The first moving pictures were shown in Atlanta at the Cotton States and International Exposition of Georgia, held in 1895 at Piedmont Park. A movie theater was constructed along the midway. The opportunity to look at moving pictures wasn’t very popular at the Exposition and therefore the twenty-five cents entry fee was eliminated. People did make use of the opportunity to step inside and rest for a few minutes.
According to Franklin Garrett’s Atlanta and Environs, the first movie house was opened in Atlanta in 1904. It was called The Star and was located at 36 Decatur Street. It was successful enough for a second movie house called The Eldorado to open soon after at 146 Marietta Street.
By 1907, fourteen theaters were listed in the Atlanta directory. They were known as “electric” theatrers and were usually small store front buildings with chairs nailed together to form a row. The early films usually lasted about fifteen minutes.
The Montgomery Theatre at 87 Peachtree Street opened in August of 1911, advertising a small balcony for vocal performers, an organ and an orchestra. This was the beginning of longer films with an actual story line. The theater was later known as Georgian, Odeon and Tudor Theatre.
Talking movies came to Atlanta in 1928 with The Jazz Singer showing at the Metropolitan Theatre. The Metropolitan first opened in 1911 and was located at the intersection of Luckie Street and Broad Street. By 1929, several talking movies were shown around Atlanta, including The Virginian, starring Gary Cooper at the Paramount Theatre. The Paramount, located at 169 Peachtree Street, originally opened as a live theatre in 1920 and was known as Howard Theatre.
Gone with the Wind premiered at Loews Grand Theatre in 1939 with much fanfare and stars of the film attending. The building was originally the home of DeGive’s Grand Opera House built in 1893. In 1972, a fire burned the Loews Grand Theatre.
Other theaters included the Rialto on Forsyth Street, Buckhead Theatere on Roswell Road, Temple Theater in Grant Park and Center Theater (later Central) on Whitehall Street. The old Rhodes Theater was located on Peachtree Road next to Rhodes Hall.
It wasn’t necessary to go downtown in the 1930s and 1940s to see a movie. Theaters away from Atlanta included Brookhaven Theater opening in 1938, Avondale Theater in Avondale Estates opening in 1938 and Decatur Theater opening in 1940.
Where did some of those Christmas movie classics play that I recently watched? Meet Me in St. Louis played at Rhodes Theatre in 1945, Christmas in Connecticut played at the Buckhead, Temple and Center Theatres in 1945, Miracle on 34th Street was showing at the Brookhaven Theatre in 1947, and White Christmas was featured at the Fox Theatre in 1954.
Fred Donaldson, who was born at Donaldson-Bannister Farm in Dunwoody and later moved down Vermack Road, grew up going to the movies in Brookhaven, Buckhead or downtown Atlanta. He and his friends would either catch a ride or walk to Brookhaven and then if they decided to head to Buckhead or to the Paramount or Fox Theatre downtown, they would catch the trolley from Brookhaven.
1965 Atlanta newspapers advertise the film The Sound of Music at Martin’s Cinerama at 583 Peachtree Street. This theatre was built in 1927 and was originally a live playhouse called Erlanger Theatre. In the 1950’s it began showing movies and was called Tower Theatre, later becoming Martin’s Cinerama, Atlanta Theatre and then Columbia Theatre. It was demolished to make way for a parking lot in 1995.
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Other sources cited include: The Atlanta Constitution movie advertisements; This Mighty Influence for Good or for Evil, The Movies in Atlanta, 1895-1920, Atlanta History: A Journal of Georgia and the South (1995) available through The Atlanta History Center; cinematreasures.org.