Six fabulous Georgia venues that are not the Fox Theater

The Fox Theater in Atlanta is easily the most famous and some would say fabulous theater in Georgia. Other cities boast magnificent venues like the Springer Opera House in Columbus, the Grand Opera House in Macon, and the Lucas Theatre in Savannah.

Many of Georgia’s smaller towns and cities point with pride to their own versions of the Fox Theater.

In cities throughout Georgia, heroic preservation efforts have kept theaters alive and safe from wrecking balls. Several of those, like the Morton in Athens, the Douglass in Macon and the Liberty in Columbus began as historically black theaters.

Here are a few facts and memories of six local versions of the Fox Theater.

The State Theatre, Albany

The December 5, 1942 edition of Box Office magazine noted, “The new State Theatre in Albany, Georgia, is impressive both in size and appearance. Modernly designed, its façade combines monolithic concrete with gleaming structural glass to achieve a striking invitational appeal.” A photo accompanying the article revealed that the State was “scientifically cooled.” The State is now used as venue for musical groups.

There are many more important theaters in Georgia, such as the Georgia Theater in Athens and the Rylander in Americus. I couldn’t cover them all so send me your memories of your favorite picture show. – Doug

The Zebulon Theater, Cairo

The Zebulon has been in continuous use since 1935. A non-profit organization now operates the Zebulon.  The theater presents movies and  theatrical productions by the Syrup City Players. Mantinee admission is $4. Soft drinks and popcorn are $2 each. I stood outside the Zebulon for an hour or two in December waiting for the sun to fade away and the Christmas lights to twinkle. Passersby stopped and chatted and each had a sentimental story about the Zebulon. I thought I was living a serial from The Saturday Evening Post.

The Austin Theater, Fort Valley

The Austin survived a fire that hit two downtown businesses in 1973, a tornado in 1975, and several years as a Top Dollar Store. A local option sales tax in 2004 sparked the Austin’s return to grandeur. Voters approved $500,000 for its restoration. Weddings, receptions and parties are held in the Austin. Columbus State University players present annual children’s theater productions. The Fort Valley Arts Alliance operates the facility.

The Muse Theatre, Perry

The Muse is the only former theater in this series that has not been brought back to life. The Muse Theatre Foundation hopes to change that soon. A member of the foundation saved the building from foreclosure and possible destruction. An antique business is now filling the space temporarily. Billy Milby, president of the foundation, said fundraising efforts will recommence as soon as the group receives its non-profit status from the IRS. Plans for the renovated structure include screening movies, housing performances and providing event space. Milby believes a restored Muse can help spur new life for downtown Perry.

Theatre Dublin, Dublin

movie theater concessions

Martin Theatre Concession Stand, courtesy Laurens County Historical Society

During my childhood, Theatre Dublin was known as the Martin Theatre, part of a chain that also included the State in Albany. I was sitting in the Martin one Sunday afternoon in 1963 when a murmur spread across the audience: “Oswald’s been shot!” In 1963 there was one ticket window for white patrons and a separate window for blacks. Whites sat in the lower level and blacks in the balcony. Theatre Dublin is a highly successful performance venue with acts from country music to Bach. It anchors a revitalized area of downtown Dublin. (A future post will look closely at the renaissance that has occurred in downtown Dublin.)

The Liberty Theatre, Columbus

Built in 1925 the Liberty was not only the largest theater in Columbus, it was the city’s only black theater. The list of performers who have entertained Liberty audiences is impressive: Marian Anderson, Ella Fitzgerald, Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Ma Rainey (a Columbus native), Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Fletcher Henderson. The Liberty is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was restored in 1996.


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6 Responses to Six fabulous Georgia venues that are not the Fox Theater

  1. Celeste Bracewell April 1, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    Thank you for the stories of preservation. Two of these old movie houses are part of my childhood, the Martin in Dublin and the Austin in Fort Valley where I lived until 1960. My first grade class walked to the Austin to see Bambi. The unfortunate demise of Bambi’s mother was mitigated by our trip to the soda fountain at the nearby drugstore. As I waited for my complementary ice cream cone, I discovered that people stuck gum underneath the elevated counter stools. All in all, a day of epiphanies. And I remember Daddy taking me to see “Old Yeller” there. Despite the recurring death themes of these Disney films, my love for theaters, movies and chocolate covered raisins was born…and later enjoyed as often as possible at the Martin.

  2. John Pike April 1, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    Great article. Old theaters have always been my comfort zone. I can lose myself almost as well as reading.

  3. Nathan Strange April 1, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    Doug, these photos and stories are just wonderful. You inspire such a wanderlust in me, and a drive to see these places for myself. But your artists’ eye allows me to see so much more than I could see on my own. You bring out colors, emotion, vibrancy, and idiosyncrasies that I would have undoubtedly missed. Please, continue this wonderful work.

  4. Vicki Fowler Lunceford April 1, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    Thanks, Doug. I’m very much looking forward to your posting on Dublin’s downtown revitalization. I remember walking to the Martin Theater after school to see Gone With the Wind.

  5. Jane Kidd April 4, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    Great job, Doug! And as you said, this was just the beginning. The GA Theater and the Morton Theater in Athens are great examples of preservation and restoration! In Milledgeville, GA College and State University has restored the Campus Theater (also a Martin Company theater) into a black box theater with a bookstore in the front lobby, and is used by the theater department frequently!

    • Doug April 4, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

      Thanks, Jane. I’ve also heard there was a great theater restoration in Tifton. This week I photographed the Strand in Marietta, another outstanding example. Keep reading!