. According to their website, they serve over 20K students and teachers each year, hosting master classes, workshops and more.

4. Ritz Theatre—Sheffield

Another North Alabama landmark theatre is The Ritz, dating back to 1927. What used to be a silent movie house is now a renovated theatre, but it still has the classic art deco style that makes you feel like you’re stepping back in time.

Almost 100 years after its founding, The Ritz still brings the Shoals area together for plays, shows, movie showings, concerts and more.

BONUS: There are also two more historic theaters in Alabama with the “Ritz” name—The Ritz in Talldega and The Ritz in Greenville, both dating back to the mid-1930s.

5. Alabama Theater—Birmingham

Originally built to exclusively showcase Paramount films, the Alabama Theatre has been a Birmingham icon since its opening on the day after Christmas, 1927. It drew huge crowds, as it could seat 2,500 and was the first public building in Alabama equipped with air conditioning.

One of the main attractions at the Alabama Theatre, both in the 1900s and today, is the organ, named The Mighty Wurlitzer. This isn’t just any organ, though. It’s an impressive, ornate instrument that was the reason the Alabama Theatre was saved from extinction in 1987.

The Alabama Theatre had gone bankrupt and a parking lot was planned for the site. However, the Alabama Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society wanted to purchase the rare organ inside. After the realtor wouldn’t allow The Mighty Wurlizter to be bought separately, Birmingham Landmarks, Inc. was formed and ended up purchasing both the theatre and the organ.

In 1993, it was named the Official Historic Theatre of Alabama. Today, “The Showplace of the South” brings in thousands of visitors each year to watch shows, movies, performances and more.

BONUS: Want to explore more of Birmingham’s historic theater district? Check this out for some astounding facts.

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Sarah Gronberg
Sarah Gronberg
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