The Woodlawn Theatre, also called the Woodlawn Family Theatre, was a 650-seat neighborhood cinema located at 5503 1st Avenue North in Woodlawn, opposite the Woodlawn Masonic Temple. In summer 2022 it reopened as a 250-seat venue for concerts, weddings and community events.
The first Woodlawn Theatre, in a former Hill's Store No. 71 at 5401-5403 1st Avenue North, was opened on June 24, 1922 by the owners of the Five Points Theater. Tickets were priced at 20 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. The opening night feature was "The Man with Two Mothers" starring Mary Alden, Cullen Landis and Laura Lavarnie. Programs were changed daily, and the building was ventilated with a system that removed 26,000 cubic feet of air every minute.
The Woodlawn Theatre was acquired at some point by Marvin Wise, owner of the Royal, Capitol, and Odeon Theatres, who died in February 1925. Its management was incorporated as the Woodlawn Theatre Company with $5,000 in capital, in April 1925. The Woodlawn Beauty Shoppe operated above the theater from before it opened until at least 1927.
The second location, on the site of a former tire shop, operated from about 1929 until 1957. The Woodlawn Radio & Hardware Co. shared the address in 1932. In the 1930s theater manager Arnold Gary hosted an annual party for area newspaper carriers, ending with a film screening. in 1937 Gary oversaw a $10,000 update of the building with new projection, sound and ventilation equipment, and a new "modernistic" lobby with expanded restrooms. The renovated theater reopened on September 22. That December T. W. Williams, part owner of the theater, was convicted, along with Gary and three other Waters Theater Company managers, of holding illegal "bank night" and "jackpot" games at their establishments. Each was fined $100 by Judge Henry Martin.
The company entered into a legal dispute with the Continental Securities Corp. in 1939. In the early 1940s the theater hosted the annual "Miss Woodlawn" pageant. In August 1947 a 9-year-old boy stole a car after leaving the theater and backed it into a utility pole.
The operating partnership of Charles Merritt and J. M. Waters was dissolved in 1948 and the business was fully absorbed into the Waters chain, under general manager J. B. Waters. Theater manager Gary remained at Woodlawn until he was transferred to the new College Theater in East Lake in April 1948. His assistant, Bob Wiggins, had been promoted to manage the Avondale Theater in January 1947. Benjamin Hall managed the Woodlawn Theatre in the 1950s.
On January 5, 1950 the theater hosted a live performance of "The Radio Yell-O-Hammers Show" of popular hillbilly and western folk songs. The theater's safe was broken into in August 1950, with $842 stolen. In March 1952 a seat collapsed, injuring Inez Lawson. She and her husband sued the owners for $40,000 in damages.
In June 1954 the theater's ticket clerk, Virginia Claire Davis, was robbed of $60 at gunpoint during a screening of "The Creature from the Black Lagoon". In April 1956 the theater's safe was again cracked by thieves who hid in the restroom until the building was closed for the night.
The building later housed The Wood Doctor. In the 2000s the former theater, housing God's Army Outreach Bible Ministry, and adjoining building at 5505 1st Avenue North were called the Boehm Buildings.
Restoration as Theatre
In 2020 Will Mason purchased the building and renovated it as a new 250-seat performance and event venue, using the name "Woodlawn Theatre", and as offices of the Mason Music Foundation which funds music lessons for low-income families. The renovated theater opened in the summer of 2022 as a 250-seat venue for concerts, weddings and other events.
- "Mary Alden is First Star at New Woodlawn Theater." (June 23, 1922) The Birmingham News
- "Wise Funeral to Be Held Monday." (February 2, 1925) The Birmingham News
- "Show for Carriers" (October 16, 1935) The Birmingham News
- "Theater Renovated" (September 22, 1937) The Birmingham News
- "Four Fined in 'Jackpot' Cases." (December 15, 1937) The Birmingham News
- "Carriers See Show" (December 23, 1937) The Birmingham News
- "Boy, 9, Takes Car And Runs Wild; Cops Call Him 'Bandit'." (August 8, 1947) The Birmingham News
- "Yeggs believed caught." (August 11, 1950) The Birmingham News
- "West End couple sues Woodlawn Theater." (October 8, 1952) The Birmingham News
- "Young movie cashier held up by gun-waving youth." (June 30, 1954) The Birmingham News
- "Safe job" (April 24, 1956) The Birmingham News
- Eyob, Beza (November 21, 2019) "Opportunity Zones project to revitalize historic Woodlawn Theatre." Birmingham Business Journal
- Guffey, Summer (April 12, 2022) "Lights up! Woodlawn Theatre, a new live music venue, opens summer 2022" Bham Now
- Jesse Chambers (June 14, 2022) "Long-awaited Woodlawn Theatre announces 2022 opening" The Homewood Star
- Woodlawn Theatre website