Bama Theatre keeps tradition alive downtownBy Nathan Proctor | 09/11/2011 11:01pm
Downtown Tuscaloosa first greeted the Bama Theatre in 1938 with a parade featuring The Million Dollar Band and a procession of Disney mascots. Displayed proudly overhead was a banner that read “Alabama’s finest and Most Modern Showcase,” The Bama Theatre.
Created as a project under President Franklin Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration, construction of the Bama Theatre began in 1937 as a combined city hall and theatre designed by architect D.O. Whildin.
Whildin, the architect behind many of downtown’s historic buildings, is who gave the theatre its bulb-bedazzled marquee, asymmetrical house and warm, Spanish Renaissance-style interior, which he based on the decorous courtyard of the Davanzati Palace in Florence, Italy.
After its grand opening in the spring of 1938, first screening Million Dollar Baby, the theatre served as a movie theater under lease to Paramount until it was renovated in 1976 to be a performing arts center featuring live music and plays. Today it stands as a national venue for musical performance, local theater and independent film. The theatre has welcomed acts such as Ry Cooter in 1976, The Police on their first national tour in 1979, Vincent Price in 1981, and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today under the direction of theatre manager David Allgood, the Bama Theatre still remembers its past. Arriving in 2003, Allgood has brought in big international acts such as Aimee Mann and The Drive-By Truckers, continuously building on the success of their 70th anniversary show that featured Joan Baez. Allgood also began the Bama Art House Film Series to keep the theatre’s history alive.
“There was no TV,” Allgood said. “People would come to town from the rural areas of Tuscaloosa, and The Bama Theatre was often a stop…[The Bama Theatre’s] still a living room of Tuscaloosa. People meet up, make new friends and have social events here.”
Derived from the Silver Screen series, which started in 1999 and screened classics, the Art House series features films outside the scope of a typical movie theatre, screening independent and international films. According to Allgood, some of the films are funny, some are poignant and some are both. Although some films feature household names, all differ greatly from typical blockbuster fair.
“We think it’s important to try and stay on top of the kind of films around the country and around the world that are considered artsy,” Allgood said.
Allgood said the city of Tuscaloosa is a community rooted in learning and intellectualism and the theatre caters to that. Nine films are featured in this fall’s Art House series, with the next screening occurring on Sept. 13 and featuring Ewan McGregor in “Beginners.” The theatre also welcomes large film festivals, such as The Black Maria and Ann Arbor.
Allgood said he looks forward to the rest of the Art House series and to welcoming future acts like Bryan Adams and Needtobreathe. He also looks forward to continuing to host acoustic nights, writer’s series and local theater productions and furthering the history of the Tuscaloosa mainstay.
“I want people to feel at home here,” Allgood said. “The Bama doesn’t belong to any entity as much as it does the people of Tuscaloosa.”