AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the 20th century, Congress Avenue was the home to a group of movie houses and theatres. It was nicknamed “Show Row.”

Paramount Theatre and State Theatre are the two remnants of what was once an entertainment and movie house district.

At least 12 theatres made up “Show Row” along Congress Avenue, according to the Paramount Theatre.

But there are not many photos of the theaters today, said Erin Waedler, the Paramount and Stateside Theatres’ donor communications associate director. She said information about Show Row was collected from the archives of the Austin-American Statesman and Austin History Center. The Austin History Center also has a book, “Historic Movie Houses of Austin,” which outlines the city’s movie house history.

Paramount Theatre has ongoing preservation projects for its 107-year-old Paramount Theatre and 87-year-old State Theatre, Waelder said. One challenge of preserving the facilities is finding historically accurate materials and working with the right craftsmen and artisans to keep the theater as true to its original self as possible.

Caption: (Courtesy Texas Archive of the Moving Image)

“Show row history, in particular, is important because you see what’s what once was and is now lost and forgotten,” Waelder said. “We certainly don’t want that to happen to our theaters.”

The history of Congress Avenue

The section of Congress between Lady Bird Lake and the Capitol is part of the Congress Avenue Historic District. It’s also one of the oldest historic districts in Austin, said Lindsay Derrington, executive director of the nonprofit Preservation Austin. She said Congress Avenue was part of the original plan for the city of Austin dating back to 1839 and was meant to lead to the Republic of Texas capitol—now the state capitol.

“Austinites, very early on, saw that that was an important space to preserve and that passage is the heart of our city,” Derrington said.

However, the designation does not have many protections against demolition, Derrington said. The only demolition-protected buildings are individually zoned local landmarks.

Today’s Congress Avenue buildings include architecture spanning several decades from the late 19th century to mid-century facades to 1980s construction, Derrington said.

“So that street definitely tells the story of Austin,” Derrington said. “It’s really important to work to preserve what we have left of the truly historic buildings that are there because there are constant development pressures in the city.”

Derrington added that the iconic South Congress area is not in a national register district.

Here’s a look at some of the theatres of Congress Avenue’s past and present:

Paramount Theatre

The Majestic opened at 713 Congress Avenue in 1915, but it was repurchased and renamed in 1930 when it became the Paramount Theatre.

  • Majestic theatre postcard, undated ([AF-P6150-44-001], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)
  • State and Paramount theatres, circa 1936 ( [PICA-32942], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)
  • State and Paramount theatres, circa 1981 ([PICA-38231], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)

State Theatre

The State Theater was built next to the Paramount Theater in 1935. It was designed specifically for movies, according to the theatres.

In the 1990s, talks began with the Paramount about a merger. The deal was sealed in 2000, which created the Austin Theatre Alliance.

Queen Theatre

This was located at 700 Congress Avenue at the corner of Seventh Street. The Contemporary Austin’s Jones Center is there now.

The second iteration of the theatre was advertised as a theatre house for “high-class motion pictures,” according to “Historic Movie Houses of Austin.” It was also the first theatre to show movies on Sundays, which was illegal for religious reasons.

The theatre’s ceiling partially collapsed in the 1950s, injuring 20 children, the book states. It was partially demolished a few years later.

  • The Queen Theatre (Courtesy Paramount Theatre)
  • The Queen Theatre ( [PICA-36763], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)
  • [PICA-18318], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

The Capitol Theatre

The theatre opened as the Hancock Opera House at 120 W. 6th Street. The house closed and turned into the Capitol Theatre in 1935, according to the Paramount. Capitol closed in 1963 and was demolished in 1968. It now is home to an office building.

The Crescent Theatre

This was located at 920 N. Congress Avenue. It’s now home to the offices of an investment company.

The theater opened in 1913 and was considered the first theater to show movies in Austin.

Crescent Theatre (Courtesy Paramount Theatre)

Casino Theater

This opened in 1909 at 702 Congress Ave., according to “Historic Movie Houses of Austin.” It closed in 1924 and is now also home to the Contemporary Jones Center.

Casino Theatre ([PICB-07284], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)

Texas Theater

This opened in 1911 and shared owners with the Casino Theater. It was located at 804 Congress Ave. and closed in 1918. Its space is now home to offices.