Giant letters spelling the word “Alabama” jut out from a building on Third Avenue. It’s hard to miss.
A lot of things have changed about Birmingham in the past 84 years, but one thing remains the same: the Alabama Theatre. With its old Hollywood charm, the Alabama takes visitors back in time the minute they step inside.
A gilded beauty with rich red velvet seats and gold leaf ceilings, it’s hard to pick the most beautiful thing about the theatre. Some believe the views from the balcony are the most breathtaking.
“When you sit in the balcony and can see the entire theatre, you can see that that is the most beautiful thing about the Alabama,” said house manager Jeanie Hanks.
The Golden Years
Built by Paramount Pictures in 1927, the Alabama Theatre cost $1.5 million to build. It opened in eight months.
“It was the first building in the state of Alabama to have air conditioning,” said General Manager Brant Beene. “For a long time the Alabama was the finest theatre in the city of Birmingham.”
It was also home to a Mighty Wurlitzer organ, which is one of only 25 of its kind. With these amenities it was perfectly natural for the Alabama to be known as “the Showplace of the South.”
The first several decades after its opening were a golden age for the Alabama Theatre. During this time, the Alabama was home to the world’s largest Mickey Mouse Club, whose members included the likes of Shirley Temple, and served as the backdrop for the Miss Alabama Pageant until the mid-60s.
In the 1980s things in downtown Birmingham changed as people began to move out of the city and into the suburbs.
With these changes came the closing ofmany downtown theatres and landmarks, but the Alabama Theatre remained.
“There was no thought about historic significance or restorations,” Beene said. “They had already taken down the old railroad terminal and the Tuttwiler Hotel, things that were sort of the character of Birmingham.”
In 1986, the Alabama Theatre was almost turned into a parking lot and it was looking as though it would be the end of the Alabama Theatre.
Restoration and Rebirth
After a year of fundraising, the Alabama Theatre was purchased by Birmingham Landmarks in 1987. The Alabama was then restored to its former glory and was reborn as a performing arts center.
“The restoration took about 10 years and hundreds of volunteers,” Beene said. “Today, the Alabama Theatre and the Lyric, which is across the street, are sort of at the center of a new revitalization for the city of Birmingham with the revitalization of the entertainment district.”
Though it has seen its share of struggle, with a sense of resiliency the Alabama Theatre has stood the test of time. Beene said he believes that the theatre is simply part of Birmingham’s DNA.
While the city may evolve and change, some things are passed down to other generations and one of these things is the Alabama Theatre.
Visit the Alabama Theater on Third Avenue North for old-time movies and modern-day performances.