The Alabama Theater – cousin of the Grande – Video

In researching the Grande Ballroom Detroit’s Rock n Roll Palace I learned of the Architects Graven and Mayger and their involvement in Detroit architecture and two significant Southern movie palaces. Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit the pair, the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville and the massive Alabama theater in Birmingham. Through the largesse of their staff I was able to shoot a ton of photos and video and get many of my questions answered. At the Alabama our day closed with a special movie screening. The State of Alabama had developed a reading program for elementary school children. Any child that read his or her quota of books for the semester was awarded a special field trip. This semester’s trip was an excursion to the Alabama to see Disney’s “Ratatouille”, soda pop and popcorn included. The audio I recorded is the demonstration of the the Theater organ by Cecil Whitmire, organist and manager of the theater. The demo is immediately followed by a sing along with hundreds of kids joining in.

The Alabama Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society saved the Alabama from the wrecking ball in the 80s. The exceedingly rare Wurlitzer pipe organ, known today as “Big Bertha”, is a centerpiece of the facility. Mr. Whitmire explained that volunteers were at a loss on how to begin the modern restoration, when one day the phone magically rang; “On the other end was a fella from the company that had purchased the assets of a firm that once was the Publix theater management company. He said; we have Grayven and Mayger blueprints for the Alabama, would you like them? So, for the cost of shipping they sent dozens of the blueprints to us from Atlanta.” These original blueprints were invaluable to the restoration of this marvelous Southern gem that in 1993 became the Official Historic Theatre of Alabama.

Alabama Theater from Leo Early on Vimeo.


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