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BOLO issued for Magic Palace, Ritz Theatre artifacts [updated 07-04-11]

July 1, 2011
Readers please be on the lookout for any information about the Magic Palace, a magic shop operated in in a building that once adjoined the current Young & Vann building, the museum’s home, in the 1700 block of First Avenue North. The building was demolished in the mid-1980s.

Robbie Arbitelle, early 1980s, at his Magic Palace magic shop and museum, 1723 First Avenue North.

Magic Palace owner Robbie Arbitelle, shown here in this early 1980s newspaper photo, kept a small nostalgia museum of Birmingham artifacts, including theatre seats and other pieces salvaged from the old Ritz Theatre.

In the picture Arbitelle is seated in front of a mural and beneath a Pasquale’s Pizza sign.  A reader who visited the shop remembers seeing the Ritz pieces in an alcove around the corner, out of the camera’s view.

When this picture was taken, the theater on Second Avenue North had recently been demolished (1982), going the way of many of Birmingham’s historic show places.  Only a handful of the 70-plus theaters operating at one time in Birmingham are still standing:  The Carver Theatre on Fourth Avenue North, the renovated Alabama Theatre on Third, and across the street, the Lyric, now under renovation.

According to The Birmingham News article that accompanied the picture, the Magic Palace’s first location was next door to the 1926 Ritz Theatre, which had been renovated in 1933 with the advent of talkies.

Arbitelle and his father were both movie-goers there and lamented the decision to tear the old vaudeville theater down. The son tried to buy the building, but was outbid by demolition company T. M. Burgin. He managed to salvage some theater seats, an usher’s tag, film ads and other memorabilia, which he used in his museum to show a scene from the interior of the Ritz.

He also had a framed poster of the last movie shown there:  “Thunder and Lightening” with David Carradine and Birmingham native Kate Jackson.

Below is a photo reminder of the demolition of the Ritz, taken from an April 2010 post on Bhamarchitects Blog (see the blogroll).

Demolition of the Ritz Theatre, 1982, Second Avenue North.

The question now is, did the Ritz artifacts survive the demolition on Second Avenue only to be destroyed by a second wrecking ball on First Avenue? 

Or, possibly there are some artifacts remaining that could find a home at the Birmingham History Center?

If anyone can shed light on the Ritz artifacts, Arbitelle, the building housing the Magic Palace, please reply. Another tenant in the First Avenue building, according to City Directories, was the Southern Junior College.

[Updated version added information from The Birmingham News article and deleted mention of Dixie Cycle as a tenant in the demolished First Avenue North building.]


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura K permalink
    September 18, 2011 2:44 pm

    A few years ago, while working at Playhouse Costume and Scene Shop, I received a call from a woman from the Indian Springs school asking if we would like to take possession of some theater seats from an old demolished downtown theater. I do not recall if she said they were from The Ritz, and we did not take possession of those seats. I can’t be sure what happened to them from there, but it could be a good lead in your search.
    I hope this helps.
    –Laura K


    • Liz Ellaby permalink
      November 9, 2011 8:55 am

      I’m going to follow up on that right now. Thanks.


  2. Liz Ellaby permalink
    July 2, 2011 9:53 am

    Perhaps it’s an interior sign. My source says it’s Pasquale’s, but we can look further if there’s doubt.


  3. July 2, 2011 9:03 am

    Strange, that Pizza sign doesn’t match the 1970s signage for Pasquale’s downtown location seen here:


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