One and Only: Bama Theatre

Bama Theatre

Construction started in 1937, with the Great Depression in full swing, President Roosevelt enacted the Public Works Administration; a government program that worked to increase employment, and benefit the community. Tuscaloosa took funds out of this program to build a theatre, a municipal auditorium and city hall. The complex would end up costing $200,000 (around 3.3 million today). The new complex was the first in town to have true air conditioning. On its opening day April 12th 1938, the University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band and Disney characters joined along a grand parade. The First movie screened during the opening gala was Million Dollar Baby starring Katherine Hepburn, and Cary Grant.


The Bama Theatre rose in an era of streamline moderne, and atmosphere. David O. Whildin built the exterior of the municipal building in PWA Moderne. With simple lines, and roman inspired detailing with faux tapestries and a carved eagle over the City Hall entrance. The rounded façade was built with limestone and the panels above the windows are granite. Its Solid construction later let it to be designated a bomb shelter in the rise of the red scare in America. Inside, the theatre is designed on the Atmosphere style. Designed by Whildin to look like a Mediterranean plaza during the renaissance. Every element was designed by the architect, from the faux balconies to the ceiling lined with small flashing lights to look like a night sky. Navino Nataloni, a artist hired through the PWA to paint the murals, and took to create unique scenes as most simply painted local landscapes, while Nataloni painted to match the Mediterranean style instead.