Circuit Playhouse

51 S. Cooper Street,
Memphis, TN 38104

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Kemmons Wilson and that Popcorn Machine AT THE MEMPHIAN

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Originally at this address in 1928 the second American Theatre opened. The earliest known photograph of that building is from a 1930 magazine article and it was named Malco Theatre. Remodled as the Memphian Theatre in Art Moderne style in 1935, this former movie house to this day still remains elegant and stylish, with its bold blade marquee, which is brilliantly illuminated in neon at night. The Memphian Theatre has had at least one serious fire and has been remodeled several times, including the front. Its trademark feature is the neon behind glass blocks between the front showcases.

It was used in the 1960’s by Elvis Presley regularly for private parties he held there. One seat used by Elvis is preserved from that era.

Though its days as a movie theater ended more than two decades ago, the Memphian Theatre remains in use today, as one of the city’s best-known smaller live theaters.

Playhouse on the Square, bought and renovated it for professional live theatre in 1986. In 1992 and 1997, the Playhouse expanded into empty storefronts adjoining the old movie theatre and expanded the offices and technical areas. It still retains a few balcony seats.

When Playhouse on the Square moved into its brand new facility across the street in 2010, Circuit Playhouse, the community owned theatre owned by the same company, moved into the old Memphian Theatre. During Elvis Week in the summers, the theater offers modest & fun tours of the building. The neon letters spelling ‘Memphian’ became a sculpture displayed in the bar/lounge area, which has also had use as a cabaret space.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 9 comments)

William
William on December 5, 2003 at 4:46 pm

When the Memphian Theatre was a movie theatre it seated 867 people.

Backseater
Backseater on September 21, 2004 at 10:58 pm

I went to the Memphian many times while attending Southwestern at Memphis in the 1960s. Used to walk across Overton Park and then back to campus in the middle of the night. It was still the Memphian into the late-1970s.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on August 12, 2005 at 4:14 pm

The Playhouse management can’t be complemented highly enough for the extraordinary adaptation of the old Memphian. The seating capacity was reduced by half or more. The original stage was big enough only to hold the speaker cabinet. The lobby barely held a popcorn popper. Both lobby and stage were enlarged, the seats re-aligned, offices and dressing rooms inserted. The result is a wonderfully intimate and charming live stage theatre with the street presence of a 1930’s neighborhood cinema. The interior looks better now than it ever did. Likewise the talent, on stage and behind the scenes, is as good as any New York theatre’s. I have seen many shows at Playhouse On The Square and NEVER been disappointed in a performance. This has been a total success story – both for saving the old Memphian and creating a space for the finest in live theatre.

JackCoursey
JackCoursey on October 16, 2005 at 3:58 am

Here are a couple of recent photos of the Playhouse on the Square/Memphian Theater in Memphis.

William Creswell
William Creswell on July 24, 2006 at 9:43 pm

If you want to see a really nice photo of the Memphian Theatre before it was Playhouse On the Square, look for an album by Joe Walsh called “Got Any Gum?”. It dates from 1987 but the front cover is a very nice shot of the theatre when it was still the Memphian.
(Just Google the info and you should easily find a pic.)

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on April 21, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Very nice I will have to drive over and check it out.

courtney4691
courtney4691 on July 19, 2010 at 1:57 pm

As an employee of the company for many years, I wanted to let Elvis fans know that during Elvis week in the summers, we offer modest and fun tours of the building, formerly the Memphian Theatre (a favorite hang-out of Elvis'). If you or a group is interested, contact Courtney Oliver at It’s a fabulous building and wonderful landmark for Midtown Memphis!

vastor
vastor on July 30, 2011 at 4:50 pm

New photo uploaded of the Memphian as Circuit Playhouse.

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