The Ada Theatre in downtown Boise, also known as the Egyptian Theatre, was once considered to be one of the most beautiful cinema houses in the United States. Built in 1927 as a stunning example of Egyptian-revival architecture, the Ada Theatre remains virtually unchanged, and it is the only Egyptian-revival building in the entire state of Idaho. Its design followed the national fascination toward Egyptology at the time, and it was built following the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.
Nowadays, visitors to the Ada Theatre can discover a variety of shows, ranging from movie screenings to stand-up comedy to literature readings. Even among the Hollywood elite, the Theatre remains an icon for movie releases and other events. Due to its historic significance, especially that of the grand cinema and movie palace era in Boise, the Ada Theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Before the construction of the Ada Theatre in 1927, Boise had a variety of fairly rowdy bars. Leo Falk, who owned a department store in downtown Boise, sought to reverse this bad publicity and build a picture theatre that would appeal to families. To build the theatre, Falk hired famed local architect Frederick C. Hummel, of the firm Tourtellotte and Hummel, to design the theatre.
At first, Falk was adamant about building a Spanish-style theatre, while Hummel preferred Egyptian. In the end, Hummel won, and with a $100,000 bond issue financed by the investment house Childs and Co., and Jordan and Sons acting as the builders, the Ada theatre was built in 1927 to much acclaim.
On opening night, April 19, 1927, scores of people lined up to see the John Barrymore in the film, “Don Juan” (the first film to use the Vitaphone sound-on-disc sound system). Over the years, the Ada Theatre has been a staple among the Boise movie-lover scene. The Theatre hosted the world premiere of “Jeremiah Johnson” on December 2, 1972, with Robert Redford in the audience; Ada Theatre was also the chosen location for the world premieres of “The Bourne Identity,” “The Bourne Supremacy,” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.”1
The architectural beauty of the Ada Theatre endures as one of its most captivating elements. Among the prairie-style buildings dominating downtown Boise, the Egyptian-revival style of the Ada Theatre makes it a local landmark. Furthermore, with the widespread fascination with Egyptology at the time of its construction, the Ada Theatre's overall architecture features full usage of Egyptian symbols, including sphinxes, scarabs, sacred vultures, and so forth. Even the two-story, rectangular structure of the building, which features reinforced concrete walls, provides the theatre with the appearance that it was made out of large blocks of rock, such as those used on the pyramids.
Inside the lobby, the vaulted room was once richly painted to give off a mosaic effect of gold and precious stones. Surrounding the lobby were concrete walls showing symbols and images from the Book of the Dead as well as hieroglyphics from the papyrus of Ani. Since its construction, the Ada Theatre has undergone several renovations, though many of the Egyptian-themed images on the interior walls can still be found. In 1999, however, the Theatre was remodeled to better resemble its original design.2