52 S. Main Street,
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The west coast Pantages vaudeville circuit began plans to build a theatre in Memphis as early as 1916. Construction began in 1919, and the building had to be fitted into an existing lot with two alleys using portions of a 19th century structure still standing. B. Marcus Priteca was the architect, and Pantages Theatre was the most ornate of all movie palaces built in Memphis. The half-block depth left no room for a grand lobby, but a ‘colored balcony’ was constructed with a separate entrance in the south alley. Though Alexander Pantages had hoped to open before Loew’s had completed their two theatres, the Memphis Pantages Theatre opened on April 30, 1921, after Loew’s Palace Theatre had opened in February 1921.
Pantages vaudeville and films provided healthy competition to the Loew’s and Orpheum operations. One of the most notable celebrities to appear in 1926 was Babe Ruth who told stories about his baseball career to packed houses. The Pantages Theatre was equipped with a Robert Morton organ, with the chambers installed under the stage. However this may have been a retro-fit installation, as the opening night newspaper articles do not mention an organ at all.
The Pantages Theatre was sold to Warner Brothers in 1929 and remodelled for sound films, becoming the Warner Theatre. In addition, a glorious marquee was added to one of the most photographed building facades on Main Street. The theatre appeared in hundreds of photographs during its life. It remained a first-run theatre with most of its ornate décor intact, but during its later years few remembered its grand days or took notice of its beauty.
The Warner Theatre was sold in 1968 and the entire corner demolished for a bank office building. It was discovered that the dome ribs were reinforced concrete and the proscenium arch was defined less by draperies than by a huge block of concrete which rose high above the plaster. Demolition was a long and arduous task, and an entry plaza marks the site today.
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