The Fascinating History of Theatres in Maricopa County, AZ

Maricopa County, Arizona is known for its stunning desert landscapes, vibrant cities, and rich cultural heritage. And when it comes to the performing arts, the county has a long and fascinating history. From small community theaters to grand opera houses, Maricopa County has been home to a diverse range of theatres that have entertained and inspired audiences for decades.

The Birth of Theatre in Maricopa County

The first theatre in Maricopa County was built in 1879 in the town of Phoenix. Known as the Phoenix Opera House, it was a modest wooden structure that could seat up to 500 people.

The theater hosted a variety of performances, including plays, musicals, and vaudeville shows. It quickly became a popular gathering place for the community and played a significant role in shaping the cultural landscape of the county. As the population of Maricopa County grew, so did its theatres. In the early 1900s, several new theaters were built in Phoenix, including the Orpheum Theatre and the Adams Theatre. These grand venues featured ornate architecture and state-of-the-art technology, making them popular destinations for both locals and tourists.

The Golden Age of Theatres in Maricopa County

By the 1920s, Maricopa County was experiencing a period of rapid growth and prosperity.

This led to an increase in demand for entertainment, and as a result, several new theatres were built during this time. One of the most notable was the Fox Theatre in downtown Phoenix. Built in 1929, it was a lavish movie palace that could seat over 5,000 people. The Fox Theatre was a popular destination for moviegoers for many years and is still standing today, although it is no longer used as a theater. Another iconic theatre from this era is the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix.

Built in 1929, it was designed by renowned architect Albert Chase McArthur and featured a stunning Spanish Baroque style. The Orpheum Theatre was a popular venue for vaudeville shows and silent films, and it continues to host a variety of performances to this day.

The Oldest Theatre in Maricopa County

While there are several historic theatres in Maricopa County, the oldest one still in operation is the Tempe Center for the Arts. Built in 1904, it was originally known as the Hayden Opera House and was a popular venue for traveling shows and local productions. Over the years, the theater underwent several renovations and name changes before becoming the Tempe Center for the Arts in 2007. The Tempe Center for the Arts is not only the oldest theatre in Maricopa County but also one of the most beloved.

It has hosted a wide range of performances, including plays, musicals, concerts, and dance recitals. The theater also offers educational programs and workshops for aspiring performers, making it an important cultural hub in the county.

The Future of Theatres in Maricopa County

Today, Maricopa County is home to numerous theatres, both large and small. From community theaters to professional companies, there is no shortage of opportunities to experience live performances in the county. And with the growing popularity of streaming services and digital entertainment, theaters are finding new and innovative ways to engage audiences and stay relevant. One example of this is the Phoenix Theatre Company, which has been entertaining audiences in Maricopa County since 1920.

In recent years, the theater has expanded its reach by offering virtual performances and streaming shows online. This has allowed them to reach a wider audience and adapt to the changing landscape of the performing arts industry.


From its humble beginnings in the late 1800s to its thriving theater scene today, Maricopa County has a rich and diverse history when it comes to theatres. These venues have not only provided entertainment for generations but have also played a vital role in shaping the cultural identity of the county. And with new technologies and innovations, the future looks bright for theatres in Maricopa County, ensuring that they will continue to be an integral part of the community for years to come.

Nikki Specking
Nikki Specking

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