10 Best Historic Theaters in the United States

It's showtime. America's most legendary theaters hold stories within their walls that would give anyone goosebumps. From 19th century theaters that once hosted the likes of Thomas Jefferson to opera houses with one of the most sophisticated stages on the planet, there is endless history to uncover in these spaces. Next time you're looking to catch a Broadway show or your favorite musical artist, check out one of these 10 awesome historic theaters in America. 

Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA

When it was first constructed in 1928, the Fox Theatre served as the headquarters for Atlanta's Shriners organization. Its opulent design, inspired by ancient Temples and mosques, became too expensive to upkeep. The venue was then transferred to the hands of movie mogul William Fox. And the rest, as they say, is history. The majestic theater bloomed, hosting performances from the Atlanta Ballet as well as a series of Broadway shows. The Fox has also hosted a number of famous musicians, including Ray Charles, the Allman Brothers, and Prince in his final performance before passing away in April 2016. 

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Saenger Theatre, New Orleans, LA

Upon opening in February 1927, the Saenger Theatre in the French Quarter of downtown New Orleans had people lining up around the block. Guests paid 65 cents (the most expensive ticket) to catch silent movies and stage plays. In 2005, the Saenger suffered significant water damage during Hurricane Katrina but that wouldn't dampen its spirit. Today, the theater hosts a variety of performances including music from today's top artists, Broadway musicals, children's theater, and much more. 

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Hollywood Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles, CA

This legendary Art Deco theater was the last ever built by vaudeville impresario Alexander Pantages. From its early vaudeville days in the 1930s to its stunning Broadway performances of Disney's "The Lion King," the Pantages has seen its fair share of history. In addition to live theater, the Pantages has put on a series of renowned musical events including shows from Prince and the 1984 Talking Heads' conert film "Stop Making Sense." The Pantages has broken box office records, too—it's responsible for the five highest-grossing weeks in Los Angeles' theatrical history.  

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Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, PA

It is reported that the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia is the oldest continuously-operating theater in the English-speaking world, and the oldest in the country. The space opened in 1809 and first hosted a series of equestrian circus performances. The Walnut put on its first live theatrical performance "The Rivals" around 1812. President Thomas Jefferson was in attendance. Big names have walked the stage of the Walnut Street Theatre as well, including the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Robert Redford, Groucho Marks, and Jack Lemmon.

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Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, New York, NY

New York and live theater are practically synonymous and the Metropolitan Opera House is a shining example of why it is so essential to the fabric of the city's culture. Part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Metropolitan Opera House is the largest repertory opera house in the world, with a capacity of 3,800. With its hydraulic elevators and motorized stages, the Metropolitan Opera House is one of the most high-tech on the planet. It the opera house has hosted performances such as Prokofiev's "War and Peace" and Phillip Glass' "The Voyage." If you have a deep passion for the arts, the Metropolitan Opera House is an essential visit. 

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Majestic Theatre, San Antonio, TX

Opened in 1929 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Majestic Theatre is San Antonio's oldest and largest atmospheric theatre—a style of movie palace that reached its height of popularity in the later 1920s. The most distinctive feature of the space is its vibrant blue ceiling, which is decorated with images of clouds and stars in an evening sky using a projector and small bulbs. Throughout its history, the lavish venue hosted a number of significant world premieres including "West Point of the Air" in 1935 and "To Hell and Back" in 1955. 

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The Orpheum, Memphis, TN

The Orpheum in Memphis has been drawing patrons in droves ever since its opening in 1928. While the space has undergone millions of dollars worth of renovation since its earliest days, the theater still maintains its integrity. Step inside and witness its opulent gilded design and stunning Wurlizter organ. The theater’s interior lighting makes the whole space glow with warmth. Over the years, the Orpheum has hosted a variety of notable performances including Ballet Memphis and Broadway productions. For those who enjoy a little bit of spooky history, you’ll be interested to learn the Orpheum has seen its fair share of paranormal activity. Many report to have seen the spirit of a 12-year-old girl named Mary wandering the theater.

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Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA

Opened in 1928, the Paramount Theatre primarily served as a venue for silent film screenings and vaudeville acts. The Seattle Times reported on its grand opening, writing, “Never has such a magnificent cathedral of entertainment been given over to the public.” Notable names have walked the stage here including Pink Floyd in 1971, the Grateful Dead in 1972, and Nirvana in 1991. In October of 1974, the Paramount was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it still serves as a wonderful place for Broadway theatre, concerts, comedy, jazz, and more.

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Chicago Theatre, Chicago, IL

During its opening in 1921, the Chicago Theatre was promoted as the "Wonder Theatre of the World." Between its 50-piece orchestra and "Mighty" Wurlizter organ, the Chicago Theatre was nothing short of enchanting. Its Neo-Baroque French-Revival design is the last of its kind in the city. Some of the world's biggest stars have performed in this historic place, including names like Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton, and the Allman Brothers. Today, it continues to host stage plays, sporting events, comedy shows, concerts, and more. 

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Ford’s Theatre, Washington, D.C.

Opened in 1963, the Ford's Theatre might most notably be known as the site where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. After being shot while viewing a production of "Our American Cousin," Lincoln passed away at the Petersen House across the street. The legendary space has undergone renovating and repurposing over the years, even serving as a government warehouse building at one point in time. But today, it serves the community as a wonderful place to watch live theater. Hundreds of thousands come to visit this storied place because of its historical past, but they also come for its consistently excellent theatrical productions. Some of its noteworthy productions include "A Christmas Carol" and "Necessary Sacrifices." 

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