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Building for the Future While Honoring the Past

It is difficult for many people to believe that Phoenix (current population 1.5 million) once had less than 50,000 people. But when the Orpheum Theatre opened in January 1929, the City had about 48,000 citizens. But Jo Rickards and Harry Nace believed in the future greatness of Phoenix when they built the Theatre. That same spirit of civic pride resulted in the construction of a number of historic structures – all happily still with us – Tovrea Castle, the old City Hall, the Westward Ho (reputedly, at the time, the tallest hotel west of the Mississippi River), and one of America’s iconic resorts, the Arizona Biltmore. All were built in the same 1928-1930 period.

By the mid-1930’s, there were eight movie theaters in Downtown Phoenix, but only two real movie “palaces”, the Spanish Baroque Orpheum and the Art Deco Fox (which opened in July 1931). By the late 1970’s only one theater was left. The City had plans for that theater; basically, to tear it down and replace it with a parking garage. But a public outcry, and a heavy dose of common sense, resulted in the restoration of the Orpheum.

Downtown Phoenix has changed dramatically in the last 15 years. Light rail and ASU have been major drivers of that change, along with expansion of the Convention Center and the construction of a number of new hotels. Along with these developments there has been a movement to preserve historic buildings and restore or re-purpose these structures. The Orpheum was the “first phase” of this movement; its success as an important part of the downtown scene has led to other successes. Among them are Roosevelt Row, the Desoto, and Phoenix Public Market. Additional projects, now in the development stage, include the Professional Building (soon to be a Hilton Hotel), the Luhrs Buildings, and the Heard Building. (And let’s not forget The Newton [formerly Beefeaters Restaurant] in Midtown.)

I may be biased, but I believe that the successful restoration of the Orpheum provided the proof that preservation of our history can be a viable alternative, and can add to the beauty of our city.


What's Coming Up at the Orpheum - Now & Then


August 11 - Free Tours Noon & 1pm

August 13 - Drag Stars Fan Fav’s 8:00pm

August 25 - Free Tours Noon & 1pm

September 15 - Free Tours Noon & 1pm

September 17 - Live Nation Presents Chris Cornell 7:30pm

September18 - Grant Woods: The Project 8:00pm

September 20 - BENISE: Strings of Passion Tour 7:00pm

September 26-27 - Phoenix Symphony

September 29 - Free Tours Noon & 1pm


October 1, 1968

Live on stage: “I Do, I Do” starring Mary Martin and Robert Preston

When the Nederlander Organization purchased the Paramount in 1968, their plan (unique at the time) was to take plays that had closed on Broadway and have them tour the country. They renamed the Theatre the Palace-West. Their first production was “I Do, I Do”, a two character musical about the trials and tribulations of married life. The stars of the show were the same ones who had done the play on Broadway; Mr. Preston won a Tony for his performance. The Phoenix Gazette raved “Palace West Colorful Debut – “I Do!, I Do!” to “I Like, I Like”.


Support the Friends

Attention Fry’s Shoppers – Donate to the Friends every time you shop at Fry’s, and it’s free. Fry’s is donating $2 million a year ($500,000/quarter) to Arizona non-profits. To participate, go to and register your Fry’s VIP card, and select Friends of the Orpheum Theatre as your non-profit of choice. Remember: your donation is free, and this program is separate from the gas program. Last year, the Friends received nearly $700 from Fry’s. Also: if you are already a member of the Program you have to re-register in August. Just go to the e-mail location shown above and follow the directions to re-enroll.

Give Kids a Boost – It’s often difficult for young children to see what’s happening on stage because they are “vertically challenged.” Now you can help the Friends solve this problem by purchasing a booster seat. The purchase price is $25, and each seat purchased will be labelled with the name of the purchaser. Visit our website, for more information.

Become a Member of the Friends – Join us as we preserve and illuminate the heritage of the glorious Orpheum Theatre. Visit our website to learn more.


Friends of the Orpheum Theatre

A 501c3 nonprofit whose Mission is:

To support the art, culture, and history of the Orpheum Theatre through outreach, education, and volunteerism.

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