583 Peachtree Street,
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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.
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