Malco Theatre

817 Central Avenue,
Hot Springs, AR 71901

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Malco Theatres Inc.

Architects: Edward F. Brueggeman, Guy W. Swaim

Firms: Brueggeman, Swaim & Allen

Functions: Live Performances

Styles: Streamline Moderne

Previous Names: Princess Theatre, Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic

Nearby Theaters

Malco Theatre

The Malco Theatre opened on February 21, 1946 in an elegant Art Moderne style, including a fantastic large marquee with the Malco name in graceful script lettering and the stylized intertwined letters M and T for Malco Theatres on the front panel of the marquee. The façade features pale brick highlighted by various colored tiles. The main entrance is covered in candy apple red tile in the same color as the marquee.

The Malco Theatre was built in the shell of the Princess Theatre, a vaudeville house which dated to the 1880’s but was heavily damaged by a fire in 1935. The Malco Theatre was remodeled in 1962, and again in 1995 when it was acquired by illusionist Maxwell Blade.

Since 1996, the theatre became the setting for Blade’s magic shows. Later the Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic, the former Malco Theatre, which was frequented by former President Bill Clinton as a boy, also played host to the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, as well as to occasional film festivals. It had closed around 2015. It reopened for live performances and it was announced in June 2019 that movie screening would begin in September 2019.

Contributed by Bryan

Recent comments (view all 19 comments)

Don Lewis
Don Lewis on May 31, 2008 at 8:24 am

1989 views of the Malco here and here when it was still operating as a movie theater and showing “Scandal” and “Star Trek V” at the time.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 11, 2009 at 10:19 pm

Boxoffice Magazine of May 25, 1946, has information about the Malco Theatre, but it doesn’t match up with the current intro on this page. An architect’s rendering of the facade shows that it is the same building seen in the various photos linked from comments above, but the text says that the house opened on February 22, 1946, not in 1935.

The theater was originally called the Malco Music Hall, and was designed by the Little Rock firm of Bruegeman, Swaim & Allen. As originally configured, the theater ran through the block and had entrances on both Central Avenue and Broadway, each with its own boxoffice, lobby, and concession stand.

Confusion about the opening year might have arisen from the fact that Malco Theatres entered the Hot Springs market in 1935. However, there is also the fact that it took the company a long time to get this theater built. The earliest mention of the Malco Music Hall I’ve found in Boxoffice appeared in Al Henderson’s “Dixie Doin’s” column in the issue of December 9, 1939. Al said that Malco had begun construction on the new Music Hall, but that they did not expect the house to be completed until late 1940 or early 1941. The estimate proved overly optimistic.

At the end of 1941, Malco was still trying to get the house built, when the December 6 issue of Boxoffice paraphrased local Malco Theatres manager W. Clyde Smith as indicating that the Malco Music Hall would be built on the site of the former Princess Theatre, provided materials could be obtained. We all know what happened the following day: a delay that would live in infamy, as it were. Whatever the cause of the earlier delays, the onset of war kept the project on hold four more years. The 1946 opening given by Boxoffice is undoubtedly correct.

Incidentally, architects Bruegeman, Swaim & Allen designed at least two other theaters (a house at Princeton, Kentucky, for Malco in 1938 and the Ritz at Malvern, Arkansas, the same year) and the successor firm of Swaim & Allen at least one (a house for Malco at Camden, Arkansas, in 1948.) The firm has at least two buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, but neither of those is a theater.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 11, 2009 at 11:35 pm

It looks like the Bruegeman, Swaim & Allen-designed theater in Princeton, Kentucky, I mentioned in my comment above didn’t get built. Issues of Boxoffice from late 1937 and early 1938 cite Malco’s plans for the house, but a late 1938 article says that the Crescent Amusement Company had acquired the Savoy Theatre in Princeton from Malco, which apparently pulled out of that market. Crescent demolished the Savoy in the spring of 1939 and built the Capitol Theatre in its place. I can find no indication that BS&A designed the Capitol.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 12, 2009 at 12:28 am

Additionally, I find that the national Register of Historic Places uses two different spellings of the first architect’s surname: Brueggeman and Bruggeman. Boxoffice uses Bruegeman consistently, but then Boxoffice is not always the most reliable source for correct spelling.

Cinema Tour attributes a Park Theatre in North Little Rock to “Bruggeman, Swain & Allen” but that looks like two spelling strikes to me. For now I’m inclined to go with Brueggeman, as that’s the way it’s spelled in this PDF of an article published by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. This article also attributes the Park Hill Theater (as they call it) to the firm. It also gives the architects' names as Edward F. Brueggeman and Guy W. Swaim. So far I’ve been unable to discover Mr. Allen’s first name.

kencmcintyre on January 17, 2010 at 9:24 am

Here are two more 1984 photos. Horrendous double feature.

dallasmovietheaters on September 15, 2015 at 3:41 am

Local paper covers the February 21, 1946 grand opening of the Malco Hot Springs Theatre costing $100,000 with those attending including Malco President M.A. Lightman and Malco Music Hall manager W. Clyde Smith. Some pictures of the Feb. 21, 1946 evening are posted in photos if interested.

Trolleyguy on September 15, 2015 at 7:52 am

The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival sold this building to a developer in 2013 and is no longer using it as a venue. The Blade Magic show also moved out that year to a storefront operation further down Central Ave. It would be safe to say status is “closed.”

vastor on May 2, 2016 at 10:23 am

Presently (April 2016) the auditorium has been gutted to its original state but very little decor remains. A group is involved in trying to restore and open it. Much of the lobby and foyer is intact along with the staircase and the “colored” entrance and separated balcony are also intact. It has a very shallow stage and at least two samples of vintage carpeting. Any other photos of the auditorium are being eagerly sought by this group. If they can be posted here, they have the link to this page.

AndyT on June 9, 2019 at 10:06 am

The Hot Springs Sentinel reported today that the Malco will resume showing movies in September. It is also currently home to the Michael Blade magic show. It’s not closed any more and it looks great.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 5, 2023 at 3:39 am

Here is an early notice about the Malco Theatre from the July 19, 1938 issue of Film Daily:

“Malco Plans New House

“Hot Springs, Ark.—It has been announced here that Malco Theaters, Inc., plan to construct a $100,000 film theater on the site of the old Princess Theater which was destroyed by fire in 1935. Malco now operates four theaters in this city. Work on the new building will probably start next April or May. The new house will seat between 1,200 and 1,500, according to the announcement.”

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