Aside from its ability to host thousands of Alabamians, the theater was the first public building with air conditioning. Surely that attributed in some way to the popularity. The theater also hosted the Miss Alabama Pageant from 1938 to 1966. Attendees watched the world’s largest Mickey Mouse Club with nearly 18,000 members, silent films and listen to organ music.
The organ, known famously as Big Bertha, is a Crawford Special-Publix One-Mighty Wurlitzer and it was installed to accompany silent films. Organs were used commonly to create mood music that matched with the films. Big Bertha actually kept the theater from becoming a parking lot in 1986 when the owners filed for bankruptcy and the building was put up for demolition. The American Theatre Organist Society made an offer to purchase the organ in an attempt to save it, but they were ultimately denied. After fundraising, a nonprofit was able to purchase the theater and save the organ.
Today, the renovated Alabama Theatre hosts over 400,000 people each year with showings of classic films, the Alabama Ballet, the Alabama Symphony and artists of all varieties.
To see our feature photo essay on the Alabama Theatre, see Alabama Heritage Issue 124. Spring 2017.
Alley Paquin is a senior majoring in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, she moved around the south before settling in Dallas. Alley serves on the Panhellenic Executive Council at the University of Alabama and is an active member of her sorority. She enjoys reading about politics and traveling the world to experience new cultures firsthand. Alley is hoping to attend law school following graduation in May.