It is not unusual for movie theatres from decades past to fall into disuse and be torn down or converted for some other use. Many theatres dating back to the 1920’s and 1930’s in big cities found it hard to stay in business once television came into popularity. Multiplexes were unheard of back in the day and as a rule, movie theatres were designed for only one audience, meaning there was just one screen where everyone saw the same film. What is unusual is that some of these old theatres would be converted inside and transformed into restaurants, offices, shops, and parking garages. Parking garages? Yes, that’s right. If part of the theatre’s interior remained intact, why, cars parked there would have a nice view of the old decorations that used to be part of the movie theatre.
Perhaps the best known theatre-to-parking-garage is the Michigan Theatre of Detroit, Michigan. Built in 1926 by Rapp and Rapp, two architects, this theatre was created in the Renaissance Revival, had a lobby that was four stories high with a grand staircase, balconies, and seating for over 4000. This magnificent theatre was built on the same property where Henry Ford built his first car. From the 1950’s to 1960’s this theatre hosted concerts, a variety of other entertainment venues, and by 1976, due to bad business, the theatre closed with the city’s intentions of demolishing it. Due to the structure of the nearby businesses, a complete demolition was impossible so the main hall and lobby was torn up and converted into a parking garage. The ornate ceiling, part of the balcony, and original columns still stand.(1)
A second movie theatre converted to a parking garage is the Commodore Hull in Derby, Connecticut. The auditorium is the actual parking garage while the rest of the building is home to office space. The Commodore Hull first opened in 1927 and was designed by Arland W. Johnson. Your car can enjoy views of the old interior which have horses and knights in the Old English style on the painted frieze.(2)
The Capitol Theatre in Jefferson City, Missouri, is another casualty of parking garages. This theatre was first built in 1935 in the Art Moderne and French Renaissance styles. The sidelights and the balcony remain while the audience seats were removed and replaced with a paved area for the cars after the theatre closed in 1970. There is not much in this garage for your car to enjoy in the way of art but it looks like a comfortable place to park.(3)
The Paramount Theatre in Amarillo, Texas was built in 1932 in the Pueblo Deco style and seated 1200 movie patrons.This theatre closed in the mid-1970’s but the exterior remains intact while part of the theatre was converted to offices and a second story parking garage. Here your car can enjoy being parked under a painted starburst on the ceiling. Gilded plasterwork that once served as the frame for the stage is still there, too.(4)
The former Dort Mall Cinema in Flint, Michigan first opened in 1968 when the shape of movie theatres dramatically changed; many of them resembled cracker boxes on the outside. Originally a one screen theatre, in the mid-seventies a second screen was installed. Built by Willaim Riseman, this cinema closed its doors in 1982. The lobby and the rest rooms became an additional part of the mall while the auditorium was converted to a parking garage.(5)