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Movie Theaters
Photograph: © Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre

Take a look inside the eerie, breathtaking world of America’s ghost cinemas

An exclusive look inside a spooky new photography book

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Eighty years ago there were 17,500 movie theaters in the US. Nowadays, the figure is closer to 5,700. It stands to reason, then, that a fair few old cinemas are standing derelict out there, still filled with the ghosts of the past.

Well, photographer duo Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have hit the road and found those fading film temples. A new hardback book, ‘Movie Theaters’, captures what they found: spooky edifices repurposed in a variety of different ways, or sometimes just left to decay slowly.

The photographs are eerily redolent of the turnstile-clicking salad days of the silent era – haunting images of grand buildings fallen into disrepair. Take a look at a few exclusive pics from the book below.

Movie Theaters
Photograph: © Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre25th Street Theater, Waco, Texas

25th Street Theater, Waco, Texas
The 750-seat 25th Street Theatre welcomed several generations of Waco movielovers between 1945 to 1982. It had a brief renaissance as a nightclub in the ‘80s, before standing empty until its eventual demolition in 2019.

Movie Theaters
Photograph: © Yves Marchand & Romain MeffreSattler Theater, Buffalo, New York

Sattler Theatre, Buffalo, New York
The kind of place Scooby-Doo might find himself haunted by the ghost of William Castle, Buffalo’s Sattler Theatre first opened in 1914, right in the glory days of the silent era. But local department store owner John G Sattler’s no-expensive-spared edifice – it cost $35,000 to convert from a casino – suffered for its poor location and eventually shuttered in the ‘60s. Since then the building has been used as a church, before falling into dereliction in 1996.

Movie Theaters
Photograph: © Yves Marchand & Romain MeffreState Theater, West Orange, New Jersey

State Theatre, West Orange, New Jersey
Now functioning as a bus depot, New Jersey’s State Theatre first opened its doors back in the Jazz Age, welcoming West Orange residents into its 981-seat auditorium for silent comedies and epics. Its exact closing date is unknown but it didn’t survive the ‘60s and was finally gutted in 2013.

Movie Theaters
Photograph: © Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre

Fox Theatre, Inglewood, California
An eerie LA cine-spectre, this Streamline Moderne theatre came later than most of its east coast counterparts, opening as a cinema in 1949. It came with some serious tech modifications, though, including automatic lobby doors, assistance for the hearing impaired and a crying room for small children presumably traumatised by whatever film noir their parents had taken them to see. In its golden days, it was a hotspot for Hollywood premieres, hosting Marilyn Monroe and the Three Stooges, but has been closed since the mid-’80s. 

Movie Theaters
Photograph: © Yves Marchand & Romain MeffreLyric Theater, Virginia, Minnesota

Lyric Theatre, Virginia, Minnesota
You can feel the ghosts of silent era greats like Mae West and Boris Karloff in the 1912-constructed
Lyric Theatre in Minnesota. Both of them performed here in its heyday, prior to its acquisition by Paramount Pictures and renaming it ‘The State’ in 1935. It closed in 1955 and after being used as a retail store, fell into steady disrepair. Demolition was staved off in the late ‘90s and it’s now owned by the non-profit Laurentian Arts and Culture Alliance.

Movie Theaters
Photograph: © Yves Marchand & Romain MeffreRobins Theaters, Warren, Ohio

Robins Theatre, Warren, Ohio
Situated in the Ohio city of Warren, the ornate, Italian Renaissance-style three-tier Robins Theatre ran from 1923 to 1974. Subsequent to its closure, thirty years’ worth of decay left it a shell of the building that once cost $200,000 to build, with even its projector crumbling to dust. But the Robins is a good news story among this boneyard of derelict cinemas: it’s been a fully functioning cinema and concert venue again since 2017.

Movie Theaters
Photograph: © Yves Marchand & Romain MeffreLoew's Palace Theater, Bridgeport, Connecticut

PA Loew’s Palace Theater, Bridgeport, Connecticut
Like an Italian Marie Tussaud, Sylvester Zefferino Poli was a wax sculptor who found a way to channel his knack for giving Joe Public what it wanted. In 1920s Connecticut that meant vaudeville shows and silent movies – all at one of his newly established theaters, like Bridgeport’s vast, 3642-seat PA Loew’s Palace Theater (then Poli’s Palace Theatre). It was sold to the Loew’s chain in 1934, before changing hands again in 1964, becoming a porno cinema and then finally closing in 1975. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places  – at least partly, you’d like to think, due to its appearance in 2020 Ryan Gosling/Kirsten Dunst romcom
All Good Things.

Movie Theaters
Photograph: © Yves Marchand & Romain MeffreMetropolitan Opera House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Metropolitan Opera House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
New York architect William H McElfatrick designed more than 40 theaters in his career but surely none as grand and ornate as the one he conceived for opera impresario Oscar Hammerstein I in Philly. It opened as Philadelphia Opera House in 1908 and has since been used as a cinema, ballroom, sports arena and a pentacostal revival center. Happily, it survived guttings and a near demolition to see a $45 million renovation, reopening with a Bob Dylan gig in 2018.

Movie Theaters
Photograph: © Yves Marchand & Romain MeffreElmwood Theater, Queens, New York

Elmwood Theatre, Queens, New York
A lot of fading cinemas have been repurposed as churches – both are places of worship, after all, just with different gods – and New York’s Elmwood is one of them. It operated from 1928 to 2002 – it was subdivided into a four-screen Loews Cineplex for the latter portion of that time – before closing and being used by the Rock Churches Worldwide (pictured).

Movie Theaters
Photograph: © Yves Marchand & Romain MeffreUptown Theater, Chicago

Uptown Theatre, Chicago, Illinois
Opened by local entrepreneurs Balaban and Katz during the silent era, Uptown Theatre was a thing of serious scale. It sat 4300 Chicagoans and covered 46,000 square feet: ‘an acre of seats in a magic city’ as the marketing slogan had it. Millions of locals flocked to its colossal auditorium over the decades, until the Uptown started to struggle in the ’60 with box office takings falling and maintenance costs soaring. It diversified into live music in the ‘70s and hosted everyone from Prince to Springsteen, before closing for good in 1981. It will be back, though: a $75-million renovation project was announced by the city in 2018.

‘Movie Theaters’ is published in the UK Dec 2 and in the US on Jan 25, 2022. Head here to order a copy.

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