Dallas’ historic Majestic Theatre is a beloved downtown building with a storied past. An iconic remnant of an era when central Elm Street was the heart of Dallas’ entertainment district, The Majestic was once the grande dame of a theater row populated by famous singers and movie stars. The glow of the area’s neon marquees may have since dimmed somewhat, but The Majestic remains one of the city’s most dazzling attractions.
The current Majestic located at 1925 Elm Street replaced the original 1905 structure, a vaudeville house that once sat at the intersection of Commerce and St. Paul. That first Majestic burned to the ground in 1916. Soon after, owner Karl St. John Hoblitzelle moved operations just northeast. But Hoblitzelle more than relocated The Majestic — he upgraded it, creating a more opulent movie palace with marble floors, chandeliers, and a “Roman gardens” theme. This new Majestic opened to the public in 1921, and architect John Eberson’s atmospheric theater design transported guests to places both real and fantastical. The Majestic’s customer service reflected a similar philosophy. One notable amenity was a children’s playroom known as Majesticland, which sported both a working carousel and a petting zoo.
For decades, Dallasites flocked to The Majestic and enjoyed an ongoing parade of A-list talent. Magician Harry Houdini, comedians Jack Benny and Bob Hope, musicians Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, and Hollywood legends Mae West, Ginger Rogers, John Wayne, Gregory Peck and Joan Crawford all graced The Majestic’s stage at one time or another. However, The Majestic’s fortunes waned by the late 1960s and the venue closed its doors in 1973. The Dallas landscape had changed with the ascent of the surrounding suburbs, with fewer residents looking to the city center to satisfy their cravings for nightlife and entertainment.
The Hoblitzelle Foundation transferred ownership of The Majestic to the City of Dallas in 1976, and the following year the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The city committed to restoring the theater to its former glory, and after a decade-long absence from the downtown scene, The Majestic reopened in 1983 as a venue for concerts, films, and touring Broadway shows. The Majestic has since made a number of film and television appearances as well – hosting concert specials by musician Rodney Carrington, comic Ron White and children’s favorite Barney the Dinosaur – and Conan O’Brien even broadcast his late-night TBS talk show from the theater for an entire week in 2014.
Dallas Public Library’s Majestic Theatre Project now offers citizens the opportunity to learn about the building and its past from some of the people who know it best. This oral history collection features interviews with former Majestic employees and patrons, as well as Jim Wiley, the architect primarily responsible for the theater’s restoration. Head to the Dallas History and Archives Division on the 7th floor of the main library at 1515 Young (across from City Hall) if you’d like to listen to these interviews and gain a greater appreciation for The Majestic’s place in the city’s life and culture.
Standing proud for nearly a century, The Majestic continues to serve as a symbol of downtown’s rich cultural and architectural history. Thanks to the ongoing efforts of city leaders and the patronage of Dallas audiences, this treasure has enchanted a whole new generation of music fans, cinema buffs and local history aficionados. Join us on Facebook and Twitter to share your own Majestic memories.