???The Showplace of the South??? Continues to Wow Audiences
Published: January 29, 2016
By: Carol Muse Evans
When the Alabama Theatre opened as a movie palace in Birmingham in 1927, never did any planners dream what the Alabama would become today, serving the community as a piece of history and as a venue of world-class entertainment.
Families have learned to embrace the beauty and history of the Alabama while enjoying traveling shows and concerts, as well as the ever-popular holiday movie series, summer movie series as well as local recitals and other events.
For 10 years, (1933-1943) the Alabama also was known for its Mickey Mouse Club. Meetings were held every Saturday, children would perform, watch cartoons and participate in many other activities including helping the underprivileged. By 1935, the Club had more than 7,000 members, making it the largest Mickey Mouse Club in the world. The club peaked at about 10,000 before it closed in 1943, according to the Alabama website.
The Alabama also was home to silent movies, featuring an ornate Mighty Wurlitzer organ, as well as the Miss Alabama Pageant from 1938 to 1966. Movies used to cost from 25 to 30 cents, and it was “big deal” to go to a movie at the Alabama – it was a social event.
Today, a movie at the Alabama is a nod to a bygone era, when everything was done on a grand scale. With seats for about 2,500 people, the Alabama was one of the larger movie theatres built in Birmingham and is the only one of its size remaining from that era and the first public building in Alabama to have air conditioning.
From the hunting lodge themed men’s room to the Pompeii style ladies’ room, a hodgepodge of history and styles all seem to work together. Overall, you’ll find an Art Deco design at the Alabama Theatre. It’s fun to walk through and see what different styles and even animals you can identify in the décor.
One of the highlights to any trip to the Alabama is the Mighty Wurlitzer organ, with its ornate design and amazing sound. In fact, this organ was one of the reasons the building was salvaged long ago when it came close to being destroyed and turned into a parking lot. The Alabama Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society wanted to buy it, realizing it was one of only 25 ever built. And folks at the Alabama say the realtor was smart enough to recognize the value and wouldn’t sell, so the group ultimately raised enough money to purchase the whole facility. Birmingham Landmarks Inc. was formed in 1987.
Today, you can hear the music of the Mighty Wurlitzer in just about any performance at the Alabama. The theatre was designed for silent movies, accompanied by this great organ, says house organist Gary Jones. The organ is designed to take the place of a full orchestra, he says, though many traveling productions bring an orchestra with them today.
In 1998, the Alabama underwent a complete restoration. Much was updated, replaced or recovered, but you can still see the original carpet in the upstairs today. EverGreene Studios from New York brought the Alabama back to its former grandeur in about eight months. A tour here is a real must to understand the history of this beautiful theatre and even the movie history of the time, as well as the mixture of designs in the grand theatre.
Today, you can come here to see the Alabama Symphony, numerous movies, the Alabama Ballet and many traveling productions and concerts. It is also available for rental for special events including weddings. It continues to be the “Showplace of the South.”
For more information and upcoming shows, visit www.alabamatheatre.com. You can also learn more about the Mighty Wurlitzer and how it works here, as well as take a “virtual tour” of the Alabama.
Carol Muse Evans is the publisher of Birmingham Parent.
- The Alabama was placed on the National Register of History Places in 1979.
- It received the designation of Official Historic Theatre of Alabama in 1993.
- In 2011, The Alabama Theatre received the Building of the Year Award from the Alabama Architectural Foundation. The award is presented to the one building statewide that best exemplifies how architecture can provide a meaningful impact on the citizens of Alabama in the past, present and future.
- The Alabama has no elevator.
- It was the first public building in Alabama to get air conditioning.
TOURS OF THE ALABAMA THEATRE
You can tour the Alabama Theatre as an individual or a group every Wednesday each month at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. unless otherwise noted. It’s a fun activity for a couple, field trip, church or retiree group. The fee is $10/person, and large groups or a private showing can be booked at $200 per tour up to 20 people. To reserve a tour, contact Cindy Mullins at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 205-252-2262.