Empire Theatre

214 Montgomery Street,
Montgomery, AL 36104

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Martin Theatres, Paramount Pictures Inc., R.M. Kennedy, Wilby-Kincey

Architects: Frederick Ausfeld

Previous Names: New Empire Theatre

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Empire Theatre

Not to be confused with an earlier Empire Theatre located at 19 Commerce Street which had opened prior to 1914 and has its own page on Cinema Treasures.

The New Empire Theatre was opened on August 2, 1917. It was closed in 1931. It was renovated and reopened November 10, 1933 with Slim Summerville in “Love, Honor & Oh Baby!”. In the 1940’s it was operated by Paramount Pictures Inc. thru their subsidiary Wilby-Kincey. By 1957 it was operated by Martin Theatres.

The Empire Theatre is best known as the site where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. It was also the first venue Hank Williams, Sr. performed in.

Demolition of the theatre in August 1997 was only two months before a hearing was to be heard on its historical status. It made way for the Rosa Parks Memorial Library.

Contributed by Martin Mccaffery

Recent comments (view all 13 comments)

thegreev on September 17, 2006 at 2:38 pm

For a picture of the Empire’s auditorium, click below:
View link

kencmcintyre on August 29, 2007 at 6:49 pm

In 1963, the Empire was part of the R.M. Kennedy theater circuit, headquartered in Birmingham. Kennedy also operated the Jasper in the city of Jasper and the Druid in Tuscaloosa. Kennedy theaters in Tennessee were the Bonnie Kate and Capitol in Elizabethtown and the Family Drive-In in Johnson City. Kennedy also operated the Center, Skyline Drive-In and South Drive-In in Greensboro, North Carolina.

CSWalczak on February 25, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Artist Robert Cottingham has painted nine large pictures of this theater’s marquee in different media based on photographs he took of it in 1996: View link.

Mike Goodson
Mike Goodson on August 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Here is a photo I made shortly before the historic theater was razed.

PhoenixBBS on November 28, 2013 at 9:55 am

I was an usher at the Empire Theatre in 1954 and 1955. I also changed the marque. Starting salary was $0.40/hr!

TheaterLover800 on June 30, 2017 at 4:10 am

I remember seeing the stereo sound conversion of Gone with the wind in 1972. Earlier I finally saw a film with stereophonic sound for the first time in a theater .It was the 72 reissue of Ben Hur.This was the time the Vietnam war was endingtoo.I was with a friend. This was before Dolby.It had a loud hissing sound in the stereo effects.I also saw Angel in my pocket and big Jake up there too.I also saw Dr. Jeykle and Miss Hyde too.

Lorettaredd on March 13, 2018 at 2:54 pm

Management company name was Wilby-Kinsey. Robert B Wilby and A.J. “Mike” Kinsey. Once affiliated with Paramount-Publix with theatres owned or managed throughout South.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 13, 2021 at 12:20 am

An Empire Theatre in the 1914-1915 American Motion Picture Directory was listed at 19 Commerce Street. The New Empire Theatre on Montgomery Street did not open until the summer of 1917. The December 1, 1917 issue of Moving Picture World devoted most of this page to an article about the new house, which it said had opened “a few weeks ago.” It had actually been a few months. This was the August 2 opening, an ad for which Mike Rivest has uploaded to the photo page. The new house was under the management of H. C. Farley, “…who for many years was in charge of the Empire theater on Commerce street.”

Much of the article is concerned with the Empire’s cooling and ventilation system, reputedly the first of its kind in any theater. A later issue of the magazine noted that a similar system had previously been installed in chambers of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in Washington.

The March 11, 1917 issue of the Montgomery Advertiser ran an article which said that the plans for the new theater were being drawn by “architect Ausfeld.” This was undoubtedly Frederick Ausfeld, one of Montgomery’s leading early 20th century architects, several of whose projects are now listed on the NRHP. Too bad the Empire Theatre can’t be among them.

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