One type of culture gives way to another... It turns out that the particular era of cinema that Memphis's Plaza Theatre was an example of - those dating from 1930 to 1955 - are quite often adaptively reused as bookstores. A new Barnes & Noble bookstore is usually about 25,000 square feet, and the large, windowless open boxes that cinemas provide tend to allow conforming pretty closely to this footprint.
Varsity Theatre - Palo Alto, California
Built 1927, Closed 1994
This lavish art deco theatre included a mission style courtyard that was adapted as an outdoor circulation, sidewalk cafe, and retail space. The interior's two floors became a Barnes & Noble.
See this set by BWChicago on Flickr: Varsity Theatre
And this site by the Palo Alto History Project: Varsity Theatre
Alabama Theatre - Houston, Texas
Built 1939, Closed 1983
This beautiful Art Moderne theatre became a Bookstop in 1984. (The chain was later bought by Barnes & Noble.) However, it closed in September 2009 and is now awaiting redevelopment or possible demolition. Architect: Pettigrew & Worley
Set by mslnp on Flickr: Alabama Theatre
See this site by Cinema Houston: Alabama Theatre
Wikipedia - by Postoak
Fox Studio City Theatre - Studio City, California
Built 1939, Closed 1991
Currently occupied by a Bookstop, a chain which was bought by Barnes & Noble. Architect was Clifford A. Balch.
A couple of pictures by clearlight on Flickr: Fox Studio City Theatre and one by avilon_music.
Apparently it is also the location of Brenda and Dylan's first date on Beverly Hills, 90210 if you're into that sort of thing: click
CinemaTreasures page: click
Belle Meade Theatre - Nashville, Tennessee
Built 1940, closed 1991
Much like the Plaza Theatre in Memphis, the old single-screen theatre closed in the early 1990s. Bookstar quickly moved in and reused it. However, that store closed in the early 2000s, and the theatre has gotten a lot less respect since. The cool spire is being reused (and apparently part of the lobby is being retained) as a kind of nostalgia piece, within a new generic shopping mall that is named after the old theatre. The old auditorium was demolished in 2006.
A quick search on Flickr turns up good photos: Belle Meade Theatre
Strangely, an archive of historical info about the theatre - created by the firm that is destroying it: History
I'm not gonna lie. I stole this pic from the website of the firm that is destroying the theatre. I figured it was only fair. They don't care anyway.
Loma Theatre - San Diego, California
Built 1945, closed 1988
Converted to a Bookstop in 1990, this theatre was a fairly late example of Art Moderne. Now a Bookstar, which is part of Barnes & Noble. Architect was S. Charles Lee.
"Switched on with dramatic fanfare on grand opening night, the giant neon marquee once again dominated the landscape, reclaiming its place on the street. Seeing the theater come “back to life” in this very visible way created tremendous buzz for the retailer, and gave the neighborhood a tangible morale boost."
Pictures of the marquee on Flickr, by bhindglass: here and here.
Page by the theatre's adaptive reuse architects, with interior photos: Loma Theatre
Lowenstein Theatre - Denver, Colorado
Opened 1953, Closed 1986
Unlike the previous examples, this old theatre was never really an architectural beauty, and it was not adaptively reused as soon as it closed. It stood empty for about twenty years before finding a new use. The complex was renovated as a retail center in 2005, and opened in late 2006. Unlike the Belle Meade above, though, the renovation was done sensitively. The main theatre space was reused as the Tattered Cover Bookstore, which is a small independent chain (2 stores).
A Flickr photo set on both stores. The theater is mostly the later photos, I think. Lowenstein Theatre
An article by the Denver Urban Renewal Authority on the theatre and its reuse: Lowenstein Theatre
While it is true that each of these theatres, except for the last example, eventually came to be owned by Barnes & Noble after being converted to bookstores, and many still operate under that flag, only one began as part of that chain. They seem to have mostly been adaptive reuse projects commissioned by bookstore chains that saw the value in the easily adaptable open spaces offered by these old theatres. It seems really likely to me that Bookstop and Bookstar even actually sought out old theatres that would serve their purposes. For whatever reason, these theatres tended to be of the Art Moderne style. Perhaps earlier theatres were too small and too ornate for easy reuse.
It is good to see that bookstores saw the importance of establishing a sense of place in their mission, and acted to use adaptive reuse as the impetus to create that sense of place. While not every community in which these bookstores are housed appreciate that the old theatres have a new use - and one by a chain store, at that - it is unlikely that these old single-screen movie houses will come to life again, so this is probably the least of many evils. It allows appreciation of the old beauty without destroying it, which still imbuing new life in the structure because it houses a (presumably) profitable business enterprise. The profitability of the book business, of course, is becoming a thing of the past. As Amazon takes over and more and more people buy Kindles, it is a real threat that the old bookstore will fall into obscurity. I would, of course, like to believe that there is something about a tangible book - especially one that has been beautifully bound and embellished - that a stark plastic electronic device can never replace. But we will see. In any case, it's probably good to visit these places soon, before they start to disappear.
I'm pretty sure there's a lot more old theatres that have been reused as bookstores across the country. I would love to know about more! If you know of one I've forgotten, please comment!