Olympic Theatre at Gusman Center

174 E. Flagler Street,
Miami, FL 33131

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Olympia Theater Gusman Center Miami Florida

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Originally the site of Miami’s first Hippodrome Theatre & Airdome. Built in 1926 by Paramount Pictures Inc. and designed by John Eberson, the Olympia Theatre was the first of many Atmospheric style theatres, and was the first air-conditioned building in the South.

The ‘talkies’ and vaudeville soon arrived at the Olympia Theatre, and for more than 40 years the theatre was the number one entertainment center in Miami. It was one of the last theatres in the country to showcase vaudeville acts. After years of showing films, the former Olympic Theatre was purchased in 1975 by South Florida business tycoon and philanthropist Maurice Gusman, saving the aging theatre and adjacent Olympia Office Building from demolition. It was donated to the City of Miami and became home to the Miami Philharmonic Orchestra.

Throughout its history, the Olympia Theatre has been host to the world’s most exciting performers in the arts and entertainment community. Cultural icons such as Elvis Presley, B.B. Kings, Luciano Pavarotti and Etta James have proved memorable evenings under the theatres twinkling ‘stars’. The theatre has also hosted today’s best-known pop stars and is a favoured venue for MTV concerts.

Renamed as the Maurice Gusman Cultural Center, extensive restorations in the 1970’s were overseen by famed architect Morris Lapidus, and the theatre was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Time continued to take its toll on the theatre however, and by the late-1990’s virtually every structural system of the theatre was in need of repair and replacement. The roof had several leaks that had damaged the theatre’s historic paint and plaster as well as the seating and carpeting in the auditorium The HVAC system had to be entirely replaced. Electric, sound systems and plumbing all required upgrades.

Noted restoration architect Richard J. Heisenbottle, AIA, was retained to develop an ambitious, multi-year plan for additional stabilization and restoration work. In order to minimize loss of income for the theatre, construction was planned to occur during only the summer months, when bookings were normally at a minimum. Critical components were broken down into construction segments that could be completed in three months. During the rest of each year, the architectural and engineering team completed plans and theatre management secured funds for the next round of work.

While structural repairs were underway additional projects were launched to make the theatre more attractive to promoters. The stage was enlarged and new lighting and audio equipment were installed. The theatre’s already sublime acoustic properties were left intact.

The theatre owes its distinctive character to architect John Eberson, the master of ‘Atmospheric’ theatre design, and it is one of the few Eberson theatres around the world still standing and in regular use. Restoration of Eberson’s original design scheme, including colors and finishes, was another top priority of the construction plan. Following detailed analysis, decorative painters restored the original, vibrant paint scheme to the decorative plasterwork throughout the theatre. 1970’s vintage plastic seating was replaced with wood and brass seats boasting historically appropriate detailing. Even the new carpeting was custom-loomed to match the 1926 original pattern.

Today (in 2014), as the restoration work nears completion, Miami’s most beloved cultural venue has retained its stature in a downtown that continues its own transformation. High-rise office buildings and glittering luxury condominiums have replaced many of the theatre’s aging neighbors. Downtown Miami is once again becoming a place to live, work shop and play, and the newly renamed Olympic Theatre at Gusman Center is at the heart of the action – just as it was in 1926.

Contributed by Thomas Hubbell

Recent comments (view all 47 comments)

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on May 29, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Vintage shot of the Olympia marquee circa 1928 (BEAU BROADWAY):

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AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on May 29, 2009 at 4:53 pm

How the boxoffice used to face:

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AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on December 20, 2009 at 12:47 am

The Olympia with a name it apparently never carried.

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Jorge
Jorge on February 9, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Here is a music video which was filmed in this majestic theater (note: song in spanish by international artist Chayanne):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJJbrBEZqy8

Here is a short ‘making of’…you can really appreciate the theater in this vid since its in glorious color.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arhgPlsevzg

Enjoy!

sporridge
sporridge on June 30, 2010 at 4:32 am

Endangered again. Yet another unfortunate outcome of Maurice Gusman entrusting the venue to the Miami Parking Authority.

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CSWalczak
CSWalczak on October 10, 2010 at 7:38 am

This site has a number of photos of the theater as the Olympia as well as details of Elvis Presley’s appearance there in 1956: http://www.scottymoore.net/olympia.html

guarina
guarina on July 4, 2012 at 12:10 am

Ellegant, with its star-studded sky-ceiling, when it was a movie theater, the Olympia was the Miami counterpart of the Washington Heights RKO Coliseum. I now see the Olympia was originally a Paramount theater. I saw “Dr. No” there with Sean Connery and Urusula Andress and “How to Murder Your Wife” with Jack Lemmon and Virna Lisi. It has lost much of its grandeur.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 11, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Closing of the Olympia reported in this 1954 trade article: boxoffice

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on July 11, 2012 at 5:21 pm

The closing never actually took place. It just ran stage shows for a while.

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