You’ll be hard pressed to find a business not affected by Covid-19 in some way. But our beloved downtown landmark, the Alabama Theatre, is especially in dire straits. Did you know that 90% of their revenue comes from events and ticket sales? Because of the shutdown, they will have lost more than $2 million in revenue by year’s end.
They can’t just “board up” until the pandemic passes. The nearly century-old structure requires constant maintenance. If they stop heating and cooling the building, the large velvet curtains will mildew, the paint will start start peeling, and the gorgeous plaster will crack.
The Alabama Theatre is run by the nonprofit organization Birmingham Landmarks, Inc., and they do not receive funding from the city or state. That’s why they need our help. A GoFundMe page is currently taking donations to help save the Alabama Theatre (and the Lyric Theatre across the street).
Where It All Began (for Me)
I remember it like it was yesterday. My earliest memory of the Alabama Theatre was seeing a Sunday afternoon matinee of Gone With the Wind in 1989. My mom had prepared me well: “You will love the Alabama Theatre. It’s old and beautiful, and was built a long time ago when people used to get all dressed up and decked out to come downtown to go to the movies.”
I’d never seen anything like it. I was immediately awestruck with the intricate carvings, the soft velvet seats, and how the lights on the ornate ceiling changed colors. We settled into our seats in the balcony of the packed house, and before the Mighty Wurlitzer organ appeared, out came Butterfly McQueen to the stage (the actress who played “Prissy” in GWTW).
The audience roared with applause and admiration, and I had no idea who she was or what was going on. My mom leaned over and whispered in my ear, “This is a BIG deal — remember this moment!” Butterfly McQueen was in Birmingham to celebrate GWTW‘s golden anniversary. She quoted a line or two from the movie and delighted the crowded theater many times over. How many people can say they saw an actress in person from this movie their first screening?
Not too long after that, my mom thought it would be fun to have my birthday party there. You have to remember this was before the Alabama Theatre offered cartoon matinees for the kids — people have parties there all the time now, but back then, it was a bit of a novelty.
My friends and I watched The Unsinkable Molly Brown (again, not really for children, but it kept our attention well enough!) When the movie was over and the theater cleared out, the longtime advocate/supporter/organist Mr. Cecil Whitmire (the man who essentially saved the Alabama Theatre from becoming a parking lot in the 1980s) let us join him on the Mighty Wurlitzer and ride up and down. He was so kind to us, and it was such a treat I’ll never forget.
Sweet Home Alabama
When I was in college, Reese Witherspoon starred in the charming movie Sweet Home Alabama. Somehow the Alabama Theatre obtained the rights to preview the film three days before it even premiered in Hollywood as part of Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival that year. Mary Kay Place (who played Reese’s mother) and Melanie Lynskey (“You have a baby….in a bar!”) were in attendance along with the governor of Alabama. As a journalism major, I was able to take part along with the press and meet them beforehand. It was thrilling!
Christmas Movie Series
Now, as a mom, I have loved introducing my own children to one of Birmingham’s gems. In recent years (pre-Covid), I’ve taken them to the Alabama Theatre summer cartoon series as well as to the children’s Christmas cartoons matinee.
I *may* have even checked my oldest out of school early last December so we could continue our tradition. (Shhh! Don’t tell!)
You Can Help Save the Alabama Theatre
This theater has given so much to the city of Birmingham during its remarkable 90-plus years, and I want to make sure it lasts another 90 years . . . and beyond!
Share your fond memories of the Alabama Theatre with us in the comments — and share this opportunity to help save the theater with your friends and family! Every little bit helps!