The Circle Theater, Tulsa, USA
The Circle Theater, Tulsa, USA. In 1945, Tulsa had 26 movie theaters. Of those, only one remains standing today: the Circle Theater. Built in 1928 on the old 1926-32 alignment of Route 66 through Tulsa, the Circle was part of the central shopping district in Tulsa’s earliest suburban development. Like almost all historic single-screen movie palaces, the Circle struggled to remain viable in the age of the multiplex. By the mid-1990s it was shuttered and threatened with demolition. But thanks to the tireless work of the Circle Cinema Foundation, today the Circle is going stronger than ever, and in July 2013 celebrated its 85th anniversary grand re-opening.
The building, which was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, is a two-story brick commercial-style structure, quite distinct from the opulence that characterized most theaters of the era. Its suburban location, the fact that it was not designed by a professional architect, and its mixed-use character (the building hosted apartments above the theater) explain its understated nature. Because the theater was only one part of the multi-use building, the structure was also known as the Chilton Building (named for the original owner), and “Chilton” flanked by the numbers 19 and 28 can still be seen inscribed into the front of the building near the roofline. A beautifully restored neon sign and neon-lit marquee grace the façade, which was recently taken back to its appearance circa 1952, thanks in part to a grant through the NPS’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program in 2012. The setback of the building is quite shallow, a practice common to theaters that was designed to draw people in from the sidewalk. What was originally a storefront to the north of the theater houses the Circle Cinema Foundation’s offices; another storefront to the south of the ticket window was incorporated into the theater’s lobby sometime after 1957.
When the Circle Cinema Foundation purchased the original theater, it also purchased two adjacent storefronts to the south of the theatre. Those renovated spaces now adjoin the original lobby space and house a gathering/reception area, a display of movie posters, and an art gallery for local artists to exhibit their works. In 2013 the main auditorium of the original theatre was renovated, and today the Circle Cinema boasts four screens of various sizes and seating capacities. The Circle is a boon not only for lovers of Route 66 and historic theaters, but for film aficionados as well. The Circle provides an innovative mix of programming focusing on art-house and international films, and also showcases special screenings of classic and contemporary films that often feature guest appearances from stars, directors, or other personalities associated with the various productions. Thanks in large part to the efforts of the Circle Cinema Foundation, the theater is a crucial piece of an ongoing process that is transforming the neighborhood from a declining condition back to its suburban heyday as a walkable district for entertainment, shopping, and dining.
The Circle Theater, now the Circle Cinema, is located at 10 S. Lewis Ave., Tulsa, OK 74104, and can be reached at 918-585-3504