Document Type



Author's Final Manuscript

Publication Title

Early Popular Visual Culture

Publication Date



This essay brings developments in Black film historiography and architecture studies to bear on the study of Northern picture palaces as the period of their prominence coincided with the Jim Crow era. Taking as my focus New York City’s Capitol Theatre – which opened in the immediate wake of the US race riots of 1919 and was the largest movie theater to date – I show how Northern middle-class film culture enforced racial segregation in the absence of legal protection. Southern movie theaters were able either to outlaw Black attendance or relegate their Black patronage to the gallery, a seating section closest to the roof of the auditorium and farthest removed from the screen. Northern movie theaters, on the other hand, had to find extralegal ways to ensure a predominantly white clientele – while also maintaining the image of the Northern picture palace as a shrine to New World inclusivity. They accomplished this, I demonstrate, through a combination of film-programming, strategically equivocal promotional language, and, most strikingly, architectural design.