For movie lovers, there’s nothing sadder than an old, abandoned theater – and nothing as glorious as a fabulously restored one.

Decades ago, every town had at least one beautiful movie palace. But they gradually gave way to multiplexes and the convenience of home video, leaving many of the old treasures abandoned and neglected, as sad and mournful as, well, The Last Picture Show.

But in recent years, things have turned around for some theaters across America. Some have survived as concert halls, and others have blossomed under a restoring hand. In time for Hollywood’s upcoming blockbuster season, we found five to highlight.

Movie theatre

The Capitol

Lebanon, Tenn.

Thirty miles east of Nashville, the town of Lebanon is seeing a resurgence in its old Town Square, whose shops suffered with the trend of mass retailers and restaurants popping up out by the interstate.

Those included The Capitol, which opened with fanfare and a Betty Grable picture in 1949. It closed in 1981 and sat vacant until Pam and Bob Black bought it in 2011 and began their loving restoration.

“We felt there was a need to keep it alive,” Bob said. “We heard someone was going to tear it down, and we couldn’t possibly think of that happening.”

Reopened since summer 2013, The Capitol has original and new Art Deco features; state-of-the-art projection for classic movies; first-class acoustics for live music; and flexibility to host receptions and community events.

Movie theatre

The Mayan


The Mayan opened in 1930 and showed first-run Hollywood hits for decades. Then… closure and abandonment. But a group sprung up to save it in the 1980s, and Landmark Theatres runs it now as a triplex. The original auditorium remains a large theater, but the upstairs was converted with two small screens.

It also has a full bar. And its decorative beauty and heritage are much appreciated by fans, whether watching a mainstream film or something more indie-flavored. Also in Denver in recent decades, another famous old movie palace was torn down, and a third converted to live acts only.

A typical online comment, from Yelp: “The Mayan is Shangri La of sorts for film geeks such as myself, lover of independent cinema, and anybody who loves charm when they go to the movies. The building itself is gorgeous and a reminder that going to movies was once a pretty big deal, before the plain, boring megaplexes and infinite sequels we don't need.”

Uptown movie theatre

The Uptown


Landmark Theatres took over this Twin Cities institution in 1978 and gave it a much-heralded makeover in 2012.

That was just the latest in a series of changes for The Uptown, which originally was known as the Lagoon Theater when it opened in 1916. The moniker changed to the Uptown with the introduction of sound pictures (a screening of The Dummy in 1929). And after a fire in 1938, it reopened the following year in streamline modern style, with the now-classic The Women with Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer.

Its $2 million facelift in 2012 left interior murals, and the 1939 marquee with its 50-ft. tower. It added a full bar; large, comfy seats and two-seater sofas; a larger screen; and digital projection. And The Uptown remains one of the rare single-screen palaces, complete with a balcony.

Now showing: generally indie and art movies and a monthly showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Movie theatre

The Senator


Step back in time and get lost in the movies.....
The Senator, where everyone has a memory.

This Art Deco landmark opened in 1939 with a Spencer Tracy movie, sporting a circular upper structure of glass blocks and limestone. It still has the original terrazzo floors and murals in the lobby, and the 40-ft. screen is augmented by state-of-the-art projection equipment.

The Senator has been featured in numerous movies and in 1989 was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It also has been the site of premieres by famous Baltimore directors Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man) and John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Serial Mom).

Seattle Cinerama



While many of the refurbished old theaters date back to the earliest days of movies, with Art Deco and other styles to match that era, here’s something different. Seattle’s Cinerama opened in 1963 and showed 70mm prints on a giant screen. It was part of Hollywood’s various efforts to lure TV audiences back to the theaters.

But like the others, the Cinerama (near the Space Needle and in a similar Space Age design) fell into neglect and disrepair as multiplexes grew. But then Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen bought and renovated Cinerama in 1999. The multimillion-dollar renovation improved sound and projection and a restored 97-ft., curved screen. The Cinerama was back, drawing crowds for first-run movies and classics alike, even a 70mm festival.

And just last year, another large upgrade brought state-of-the-art sound and projection, plus bigger seats. Dolby Atmos, laser-projected pictures, reserved seating, and wine and beer all fit the refurbished-palace trend of making a night at the movies something special.