By the 1930s, the theatre was one of over 100 theatres across the country to decorate itself in an Egyptian style. Of all the Egyptian theatres, the DeKalb theatre is one of only 7 remaining in the United States and is the only Egyptian Theatre east of the Rocky Mountains.
The other remaining Egyptian Theatres are located in: Los Angeles, CA; Delta, CO; Boise, ID; Coos Bay, OR; Ogden, UT; and Park City, UT.
In the original design, additional buildings were supposed to be attached to the existing building, including a hotel on the north side of the main entrance, but they were never built due to the stock market crash in late 1929.
The stock market crash in October 1929 changed some building plans, but failed to dampen the opening celebration. The unique broken-tile main lobby floor was a compromise with a dollar shortage; it was originally supposed to be marble.
The theatre opened on December 10, 1929. The first film on the Egyptian’s giant screen was “The Hottentot,” an “all talking” film about horse racing; general admission was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children. The live vaudeville acts generally were reserved for weekends between movie showings. Ownership of the Egyptian changed hands over the years, but for a majority of its commercial life, the building was owned and operated by the Thomas Valos family, who ran a chain of Midwest motion-picture houses.
In the forties and fifties, the Egyptian concentrated mostly on movies, with an occasional live event. On October 25, 1959 Senator John F. Kennedy made an appearance to a packed house at the Egyptian. A short three months later he would announce his candidacy for president. Throughout the sixties, the Egyptian was a movie house, although some exceptions still did occur.
In the early 70’s the aging theatre continued to show movies and sometimes hosted concerts by popular up and coming rock bands such as Journey and Heart. By the mid seventies, the Egyptian was a ghost of its previous splendor. The plaster walls and interior motifs were crumbling away, the seats were in disrepair, the plumbing rarely worked, the boiler was no longer functioning, and there were holes in the ceiling letting in both rain water and wild animals. In 1977, the Egyptian Theatre was closed and the property given over to the city of DeKalb.
P.E.T.’s vision for the Egyptian Theatre since the beginning has been a community-based one. The success of the Egyptian Theatre has continually been embraced by both the arts community and by the people of DeKalb County. The vision of P.E.T. has grown from just keeping the doors open to opening new doors.
Over the years the Egyptian Theatre has been the stage for performances by: Lawrence Welk, BB King, Jay Leno, Ray Charles, Wynton Marsalis, Corky Segal, Danny Glover, Ron White, Brian Regan, Lewis Black, George Winston, Umphrey’s McGee, REM, Journey, Heart, The Violent Femmes, The Psychedelic Furs, Rick Springfield, Nick Swardson, Survivor, John Waite, Gaelic Storm, Lightwire Theater, The Second City and many more.