The ceiling of the Orpheum’s Lewis Auditorium depicts a starry sky.
© Craig Smith
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By Noah Austin
It all started with Gustav Walter. Walter, a German impresario, dreamed of building a cross-country “Orpheum Circuit” of theaters for vaudeville acts. He opened the first Orpheum in San Francisco in the 1880s, but he didn’t make it out of California before running out of money. To settle a reported $50,000 liquor bill, Walter sold his interest in Orpheum to Morris Meyerfeld, who expanded the chain nationwide. Phoenix’s Orpheum Theatre, featuring Spanish Baroque architecture, opened in 1929. It changed hands, and names, several times before falling into disrepair. The city purchased the building in 1984 and began a $14 million restoration, which lasted until 1997. Today, the Orpheum hosts a wide variety of performers; this year’s highlights include Man of La Mancha and West Side Story.
Orpheum Theatre construction is completed at a final cost of $750,000.
Paramount Pictures buys the theater and renames it the Paramount.
The Nederlander Organization takes ownership of the theater, planning to make it a stop on the Broadway circuit. It becomes Palace West.
The local Corona family leases the theater to show Spanish-language films. The theater’s interior, including its murals and moldings, is painted black to make it less distracting while movies are playing.
Phoenix buys the theater building and begins an extensive restoration.
The Orpheum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Orpheum, now with a seating capacity of 1,364, reopens with a performance of Hello, Dolly! starring Carol Channing.
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