Before television, the Internet, and Netflix, there was the theater. A show was a big production -- not just on stage but also off, with formalwear, uniformed ushers, ornate architecture, and red velvet curtains. Simply put: It was special.
While going to a show isn't as grand as it once was, the palatial theaters from the golden age of American theater still are. And when you hold your meeting in one, it's easy to make the attendee experience feel as magical as opening night surely felt for the venue's original patrons.
Here are five theaters which promise to earn your next event a standing ovation.
Ryman Auditorium (Nashville)
Nashville's Ryman Auditorium is known as the "Mother Church of Country Music." That's not only because it's sacred to country music fans, but also because it was once an actual church: Businessman and steamboat captain Thomas G. Ryman opened it in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. It became Ryman Auditorium after Ryman's death in 1904, and due to its size quickly became a popular venue for community events, political rallies, and entertainment, including operas, symphonies, bands, ballets, and plays. In 1943, the "Carnegie Hall of the South" became home to the Grand Ole Opry, a legendary radio show known for its live performances by stars like Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline.
Although the Grand Ole Opry moved to a new home in 1974, the Ryman remains a Nashville institution. Restored to its original grandeur in 1994, it has 2,362 seats that are available to groups of 20 to 2,300, which can host performances and dinners on the Ryman stage, or cocktail receptions in its Fifth Avenue Vestibule.
Kings Theatre (Brooklyn, NY)
When it opened in 1929, the Loew's Kings Theatre (pictured above) was one of five "Loew's Wonder Theatres" -- a chain of five lavishly designed movie palaces opened by Loew's Theatres in 1929 and 1930 to establish itself as New York City's preeminent film-screening expert. Originally featuring movies as well as live vaudeville performances, it phased out live entertainment during the Great Depression but remained the epicenter of Brooklyn's Flatbush Avenue until the 1950s, when it began a slow but steady decline. Citing low attendance, high maintenance costs, and the decline of the surrounding neighborhood, Loew's dropped the Kings Theatre in 1977, at which point the theater officially closed. It sat empty for more than 37 years until reopening in 2015 following a $95 million redevelopment and restoration.
Today, the former movie palace describes itself as a "state-of-the-art live performances theater that will revitalize the Brooklyn arts scene." Totaling over 93,000 square feet, it has 83-foot ceilings, a 2,790-square-foot stage, and 3,676 seats -- all of which are available to private groups for concerts, film premiers, corporate events, meetings, and cocktail receptions.
Palace Theatre (Los Angeles)
When it opened in 1911, the Palace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles was the third Los Angeles home of the famed Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Originally known as the "Orpheum" -- and now the oldest remaining Orpheum theater in the country -- it changed its name to the Palace in 1926, at which point it became a movie house until its closing in 1999.
One of four surviving historic theaters owned by the Broadway Theatre Group in Los Angeles' downtown theater district, the Palace completed a $1 million renovation and restoration in 2011 and now hosts special events, concerts, and various other live performances -- not to mention private meetings and events, which can take advantage of the 1,116-seat auditorium, the expansive stage, the spacious lobby, and the men's and women's lounges, which originally were used for socializing before and after shows.
Paramount Theatre (Denver)
Denver's most famous entertainment venue is Red Rocks Amphitheatre, an outdoor theatre that opened in 1906 in nearby Morrison, CO. A close second, however, is the Paramount Theatre, an Art Deco movie house that opened in 1930 near Denver's famed 16th Street Mall. Designed by noted Denver architect Temple Buell, the venue features an ornamental lobby, a vaulted sunburst ceiling, cut glass chandeliers, Egyptian lights, Italian marble, a neon marquee, and Denver's first-ever silk murals. The theater's highlight, however, is its one-of-a-kind Wurlitzer twin-console organ, which features 1,600 pipes designed to produce sound effects during the silent films of its day. The organ remains as one of the largest to have ever been installed in the Rocky Mountain region and, along with its sister in New York City's Radio City Music Hall, is one of only two remaining in the United States.
For private events, the 21,000-square-foot theater can accommodate groups of up to 1,865 people. Options include sit-down dinners on the historic stage, receptions in the Mezzanine Lobby, and lectures in the auditorium.
Tampa Theatre (Tampa, FL)
Designed by famed theater architect John Eberson, who was known for his "atmospheric" design style, the Tampa Theatre was built in 1926 in the style of a Mediterranean courtyard, complete with old-world statues, flowers, and gargoyles -- not to mention a realistic night sky that drapes indoor events in a blanket of twinkling stars. The theater was a cultural highlight in Tampa until the 1960s, when Tampans started moving away from downtown and began watching television at home instead of going to the movies. Without enough audience members to sustain it, it closed in 1973 but reopened four years later in 1977, when citizens lobbied the city to save it.
Some 40 years later, the 1,410-seat Tampa Theatre is still city-owned. Managed by the nonprofit Tampa Theatre Foundation, its single auditorium hosts more than 600 events each year, including first-run and classic films, concerts, special events, corporate events, tours, education programs, and meetings.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the Palace Theatre is one of four surviving historic theaters in downtown Los Angeles. In fact, it is one of four surviving historic downtown theaters owned by the Broadway Theatre Group.