The historic Miller Theater was opened by Frank Miller and Augusta Entertainments in February 1940as a movie palace. At the time, it was one of the largest theaters in Georgia, second only to the fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Designed by noted theater architect Roy A. Benjamin, it reflected the upscale yet simple and sophisticated grandeur of the Art Moderne movement. Today, it remains the only theater of this style remaining in the state.
Designed primarily as one of the last “movie palaces,” it included a stage for smaller ensemble entertainment such as plays and limited dance shows. In fact, the talents of Tallulah Bankhead were showcased for Augusta audiences in the Lillian Hellman play The Little Foxes, the Lynard Skynard band, Eddie Arnold as well as many others. Among other distinctions for this famous house was the world premier of the film The Three Faces of Eve starring Joanne Woodward in 1957. Miss Woodward went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress.
With the westward urban flight of homeowners and shoppers, downtown Augusta was left relatively lifeless after dark and on weekends as patrons followed stores and movie theaters to the suburbs in droves. The Miller Theater, like its older neighbor across Broad Street – the Imperial Theatre, suffered in its final years as a second run movie house, and performance home for groups such as the Augusta Opera, Augusta Players, and Augusta Ballet. It would eventually close in 1985 with the opera Regina, the musical version of The Little Foxes.
The building sat in leaky disrepair until 2005 when it was purchased by Peter Knox, iv. Mr. Knox, not wanting to see the theater deteriorate further, had the structure reroofed and stabilized the structure pending plans for future development. After a few years of consideration and analysis involving acoustic, engineering, and operational consultancies, the Board of Directors of Symphony Orchestra Augusta accepted the building as a donation from Mr. Knox.
It is the aim of SOA to turn the space into a vibrant home for music and other arts in Augusta, a permanent home for its orchestra, and a lively contributor with the Imperial Theatre in a downtown theater district – making downtown a total entertainment destination.
Since that time, Lord Ayck Sargent, an architectural firm in Atlanta, along with local firm 2KM, have been developing plans for the building to transform it into an acoustically fine hall that will be appropriate for many uses.