Temple Theater

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Loew's Temple Theatre in 1925
The Temple Theatre c. 1965

Loew's Temple Theater was a vaudeville and motion picture theater located inside the Masonic Temple on the Southeast corner of 19th Street and 6th Avenue North with its entrance at 517 19th Street. Construction of the building began in 1921, with President Warren Harding present for the laying of the cornerstone. It was built by the Smallman-Brice Company, and opened in 1922.

The Temple's 3,100-seat auditorium, designed for Zamora Shrine ceremonies, was used to screen films as early as December 1923 when a revival of D. W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" had an extended run. It was converted into a Vaudeville theater by the Loew's chain, debuting on April 27, 1925, after which it combined regular Vaudeville productions with large meetings, "legitimate" theater, and concerts. Motion pictures were screened there beginning in 1928. The Minneapolis Symphony performed there in 1933, with the performance recorded for broadcast. On February 12, 1944 Bela Lugosi appeared on the stage for two performances of "Arsenic and Old Lace".

On December 6, 1950 the Temple stage hosted the debut performance of "Born Yesterday" by James Hatcher's Town & Gown Theater company, with Tommy Dix starring. Metropolitan opera basso Jerome Hines gave the theater's final performance on March 31, 1970.

A touring production of "South Pacific" brought controversy when city leaders learned that some members of the chorus were African American. A performance would violate the city's segregation laws. Challenged by Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor, the producers refused to change the cast, offering instead to cancel the engagement all together. After consideration, Connor determined that the performers in question were Cubans rather than "Negroes", and permitted the show to go on.

Tallulah Bankhead appeared several times on the Temple stage in productions ranging from Lillian Hellman's "The Little Foxes" to Noel Coward's "Private Lives". The Temple Theater served as the home of the Birmingham Civic Opera and the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

The building was demolished in September 1970 by the First National Bank of Birmingham and used for parking until the construction of the AmSouth-Harbert Plaza. Five chandeliers from the theater were saved and donated to Samford University for use in the new Leslie S. Wright Performing Arts Center. Bryant Electric restored and installed the fixtures at the behest of Dr and Mrs Thomas Thuss.

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