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MAJESTIC THEATRE (DALLAS)

MAJESTIC THEATRE (DALLAS). The restored Majestic Theatre at 1925 Elm Street in downtown Dallas reopened on January 16, 1983, after having been closed for ten years. The Majestic is actually the third theater in Dallas to bear that name. The first was built on the corner of Commerce Street and St. Paul in 1905 by Karl St. John Hoblitzelle as part of his Interstate Amusement Company, a chain of vaudeville houses. It burned in 1916, and Hoblitzelle engaged renowned Chicago theater architect John Eberson to design its replacement. Until the new building was completed in 1921, the old Opera House at Main and St. Paul served as the second Majestic. Construction of the present Majestic Theatre, which cost nearly $2 million, began in February 1920. The cornerstone was laid on October 18 of that year. The cornerstone ceremony, with Mrs. Hoblitzelle officiating, was held on March 26, 1921. The Majestic, flagship theater of Hoblitzelle's Interstate chain, opened on April 11, 1921.

The Majestic, a twentieth-century interpretation of the Renaissance Revival style, is five stories tall. Originally a large canopy projected over the entire first-floor elevation. A large marquee extended vertically from the fourth floor level over the canopy. In 1948 the canopy was enclosed by a new, larger marquee. A series of tripartite windows set into square and arched frames extends across the front elevation of the second through fourth stories. Square windows on the fifth story are framed by elaborate moldings. The structure is crowned by a cornice of applied ornament. The floors are divided by decorative panels, and large scored pilasters marked by sculptural ornament act as vertical terminating elements, while smaller scored pilasters divide the five bays.

The interior was originally divided into theater and office space, with 20,000 square feet of the upper four floors used as the headquarters of the Interstate Amusement Company chain. The opulent and baroque main lobby and auditorium had decorative detailing of Corinthian columns, egg-and-dart molding, cartouches, and Roman swags and fretwork. The lobby was dominated by a magnificent black-and-white Italian-style Vermont marble floor and twin marble staircases. An ornate cage elevator, complete with a brass rail and carriage lamps on either side, served the two upper balconies. Adding to the "Roman gardens" theme of the theater were crystal chandeliers, brass mirrors, ferns, and a marble fountain copied from one in the Vatican gardens in Rome. During a remodeling in the late 1940s a concession stand was added to the lobby, and red carpet was laid over the marble floors. The 2,400-seat auditorium featured a ceiling "sky" of floating clouds and mechanically controlled twinkling stars. Seating was laid out in the shape of a fan, with seats of woven cane, each with its own hat rack for the gentlemen. Seating was provided on the main floor and in two balconies. Large paintings were set into panels on the auditorium walls, along with intricate latticework. The stage was set back beneath an arch flanked by massive Corinthian columns, with an orchestra pit in front. Backstage were twelve dressing rooms, a loft to accommodate scenery, and a set of wooden lighting controls. The stage curtain was decorated with a classical scene.

Patrons of the Majestic enjoyed by such amenities as a fantasy playroom called Majesticland, complete with a carousel and a petting zoo, where children were cared for while their parents watched the shows. Adjacent to this was the Land of Nod, a nursery with infant cribs, trained nurses, and free milk and crackers. A smoking lounge, furnished with wicker chairs and couches, was provided for gentlemen.

The Majestic originally offered seven vaudeville acts twice daily during the winter season and movies during the summer. Beginning in 1922 and lasting until the mid–1930s, films were added to the regular vaudeville offerings. Among the many famous entertainers who appeared on the Majestic stage were Mae West, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, George Burns, and Gracie Allen. Magicians Harry Houdini, Harry Blackstone, and Howard Thurston amazed Majestic audiences with their magic tricks. Ginger Rogers began her career at the Majestic. Appearances were also made there by Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, John Wayne, James Stewart, and Joan Crawford. Movies gradually took over as the main attraction and were shown in the Majestic until July 1973, when it closed.

The Hoblitzelle Foundation gave the Majestic to the city of Dallas on December 31, 1976. The Oglesby Group in Dallas served as architects for its renovation. The elegance of the Majestic began with its exterior, where the original cast-iron marquee was uncovered and repainted dark green and tan. The cream-colored terracotta facing was repaired and cleaned. The main lobby echoed its original baroque splendor, with the black-and-white marble floor again revealed, along with decorative molding, egg-and-dart borders, acanthus leaves, and floor-to-ceiling mirrors in gilt frames. The original crystal chandelier was removed during an earlier remodeling; it was replaced by a chandelier salvaged from the old Baker Hotel, historically correct and in excellent proportion to its new setting. Throughout the theater, walls were painted shades of gray with gold-leaf highlighting. Wine-colored carpeting was installed. In the auditorium, the original Corinthian columns, balustrades, urns, and trellises were repaired and repainted. New seats were installed, with the number of seats reduced from 2,400 to 1,570, to allow for an enlarged orchestra pit, the conversion of the second balcony to house advanced sound and lighting systems, and the division of the first balcony into box seating. The stage itself was given a resilient floor suitable for dance performances. Backstage, dressing-room space was greatly expanded. In 1977 the Majestic Theatre became the first Dallas building to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1983 it received a Texas Historical Commission marker.

During the 1990s and into the new century the city of Dallas used the refurbished theater for shows that were unsuited to the much larger State Fairqv Music Hall. The Dallas Ballet made the restored Majestic its home, and the Dallas Opera, the Theatre Operating Company, and the City Arts Program division of the Dallas Park and Recreation Department maintained offices there. The Shakespeare Festival of Dallas, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and other local performing arts groups and some touring shows also used the Majestic Theatre. In 2011 the theater was managed by the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Dallas Morning News, January 9, 1983. Dallas Times Herald, January 23, 1983. The Majestic (http://www.liveatthemajestic.com/), assessed April 14, 2008. Office of Cultural Affairs, City of Dallas: Majestic Theater (http://www.dallasculture.org/majestictheater.asp), accessed October 27, 2011. Texas Historical Commission, National Register Files.

Shirley Caldwell

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Shirley Caldwell, "MAJESTIC THEATRE (DALLAS)," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ccm04), accessed December 19, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 26, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.