St. Louis Movies: Tivoli Theatre evokes historic refinement

With a three-story tall red neon sign looming over the Walk of Fame, it’s hard to miss the Tivoli Theatre, a centerpiece of the St. Louis Delmar Loop. The Tivoli takes a pass on major box office hits, instead deciding to focus on indie and foreign films that most large movie theaters would not offer. The theater was opened in 1925, but suffered a decline until its closure in 1994.

In 1995, Joe Edwards, owner of Blueberry Hill and a major figure in the success of The Loop, spent $2 million for renovations at the historical landmark, aiming for a return to its original 1920’s form.Visitors can feel the age of the theater by simply walking up to it. The distinct “Tivoli” sign is clearly not of the modern era, and the marquee, surrounded by large yellow light bulbs, is still maintained with manually set letters.

Double doors abound, the entrance has the feel of walking into an old cinema to watch newsreels and cartoons. The ushers, as well as their outfits, actually fit with the image, unlike most modern theaters where an employee in a vest and beret seems to be dressed for the wrong party. The hallways are lined with old movie posters, many of them fan favorites and B-movie horror flicks. There is only a need for one concession stand, and it is a small one at that, but stacked with all of the city favorites, including Ted Drewes frozen custard and various beverages from Fitz’s Rootbeer and Schlafly, among others.

There’s even a small section of tables and chairs, so patrons can relax and enjoy their food in between movies. The terrazzo floor and ornate wall decorations further separate the Tivoli from most modern theaters. The actual theaters are a major part of what makes the Tivoli a St. Louis favorite. There are only three screens in the entire venue. The main screen room is beautiful by all standards. Pushed behind a stage, the screen is covered by giant red curtains. The vaulted ceiling is complemented with recessed domes, and everything has been beautifully painted and set.

The chairs are worn and comfortable, and the decline of the room is subtle, but effective, so audience members can always see past the person in front of them. It feels a lot like a refined live theater.  Another major pull of the theater is the wide-ranging movie selection. The Tivoli is well known for showing movies that have a cult following. “The Room,” for instance, a movie often accused of being one of the worst pieces of film ever made, has developed a major following in American culture, purely because of how bad it is. And, due to the underground’s appreciation for horrific cinema, “The Room” has a welcomed home in the Tivoli’s projection rooms.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is also played frequently. Released in 1975, “Rocky Horror” has become a beloved piece of strangeness among many circles. The usual way to watch it is dressed up as one of the characters from the movie, perhaps the transsexual Transylvanian played by Tim Robbins, and singing along with every musical score available. People sometimes jump on stage and throw things at the screen. The showing becomes a big party for a bunch of misfits and music lovers. It’s because of that fact that audiences can find this sort of fun and love of film at the Tivoli Theatre that it is so adored by the people of St. Louis and  the Delmar community.

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