Central Theater

Built in the 1930s, the historic Central Theater is located at 1008 Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs (Garland County). It is said to be the oldest stage and motion picture theater in Hot Springs. Chris Rix acquired the property in 2020 and set about restoring it, upgrading HVAC, safety mechanisms, and technical systems to modern standards. Many of the original Art Deco design elements from the 1930s can still be seen in the auditorium, which seats more than 300 people.

The 10,000-square-foot Central Theater building was constructed in the 1930s as a garage; pillars remain where the garage doors once were. The building was converted to a theater in 1937. It presented first-run movies through the post–World War II years, when it was a popular destination for local residents. At the time of its purchase by Rix, the theater had been closed for several decades.

The partially renovated Central Theater had a soft opening in 2021 and began hosting a wide range of events, despite the ongoing restoration. Among those events were book signings, burlesque shows, choral performances, documentary screenings, film festivals, a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, meetings, movies, pageants, parties, stage plays, talent shows, weddings, and live music from jazz to rap to country.

Among the amenities offered by the Central Theater are a lobby with concession stand; a large main stage; a backstage area with dressing rooms; a runway extending from the stage into the auditorium; a movie screen and digital movie projectors; a modern sound system with a sound board; a powered main stage curtain; spotlights; special effects lighting, and a neon movie marquee facing Central Avenue. Just off the lobby of the theater is an intimate space called the Star Bar, which has been used for private parties and small meetings.

In the auditorium, Rix removed drop ceiling tiles to expose original brickwork and steel beams. Hanging from the “industrial chic” ceiling is a large disco ball, which has become the unofficial symbol of the theater’s twenty-first-century life.

For several years, the Central Theater has served as the venue for the Hot Springs International Women’s Film Festival in the spring and the Hot Springs International Horror Film Festival in the fall. It has also been home to screenings of Hot Springs Then and Now, which shows footage from vintage film reels, some dating back as early as 1910, that were discovered inside an old safe at the theater. In 2021, Rix announced that the Central Theater would be one of the sites of that year’s renowned Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, “which is a bit serendipitous,” he said at the time, “as the theater was used in 1992, the festival’s first year.”

Among recent popular events held at the Central Theater have been a Big Lebowski festival, a concert by country music star John Conlee, and a RuPaul’s Drag Race watch party. The theater also hosted a screening of the 1926 silent film The Temptress starring Greta Garbo, with live accompaniment by a leading local musician. Other notable events have included the Hot Springs Music Festival and the Ms. Arkansas Senior America Pageant.

For additional information:
“Celebrating the Central Theatre.” The Springs Magazine, January 29, 2022. https://thespringsmagazine.com/2022/01/29/about-the-cover-celebrating-the-central-theatre/ (accessed February 22, 2023).

Clancy, Sean. “Curtain Up: Central Theater in Hot Springs Shows Silent Film.” Arkansas Online, July 25, 2021. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/jul/25/curtain-up/ (accessed February 22, 2023).

Kreuz, Claire. “Century-old Hot Springs Theatre under New Management.” Fox 16 News, March 25, 2021. https://www.fox16.com/news/local-news/century-old-hot-springs-theatre-under-new-management/ (accessed February 22, 2023).

Historic Central Theater. http://www.centraltheatre.org/ (accessed February 22, 2023).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society


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