Atlanta Theatre

583 Peachtree Street,
Atlanta, GA 30309

Unfavorite 1 person 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 54 comments)

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 20, 2012 at 3:46 am

Conversion to Martin Cinerama described in this 1963 trade article: Boxoffice

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on July 20, 2012 at 4:28 am

This page, from Roland Lataille’s Cinerama site, has several pictures of this theater over the years.

simonlake
simonlake on August 10, 2012 at 7:19 am

Hi Stan.. I think your right about where Rubin lived..I carried him home a few nights after we closed due to his car being in the shop or something like that..Best i can remember that is where i carried him to…Really nice guy and another one of the Hamburger, Hot dog crew, we all loved the Varsity… Take care. Tom..

Cliff Carson
Cliff Carson on August 10, 2012 at 11:14 am

When I was a little kid my dentists office was in the building directly across the street. His window looked down at this theatre and I remember the colorful marquee for THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on March 6, 2013 at 3:29 am

This pic and this one were posted to the photos page for the Martin Cinerama in New Orleans, LA. They look like images taken from pre-show reels from OTHER theaters, advertising the Martin in Atlanta. Is it possible these were exhibited as far away as New Orleans? I imagine they’d have been from theaters a bit closer to Atlanta than that. Did the Martin chain ever run any non-Cinerama neighborhood theaters? I’ve only ever seen the name associated with Cinerama exhibition.

StanMalone
StanMalone on March 6, 2013 at 4:29 am

Ed: Martin was a big chain in the southeastern US. and is known as Carmike today although it has been through bankruptcy and ownership changes over the years. Martin had several drive-ins and a couple of indoors in Cobb County, which would be like Long Island is to NYC. In 1961 they purchased the old Rialto in the center of downtown Atlanta, tore it down and rebuilt it as a first run theatre. (The Zieg in your town is almost an exact duplicate of the layout and floorplan.) They also bought the old Tower Theatre across the street from the Fox and turned it into the Martin Cinerama. A couple of years later they built a new single strip 70MM house, the Georgia Cinerama in the suburbs.

Those nice screen shots you have posted could have been used at any of these theatres. I think that this theatre (Martin’s Cinerama) opened with Brothers Grimm followed by HTWWW and then on to IAMMMMW in 70MM. After that it was Mary Poppins and Sound of Music while most of the single strip Cinerama played at the Georgia.

Edisaurus
Edisaurus on June 26, 2013 at 2:38 am

The first time I went to the Atlanta Theatre was on a high school field trip from Marietta to see the Edvard Grieg bio-musical THE SONG OF NORWAY in the early ‘70’s. I was so impressed by the giant screen and thought the movie was fantastic!!! Looking at it now on DVD, I can see that it had a pretty cheesy '70’s style to the cinematography but at the time it seemed majestic and it introduced me to the greatness of Grieg’s music and the beauty of Norway. I’ve wanted to go there ever since.

The last time I went was to The Columbia see Aliens. You could see an occasional rat running around in the aisles and that was scarier than the movie! I guess there was plenty of popcorn to keep them well-fed.

I loved this theatre and its big screen and was saddened by its demise. Wish I had seen a film there in Cinerama!

StanMalone
StanMalone on June 26, 2013 at 3:09 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
galateasca on July 8, 2013 at 1:20 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 6:37 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.

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