Plaza Theatre

3402 Poplar Avenue,
Memphis, TN 38111

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Plaza Theater, Memphis, Tn. c.1989

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The Plaza Theatre was located in Poplar Plaza shopping center at Poplar Avenue and Highland Street. It was Memphis' first major shopping center and Augustine Cianciolo took a major gamble by constructing a large neighbourhood theatre.

The Plaza Theatre was opened in 1952 and all seating was on a single level. The exception was two enclosed rooms on either side of the projection booth, party and cry rooms respectively. It was very successful during its many years as a single screen theatre, even after General Cinema purchased its lease in 1961. In its last years it was a twin. The Plaza Theatre was closed in 1987.

Bookstar renovated and occupied the space, keeping the front entrance marquee. The curving metal spire on the front of the building was removed and is now on display in a sheltered niche in a courtyard at the University of Memphis. In 2012, it was converted into a restaurant. The interior was completely gutted but the marquee and front window remain.

Contributed by AC, Vincent Astor

Recent comments (view all 37 comments)

lulamaecollins
lulamaecollins on May 13, 2011 at 8:05 am

I’d love to turn it back into a theatre, but a dinner theatre (supper club) and the cafe section of the old Bookstar could be the lounge!! All the retro stuff is still there, from what I hear, and there’s room for a stage. Look at the jobs we could create!!

vastor
vastor on October 26, 2011 at 4:22 am

Good news and bad news. The building is going to become a spa for Gould’s, a beauty parlor which has been at Poplar Plaza for many years. The bad news is that all the remaining decor has been gutted. Couldn’t see the restrooms but the curved lobby which Bookstar retained is gone. The interior was much handsomer after Bookstar moved in than it ever was before (it was pretty plain as were most neighborhood theatres) but all of that is also gone.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 26, 2011 at 4:55 am

The 1952 Boxoffice Magazine item about the Plaza Theater cited in my earlier comment is now located at this link.

jtom
jtom on November 18, 2011 at 12:45 am

I was the Assistant Manager of the Plaza Cinema under Ken Goderre’s Manager-ship.About 1964-65.Used to lunch with Gus Cianciolo at Pete and Sam’s Any contacts out there? Photos or …

J Tom Miller
Arkansas.

cjburke
cjburke on February 21, 2012 at 5:54 am

Such a shame. My father worked across the street, and knew the manager of the Plaza Theater. There would be times when Elvis Presley rented out the whole theater so he could bring his people in to see a movie, and he’d ask the manager if he had some folks he trusted not to make a fuss, who could join them there. Dad saw a half dozen or so movies with Elvis that way.

Lebergeron
Lebergeron on September 18, 2012 at 10:47 am

Gould’s took over the area that was the Starbuck’s Cafe in Bookstar, the theatre itself is now getting ready for the grand opening of Osaka Japan restaurant.

vastor
vastor on October 30, 2012 at 7:17 am

This just in. Went by to look at Osaka Bistro today. No trace of the interior of the Plaza remains but the restaurant is very elaborate and beautiful. Haven’t eaten there yet. The canopy and front window remain intact with the “Osaka” letters where the vertical letters always have been. See the new exterior photos.

vastor
vastor on April 24, 2013 at 4:21 am

Was just over at the University of Memphis yesterday wondering what happened to the acroterion (spire). It never moved at all, it is in a protected niche in a courtyard with the new FedEx Institute building in front. It once faced a yard which was used for the new building and created the courtyard. It is approximately 10 feet high and in very good condition. A new photo when I get it. An image that I will always have in my mind is the contour outlined with a single stroke of white neon which looked like it was hanging in the dark.

vastor
vastor on April 28, 2013 at 9:56 pm

New photo of the spire has been posted.

zebtheamerican
zebtheamerican on August 14, 2017 at 10:02 am

From 1985 to 1987 my friends and I performed “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in front of the screen in theater 2. We had elaborate costumes, a fully realized light system and built amazing set pieces. We even found an old popcorn warmer in one of the rooms behind the screen that was the size and shape of Rocky’s tank that we painted up and made it look like the real thing. I had just moved to Memphis from Chicago where I had performed as Dr. Frank-N-Furter for many years. My first night there I was getting my make up and costume on in the men’s bathroom when I was approached by two young women who stormed in, Wendy and Caroline. It had been years since anyone had performed in full drag as Frank-N-Furter in Memphis and they were eager to put together a shadow cast, desiring to play as Janet and Magenta respectfully. The show had a low turn out at the time, mostly comprised of William Creswell and his friends. They became instrumental in putting together both a cast and audience lines. Actually, William (Allen back then) was quite funny, energetic and spontaneous. He could get an audience into the show unlike anyone I had seen before.

Within just a few short month’s of our revamping the show we began to sell out regularly and became the hot underground scene of Memphis. During the lead up to the 2 year anniversary of Rocky Horror at the Plaza we were interviewed by the local paper’s film critic, and myself and our Riff-Raff (David G.) were in full costume and make up on the cover of the Arts and Entertainment section. That show featured a live pre-show with comedy skits and musical numbers, and we had Rocky Horror fans in the audience from as far away as Germany who heard of what we were doing through the Rocky Horror International Fan Club.

About a year later I had a bit of a break down and Vince Astor was brought in to helm the show for a while. He did a great job while I recouped, I was grateful for his help.

Whatever one may think of Rocky Horror fans these people had a deep respect for the Plaza Theater, and just about all of them would regularly pay to see movies there all during the week. At times supporting it when business was slow. They were good people, and they were my friends. I miss them all dearly.

Oh, and by the way. I was also one of the theaters projectionist whom William wrote about and yes, the building was haunted back then. But I don’t believe in anything as silly as that now.

David Leadbetter, signing out.

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