Nevada’s Retro Theaters
Enjoy these silver screen experiences in the Silver State.
BY CORY MUNSON
Walking into an old movie theater is enough to give anyone waves of nostalgia. The smell of the lobby, the buzz of the crowd, the colorful concessions: this is what makes a night out at the movies worth it. Nowhere is this truer than in these historic movie theaters found throughout the state.
CENTRAL THEATER (1941)
With its step-like roof and vertical marquee, Central Theater strikes a familiar silhouette straight from cinema’s golden age. Throughout the 1930s, these ultra-sleek, Art Deco-style movie houses graced the skyline of countless towns across the country.
Today, few Art Deco theaters are still used—many were repurposed, torn down, or simply abandoned. Even Central Theater saw closures due to economic slumps in 1993 and again in 2006.
Today, Central Theater welcomes a fifth generation of moviegoers. Popcorn and other concession mainstays are available, as is pizza and a full menu of beer and wine. Despite its historical roots, this 400-seat theater offers modern digital projection and sound. Its single screen offers the latest releases, which run for a week each.
FALLON THEATER (1920)
Nevada’s oldest-operating movie theater opened hardly a decade after the first nickelodeons, a testament to the meteoric rise of this farming community.
The 805-seat theater—designed by renowned architect Frederic DeLongchamps—dazzled audiences with the latest silent films, but the silver screen shared equal time with acrobats, dancers, and singers.
After the live acts ended in the 1940s, the balcony was removed to improve acoustics, and in 1984, the great hall was split in half to accommodate two screens.
In 2017, local enthusiasts purchased the theater to renovate and revitalize the historic building. The 35mm film projector—still used up to that point—went digital.
In a return to its roots 103 years ago, the stage is again home to live acts, concerts, and local bands. To enjoy a movie on this historic screen, stop in on a Friday or Saturday night.
Dam Short Film Festival
Dam Short Film Festival is your chance to access one of Nevada’s best-preserved theaters: the 400-seat Boulder Theatre. This building was a fixture of southern Nevada since the 1930s and ran until it shuttered in the 90s. In 1997, the theater was purchased and restored by Desi Arnaz Jr.—son of Lucille Ball. Although it no longer operates as a daily movie theater, it has long hosted the film fest, which takes place over four days and features more than 200 short films of all styles and genres.
WEST WIND DRIVE-IN THEATERS
Las Vegas (1966)
During the mid-20th century, drive-in theaters ruled the land. Post-WWII American life was on wheels, and the movie experience reflected that. At peak popularity, more than 3,000 drive-ins operated across the country.
After the 1960s, drive-ins saw a marked decline. Many businesses found it difficult to compete with the rise of multi-screen theaters, and drive-ins that were once on the outskirts of cities were slowly swallowed up by urban growth. Today, only around 300 remain, but two can be found in Nevada.
The drive-in experience is immersive for nostalgia seekers, but newcomers are quickly converted to the lifestyle. The Las Vegas and Sparks locations—both operated by West Wind Theaters—screen the latest releases, and the remarkably economical tickets usually include a double feature.
Both locations offer classic concessions—popcorn, candy, ice cream, burgers, pizza, nachos—with the modern ability to skip the line and order through a mobile device. Even with this convenience, guests are welcome to bring snacks and meals to create their own unique pairings. Spaghetti and a Western, anyone?
Whether you are stress-testing your seat’s recline lever or having a picnic on the tailgate, a visit to the drive-in makes for the perfect night out. Best of all, if a phone goes off during the show, you only have yourself to blame.
GEM THEATER (1937)
Melissa Clary had always been drawn to the Wild West. For years, she made it a point to explore the old mining towns not far from her home in Las Vegas.
Pioche had always been on her radar. She knew about the old Gem Theater and had admired the abandoned structure. When she heard it was for sale, Melissa seized the opportunity.
Clary had experience working in movie theaters and had previously built a nonprofit advocating for the restoration of Las Vegas’ Huntridge Theater.
“I knew that the Gem Theater needed to be saved,” says Clary. “I had the skillset to do it, and if not me, who was going to?”
The theater—the only one in Lincoln County—had not shown a film since 2002, when a storm blew its roof off. The task of making repairs, combined with a general drop in theater attendance, proved daunting for the previous owners. The building was shuttered for nearly 20 years.
Despite the global shutdown that began only months after purchasing the Gem, Clary got to work on restoration as well as applying for grants and to get the theater registered as a historic building.
“There are film buffs interested in this, but we also get contacted by fans of everything from old projectors to vintage upholstery,” Clary says with a laugh.
Summer 2022 saw a milestone in the restoration: the marquee was lit once again. As Melissa puts it, the marquee is the first thing people see, and it’s what drew her to the building in the first place. Now, it lights up main street.
When the Gem Theater finally opens its doors, Melissa plans for it to screen movies on the weekends, likely showing both classics and new releases.
Until then, Melissa and her group of dedicated volunteers will be hard at work getting the Gem Theater ready to entertain the public once again.