Atlanta Theatre

583 Peachtree Street,
Atlanta, GA 30309

Unfavorite 2 people favorited this theater

Atlanta Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

This venue, located at 583 Peachtree Street, started life in 1926 as a live 1,790 seat playhouse with stage and four floors of backstage dressing rooms. There were 672 seats on the main level, 190 in the first balcony, and 928 in the second balcony.

Sometime around the late-1950’s, the Martin Theatres chain took over and completly rebuilt the inside. They cut back just enough of the stage to install a 64x34' curved Cinerama ribbon screen. Outside they added a projection booth to each side to house the three projector Cinerama system, and speakers for the 7 track Cinerama sound system. The lobby was paneled and the entire place including the seating area was covered in gold carpet. The biggest change was a false celing that was hung between the first and second balconies which reduced the capacity to 862.

It was renamed the Martin Cinerama and to my knowledge was the only theatre in Atlanta to get the full three projector Cinerama treatment. After the demise of Cinerama two dedicated 70MM projectors were installed with carbon arc lamps and perscription ground lenses. This produced a bright, beautiful picture and the Martin became the #1 place for big roadshow movies. “Mary Poppins”, “The Sound of Music”, and “Camelot” were among the attractions. “The Sound of Music” played for 18 months.

In 1968, the Walter Reade Organization was looking for a venue to show their two-part six hour “War and Peace” epic, and took over the lease. After “War and Peace” flopped out of town Reade never seemed to know what to do with the place. “2001: A Space Odyssey” enjoyed a spectacular 70MM run there, but the next big hit was “Carnal Knowledge”, three years later.

I worked at the Atlanta from February 1972 until October of 1973. When I started, I was wearing a tux and escorting patrons to their reserved seats to see “Fiddler on the Roof”. That was really the last gasp of class for the Atlanta. Prior to opening “Fiddler”, they had removed that beautiful Cinerama ribbon screen from Martin’s time and installed a much smaller 45'x19' solid screen to meet the technical requirements of the ‘experts’ from United Artists pictures.

“Fiddler” was a big disappointment both business-wise and technically. Presentation wise, when that huge curtain opened up to reveal that tiny screen, it set the tone for the whole movie. At the box office, there was still an audience for that type of picture, but the days when they had been willing to drive downtown to see it were long gone.

Walter Reade was ready to give up by now, so they closed the place up while they tried to decide what to do. They decided to go back to where the trouble started in the first place and booked in “Man of LaMancha” starting in February 1973. Because everyone realized the existing screen was a big mistake, they took it out and put in a larger one, 23x46', though still not the size of the Cinerama one. “LaMancha” flopped, but since it flopped everywhere the theater did not get the blame. Reade decided to give quality one last chance and booked in “This Is Cinerama” in 70MM since the old three projector Cinerama system was long gone. Out came the “LaMancha” screen after only six weeks, and in went a huge 35' by 95' Cinerama screen. It was the largest anyone involved had ever seen. The curve was so deep that when you stood in the middle, even with the edges of the screen, it was 15' to the center. “This Is Cinerama” looked great but did almost no business.

My final experience with the Atlanta Theatre was a very sad one. In October 1973 I attended the funeral of Atlanta police officer C.E. Harris. I had gotten to know him very well when he worked off duty at the Atlanta during the past year. While working there one Friday night he ordered two men who had been bothering the concession girls to leave the theatre. Both men, who were AWOL from Ft. Bragg, jumped him, got his gun away from him, and killed him in the lower lobby, right in front of the concession stand. They also shot one of the ushers in the arm, and took a shot at the cashier on their way out.

It was a sad end to some good and very interesting times at the Atlanta Theatre. I never went back to work there and by the late-1970’s Weis was out of Atlanta and the Atlanta Theatre was closed. In 1982 a private owner cleaned it up and reopened it as the Columbia Theatre with a 70MM run of “Annie” as its opening. Families were not coming downtown anymore and the effort was over by the end of the year.

By it’s Columbia Theatre days, the building was owned by the North Avenue Presbyterian Church located next door. Half-hearted efforts to find another use and/or tennant failed, and in April 1995 the church demolished the building and constructed a state of the art parking lot on the site. The 70MM projectors, lenses, and other equipment was purchased by the Fox Theatre and are used during the summer film series whenever there is a 70MM movie booked.

Contributed by StanMalone

Recent comments (view all 60 comments)

StanMalone on June 26, 2013 at 6:09 am

Edisaurus: Nice memories, especially the last two paragraphs. The theatre itself was still in pretty good shape into the 80’s, but there was also retail on the Peachtree sidewalk frontage and the old Barnett Sign Shop space in the rear facing Piedmont. Also there was a huge basement area that was impossible to secure from the outside. There were constant homeless living there who would occasionally smoke the theatre up with their camp fires to say nothing of the rat attracting garbage they would leave.

Your first paragraph is also nice and accurate as far as the movie goes, however, you have the wrong theatre. Song of Norway payed at the original Phipps Plaza Theatre in 70MM Christmas 1970. It did so poorly I do not recall it ever getting a sub run in the neighborhood theatres.

I hope you will post some more of your movie theatre experiences here. I think that all of the Cobb County theatres from that era have pages.

galateasca on July 8, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Is it possible that this is where my high school class came to see “Gandhi” in 1982? We went to a small alternative high school located near North Druid Hills and I am sure we came to the Columbia to see the film. I came back a few nights later with a date to see it again because the theater was so old school and extraordinary.

Cliff Carson
Cliff Carson on July 9, 2013 at 9:37 am

It’s really too bad about theaters like this in downtown Atlanta. By the mid to late 70’s the city was getting a reputation of being a dangerous place to visit and people who generally drove to see “event” films stopped going. Big films opened in wider release and in more theaters. The days of the roadshow picture were over.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 18, 2015 at 4:39 pm

The J. Evan Miller collection of Cinerama Theater Plans lists the remodeling of the Tower Theatre for Martin Cinerama as a 1962 project. Plans were by the Atlanta architectural firm of Finch, Alexander, Barnes, Rothschild, & Paschal.

Coate on March 24, 2015 at 10:12 am

It was 50 years ago today that “The Sound of Music” premiered at the Martin Cinerama. With a reserved-seat run of 89 weeks, it’s almost certainly the long-run record holder for this venue. (Anyone know of something that ran longer?)

“The Sound of Music” also was, I believe, the second of four consecutive Julie Andrews movies to play this venue between 1964-67. That period would’ve been bliss or hell depending on whether or not local moviegoers were a fan of Julie!

Also, on a related note, I would like to mention my new 50th anniversary retrospective for “The Sound of Music” can be read here. It includes a film historian Q&A and a list of the film’s roadshow engagements. I hope fans of the movie and/or theater buffs enjoy the article.

StanMalone on March 24, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Thank you for that note Michael. I am sure that 89 week run is a record for here or any other theatre in Atlanta. I do not know how long GWTW played in its initial run at the Loews Grand starting in 1939, but that is the only one that I would think even comes close.

I think that you are correct about the four consecutive years of Julie. Mary Poppins, Sound of Music, Hawaii, and Thoroughly Modern Millie ran from fall of 1964 until late fall of 1967. If Julie had repeated her Broadway role, it would have been five in a row since Camelot followed Millie here and ran until May 1968. It still could have been five if Martin had decided to book Star instead of Camelot since they opened at at the same time.

I have worked in a lot of theatres in my time, but this one is my all time favorite. I started in February 1972 wearing a tux and escorting patrons to their reserved seats for Fiddler on the Roof. I left in September 1973 after the incredible business done by Super Fly TNT and Chinese Connection led the Weis Theatre Company to buy out the lease from Walter Reade.

This was a great place for a new theatre employee to work. Four stories of backstage dressing rooms, two Cinerama projection booths, a huge basement, and an additional projection booth and entire upper balcony hidden above the false ceiling provided endless areas to explore.

Because the downtown theatre business was undergoing such changes during this time there was a wide variety of bookings. In addition to the roadshows Fiddler and Man of La Mancha, there was the 70MM reissue of This Is Cinerama (which occasioned the 35 by 95 foot Cinerama screen to be reinstalled) Junior Bonner, Concert For Bangladesh, Elvis, KC Bomber, Girls Are For Loving, Russ Meyer quadruple features, kiddie shows of The Alamo, and midnight shows of War and Peace.

There was no place like it at the time and never will be again. Now, it is just another parking lot.

RodneyK on May 21, 2015 at 8:13 am

Went to the Columbia Theater to see Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. They had a free sneak screening the night before the movie opened..

StanMalone on June 2, 2015 at 1:39 pm

To Ed Solero regarding your post in March of 2013: I finally got around to writing a comment on the page for the Suburban Plaza Theater:

In it you will find some information, hopefuly accurate, about the Martin chain and how they dabbled in Cinerama and first run theatres before retreating to their old small town roots.

Thanks for those screen shots which are nice reminders of those eight years or so.

Edisaurus on December 19, 2016 at 8:14 am

Thanks for the correction, Stan! I had moved to Marietta a few months before seeing Song of Norway in 10th grade and clearly didn’t know my way around Atlanta yet, especially from the vantage point of a school bus. I think when I finally did go to the Columbia, I was so impressed by the big screen that I assumed it was the same theater where we’d seen Song of Norway.

There was another theater I was trying to remember. I think it might have been called The Weis and I envision it being on Peachtree Street around 10th but I’m not sure. I saw a Jimi Hendrix documentary there in ‘73 and it was terrific but I never could place where that theater was. (I still wasn’t driving and didn’t know my way around Atlanta then, either!)

StanMalone on December 19, 2016 at 8:31 am

Yes, that would be the old Peachtree Art Theater at 13th Street. It changed hands in 1970 and reopened as the Weis Cinema in the summer of 1971.

Here is its page on CT where it is listed as Peachtrtee Art:

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater