Open since 1925 in Hilo, the renovated Palace Theater still entertains Hawaii Island crowds with movies and live shows. // © 2015 Marty Wentzel
Feature image (above): Iao Theater is a Spanish Mission-style icon in Wailuku, Maui. // © 2015 HTA/Max Wanger
Historic Hawaii theaters aren’t just well-preserved old buildings. They’re a step into the past, back before television and the multiplex, when island residents dressed up and went to elegant playhouses for entertainment.
While many of the state’s historic theaters have been torn down, four have been renovated and remain vibrant centers of the arts. For visitors, they provide a portal to the heyday of vaudeville and the silver screen.
Check out the following classic theaters on Oahu, Maui, Hawaii Island and Kauai.
Hawaii Theatre, Honolulu, Oahu
An art deco neon marquee lures clients into this 1922 beauty nicknamed The Pride of the Pacific. During its prime in the 1930s to 1950s, it rivaled U.S. mainland theaters with its columns, statues, carpets and murals. Saved from the wrecking ball in the mid-1980s, it went through a painstaking renovation and reopened in 1996. It’s a dazzling venue for touring shows, special events and concerts by local and national artists.
Iao Theater, Wailuku, Maui
When the Iao Theater debuted in 1928, it wowed crowds with its Spanish Mission architecture. Folks lined up to see movies, including the 1953 premiere of “From Here to Eternity,” filmed in Hawaii. Celebrities such as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney and Donald O’Connor made live appearances. A mid-1990s renovation restored luster to the theater, which now features concerts and community theater productions.
Palace Theater, Hilo, Hawaii Island
A neoclassical stucco facade gives way to the Palace’s plush performance hall with stadium seating, a novel concept when it opened in 1925. From the 1930s to 1950s, it hosted the weekly Mickey Mouse Club as well as revues and a regular radio broadcast. These days, it’s a nostalgic setting for movies, shows and locally-produced plays and musicals. Its original pipe organ regales guests before films and during concerts.
Waimea Theater, Waimea, Kauai
Dating back to 1938, this art deco landmark boasted Kauai’s first marquee with electric lights. For several decades it was a popular gathering place for movie-goers, but Hurricane Iniki damaged much of the structure in 1992. A restoration in 1999 revived it as a big-screen auditorium that also presents live music and hula shows. Seats with rattan armrests add to the island-style charm of this historic Hawaii theater.