history//PLAZA THEATRE, ATLANTA

HISTORY AT THE MOVIES



From the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, let's travel across the country to the southern capital city of Atlanta and the historical Plaza Theatre.

Situated on Ponce de Leon Avenue among the famous Druid Hills, Virginia Highlands, and Poncey-Highlands neighborhoods, the Plaza Theatre was designed by George Harwell Bond as an art deco styled building for both cinematic and live entertainment shows. Opening in 1939, the Plaza Theatre was part of a new Atlanta being showcased around the world with the release of high profile films like Gone with the Wind.

While the theatres located further downtown received things such as the premiere of Gone with the Wind and a better selection of first-run shows, the Plaza Theatre quickly became the hub for a busy area of town, boasting 1,000 seats, a lot for that era. Plus, it was not only located in a central travel location, but was an anchor to the Briarcliff Plaza shopping center, the first-of-its-kind shopping center in Atlanta featuring off-street parking.

The theatre celebrated its grand opening on December 23, 1939 with screenings of The Women, starring Joan Crawford. For the next almost-30 years the Plaza would be the destination for many Hollywood films like Around the World in 80 Days, as well as unique live events, such as musical cabarets.

But, by the free-spirited 1970's, the Plaza became a different type of theatre, promoting screenings of adult films like Teeny Buns and showcasing live burlesque shows with large XXX letters on the neon marquee. It wasn't until a decade later that the entire shopping center received a facelift after George Lefont purchased the theater. He completely renovated the space. The second floor became a second screening room and the entire theatre became known for its eclectic show schedule, featuring foreign films, art-house movies, and independent features.

The theatre struggled throughout the next two decades until it was purchased by Jonathan and Gayle Rej, Atlanta natives, in 2006. They created the Plaza Theatre Foundation in 2010 to help with the theatres restoration and preservation. Briarcliff Plaza saw a similar restoration with Urban Outfitters now occupying the other anchor position and allotting itself as a popular destination in the midtown Atlanta area.

Still running today, the Plaza Theatre holds the title of the longest continually running theatre in Atlanta. Beyond screening new and old fare, the theatre is home to several special events, like Atlanta's own version of the traditional Friday at midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, complete with live performances as the movie plays, encouraging audience participation.

The theatre screens new and classic films on a regular basis, hosts special live events in conjunction with special screenings of films, and is home to the Atlanta Film Festival, the only Oscar-qualifying film festival in the city. For its 70th anniversary in 2009, the theatre hosted screenings of The Wizard of Oz and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, both films released in 1939. Turner Classic Movies' Robert Osborn officiated the event.

The theatre was purchased by Michael Furlinger in 2013. As a theatre enthusiast, Furlinger has continued the Plaza Theatre Foundation's efforts to keep the Plaza going by financing another renovation, as well as adding a full-service bar featuring signature cocktails.

The Plaza offers a unique and special movie experience. It's a piece of cinema history still available to experience today. For an even better experience, grab a bite to eat at the historical Majestic Diner next door, an eatery that opened in 1929 still serving delicious diner food.

No comments: