Strand Theatre

138 S. Main Street,
Memphis, TN 38103

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Strand Theatre, Memphis, Tennessee

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This theatre began life as Frank Montgomery’s Majestic #2 in 1913. The huge canopy sheltered the both tiny lobby entrance and one of the commercial store fronts. It became the Strand Theatre in 1929, and the second marquee was only the width of the entry. A third marquee of the triangular variety was its most familiar. It was operated by Loew’s, Malco (for Paramount Pictures Inc. though their subsidiary M.A. Lightman) by the early-1940’s, and later independently.

The Strand Theatre wasn’t as grand as the other main Street movie theatres (there were pillars supporting the balcony which caused some visibility problems) but it outlasted all of Montgomery’s other Majestics, and even Loew’s State Theatre and the Princess Theatre. By the mid-1960’s it had gone over to soft-core porn. It was demolished in 1975, and traces of it may still be seen on the adjacent building.

Contributed by Jack Coursey, Vincent Astor

Recent comments (view all 10 comments)

Backseater on October 11, 2005 at 3:27 am

The Strand was just South of Loew’s State with maybe a couple of small storefronts between. It wasn’t as grand as the other Main Street movie cathedrals—probably more in the league of the Princess just up the street (but which I never saw inside). I remember there were pillars supporting the balcony which caused some visibility problems. When I arrived in Memphis in 1963 it was limping along with conventional fare, such as Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in “A New Kind of Love.” By 1964-65 it had gone to porn, the fate of many downtown theaters across the US in that era. In an attempt to maintain their dignity, or maybe to reduce pressure from the vice squad, they always ran a double feature with some entirely conventional rerun as the main show. So you had to sit through a Robert Mitchum war movie or Doris Day musical before getting to the good stuff. The porn would be probably be considered mild by most folks nowadays, but was certainly controversial enough in the 60s. I remember Russ Meyer’s “Lorna” and “The Immoral Mr. Teas,” several early Barry Mahon and David Friedman classics, and a series of European “naturist” movies with the original German or French soundtrack replaced by English voice-over with an inspiring public-domain music score. If anyone is interested, a lot of this material is now available on VHS/DVD from an outfit in Seattle called Something Wierd Video. Camera angles and cuts were carefully (almost surgically) selected to avoid showing anything beyond topless. Even so, the Strand was constantly in conflict with the vice cops. The papers either censored their ads or refused to take them altogether, and I think it was raided and closed briefly a few times. Still it was popular enough with the sailors from Millington and college students, etc. to turn a profit for a few years. Another porn house was the Airways theater way out East at Airways and Lamar. The last time I went to the Strand was in June of 1967 to see a Euro-nudie called “Sunswept.” When I came back to Memphis in November of 72 I drove in from Arkansas and went right down Main Street, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Urban Renewal had struck. The Warner, the Princess, Loew’s State, and the Strand were gone without a trace. Only Loew’s Palace and the Malco (Orpheum) remained. The Palace was demolished in the late 70s as described elsewhere on this site, and the Orpheum narrowly escaped the same fate. I guess that’s progress.

Backseater on October 15, 2005 at 2:03 am

Just noticed from the maps and street numbers that it must have been just North, not South, of Loew’s State. Sorry, it’s been a long time…

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on November 2, 2005 at 3:39 am

WHW excellent description! Thanks. In my (limited) research on Memphis theatres I’ve come across several references to the Majestic #1 and #2 and also the NEW Majestic #1 and #2. I infer there were actually 4 theatres called Majestic at one time. I’ve wondered if the building last known as the Strand was one of these. There is a Majestic theatre still standing nearly across from where the Strand stood. It is now a brew-pub. It was adjacent to the Hotel Gayoso and Goldsmiths.

Backseater on November 3, 2005 at 12:57 am

My best recollection is that the Strand was always called the Strand, from 1963 to 67 at least; and a newspaper article about 1966 when it closed briefly said (I think) that it had been so named since the 20s. There may have been one or more Majestics in Memphis before my time, but I don’t remember hearing about them. The first Majestic I saw was in San Antonio, Texas (q.v.) and it sure was. Fortunately it escaped the wrecking ball and was restored.
Google lists a Malco Majestic at 7051 Malco Crossing way out to the Southeast near Winchester and Route 385 (Nonconnah Parkway), but that’s clearly a newer one…

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on November 3, 2005 at 4:16 am

Everything I’ve heard about the Strand was exactly as you describe. The “era-of-four-Majestics” would have been around World War One, which made me think that the Strand MIGHT have been one of the later Majestics, renamed in the 1920’s.

By the time I was in Memphis, the Strand’s site had been a parking lot for years. It was interesting (and a little heartbreaking) to be able to see the scars the old theatre had left on the adjacent building: you could clearly see where the stairs and balcony had been.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on June 12, 2006 at 8:54 am

The Film Daily year book for 1935 lists this as Loew’s Strand. The big theatres in downtown Memphis changed hands a good deal during the ‘30’s. Loew’s Palace went to Paramount for a while and then to MALCO. Apparently Lowe’s operated the Strand right next door to their magnificent State for a while. Loew’s got the Palace back around 1940 when MALCO got the RKO Orpheum. As an old theatre manager friend said of that time: “the employees in the downtown theatres didn’t know who they were working for from day to day.”

TLSLOEWS on June 24, 2011 at 9:03 am

Interesting story Will.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on August 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Vincent, thanks for the confirmation on the name Majestic. There is a photo of one of Memphis' Majestics (not the one still standing) in the book Nickelodeon Theatres and Their Music. Wonder if it was this one?

vastor on August 8, 2011 at 9:10 am

How do I see this photo? The library’s photo of the Majestic/Strand building has a big 10c over an arched marquee. You can plainly see the top cartouche which appears in other photos of the Strand. However, there is another older photo showing a vertical with a starburst over it that says “Majestic” which seems to pre-date both of the other buildings. Which one is it?

Oscarcl on December 14, 2012 at 4:05 pm

I spent many a happy hour at the Strand from 1949 hrough its closing in th 1960s. It was a pie saped auditorium with the biggest wedge toward the rear. The lobby was very small and red velvet curtains separated the lobby from the theatre. They showed a lot of “B' pictures and things lke MY FRIEND IRMA premiered in Memphis at that venue (Paramount, 1949). I recall it came up in status durng the 1950s and it was the theatre were such films as 1959s THE BEST OF EVERYTHING(20th) with an all-star cast (Joan Crawford, Hope Lange, Brian Aherne, Stephen Boyd, Suzy Parker) played for several months. In the 30s they used to have door prizes and give away small appliances and dishes between shows. It was certainly not one of the grand venues like the Orpheum or the 2 Loews properties but it held its own for many years.

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