History

The Grand Theatre is a jewel of Southwest architecture and a priceless piece of Arizona history. It was built in 1919 and has seen the likes of Ginger Rogers and John Philip Sousa grace its stage. Unfortunately, since the building closed in 1958, it has fallen into a state of disrepair and is badly in need of restoration to make it sparkle again.

The Grand was a project of the Lyric Amusement Company and was built at a cost of $250,000. The Theatre, which was constructed of reinforced steel and concrete and featured a terra cotta facing, opened its doors as the largest movie theatre between Los Angeles and Texas on January 25, 1919.
Early Beginnings

Early Beginnings

Lyric Amusement was a family-run company founded by Nick Diamos, nephew of James Xalis. James, along with his five nephews who were also involved in the company, immigrated to the United States from Greece. They went into the movie theatre business after running several coffee shops in California and becoming smitten with the nickelodeon. The family bought their first movie theatre in Tucson, Arizona before moving their headquarters to Douglas and acquiring a number of theatres in Southern Arizona.

The Grand Theatre struggled in its first two years of operation through an economic depression that impacted the copper industry and a national influenza epidemic that kept attendance low. In addition to movies, the Grand hosted many civic events and functions in its elegant tearoom. Douglas High School held their graduation ceremony at the Theatre for years.

The Grand’s Golden Era

The Grand, however, eventually prospered as the center of entertainment in Douglas in the era of large and luxurious theatres. The Grand featured a magnificent pipe organ to accompany the showing of silent movies and switched to sound in 1928. In addition to movies, stage companies from New York would routinely perform at the Grand on their way to California. Ginger Rogers appeared at the Grand when she was a teenager, John Philip Sousa performed at the Theatre and the musical “Hit The Deck” had a successful run at the Grand, as well.

The Theatre’s Decline and Restoration

The theatre closed in 1958 and was vacant for decades. The roof caved in due to clogged gutters and, as a result, the infrastructure was virtually destroyed.

In the 1980s several prominent Douglas residents, including Floy Mae King and others, bought the Grand for $1.00 and decided to try and restore it to its past glory. They formed a non-profit corporation, the Douglas Arts and Humanities Association oversee the restoration of the Grand Theatre, which has been designated as a historic site by the United States government.

The cost of a full restoration is estimated at $9.5 million but the value of the Grand Theatre to Southern Arizona and to Douglas is priceless. The Douglas Arts and Humanities Association believes it is too important a building to lose without a fight. The building is an important part of Douglas’ past and could very well be a key part of its economic and cultural future.