A Look Back at the History of Austin's Movie Houses


By Lishann Johnson

The reception held at the Austin History Center earlier this month for the exhibit "The First Picture Shows: Historic Austin Movie Houses" was wonderful.

The evening began as musician Tim Mueting performed and talked a bit about what this exhibit means to him. Mueting shared stories of growing up behind his parents' drive-in and having to get up in the morning to clean up from the night before. No, he didn't have to use his hands. My favorite memory that Mueting shared was about his mom and dad busting kids for sneaking into the drive-in in the trunks of cars and banging to be let out.

AHC was filled with items that would be interesting for seasoned film aficionados as well as more casual fans of the medium. The exhibit itself consisted of a rundown of all of Austin's old theaters, including information on when they opened and what they are now (if they haven't been torn down).

A few things that I saw that really stood out were the original blueprints of the Majestic Theater and a drive-in display that showed original speakers that used to be hung on car windows. One display was really enlightening, about the end of segregation for Austin theaters. Until I saw that display, I didn't understand how the end of segregation in Austin theaters came to pass, or the lengths that had to be taken to make it happen.

I have to say my favorite display was the "Movie House Memory," a station where you could share a memory that you have in one of the many movie theaters in Austin.

After enjoying the exhibit itself, the group was escorted by Austin History Museum manager Mike Miller to the State and Paramount theaters. Miller was quite knowledgeable about the theaters, and was extremely helpful in answering questions.

When you first walk into both of these theaters, you feel like you are stepping into a piece of history. The structure and architecture give a wonderful presentation all by themselves. This was my first time going into the Paramount, and I have to say it really took my breath away. I don't get the chance to see a lot of live theater, but just seeing the box seats on the side made me want to take in a show.

The tours were led by a knowledgeable employee of the theaters, who gave a little bit of the history and filmography while also answering questions with enthusiasm. It concluded with a tour of the projection booth at the Paramount Theater, which is something that everyone should experience. To see the size of the projectors and hear about all the work that goes into putting a film on the screen gives not only prospective but also an appreciation for what the projectionist does.

From beginning to end, the Paramount and State tour is interesting and educational for people of all ages -- check the website to learn when future tours are scheduled. The Austin History Center exhibit will be on display through August 19. Cinephiles will also want to check out the panel discussion and presentation on the exhibit that will take place on July 17 at the State Theatre.

Lishann Johnson is an intern at the Austin Film Society.