The Circle Theatre opened with a showing of “Across the Atlantic.” It was a true neighborhood movie house, with kids and families lined up to see the latest silent films, serials and cartoons. Its location on Lewis Avenue just south of Admiral Boulevard put it on the original Route 66 alignment as it traveled through Tulsa through 1932.
With the advent of “talkies,” the silent film era began to draw to a close and the need for theatre organs began to dwindle. The Circle’s Robert Morton theatre pipe organ was removed from the theatre and sold to the Tulsa Scottish Rite organization.
The Circle Theatre closed for a week for extensive refurbishing and improvements, including the installation of a new screen and projectors, new padding and covers for all of the seats, and new carpeting. It reopened with a new, “first-run, quality entertainment policy.” One of the first bookings under the new policy was “Dr. Strangelove.”
With the Whittier Square area in decline as people and businesses started to move south, the Circle Theater lost its neighborhood appeal, became the New Circle Theater and began showing adult films.
The Circle made its movie debut in the now classic film “The Outsiders.” It appeared as the “movie house” Pony Boy Curtis visited at the beginning of the film, which is based on the popular book by Tulsa author S.E. Hinton.
A Whittier Square revitalization effort began with assistance from the city of Tulsa. The theatre opened for a few years as Cine Centro and showed Hispanic-language films.
The Circle Theater closed, going dark until the next decade.
The Circle Cinema Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, was formed with plans to purchase the defunct Circle Theater, restore and reopen it as a nonprofit, art house cinema with a mission to create community consciousness through film.
The Circle Theater building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The theatre reopened as Circle Cinema, with two screens, a lobby and concession area, and an art gallery space, operated by the Circle Cinema Foundation.
The Circle Cinema Foundation repurchased the original 1928 Robert Morton Theatre pipe organ. Volunteers from the Sooner State Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society began to refurbish and upgrade the organ to prepare it for reinstallation at Circle.
July 15, 2008
The Circle Cinema Foundation kicked off its Capital Campaign for the historic theatre’s final phase of renovation and restoration, which added two larger auditoriums, an expanded ticketing and concession area, and a restored front façade reminiscent of its look in 1952.
July 15, 2014
Circle Cinema celebrated the completion of its building project with a ribbon cutting ceremony and variety of free films and programs for the community, including a silent movie featuring accompaniment on the Circle’s original 1928 theatre pipe organ, which had been refurbished and reinstalled.
The Kendall-Whittier district became a Certified Cultural District by the Oklahoma Arts Council. It is one of only seven districts in Oklahoma to earn this designation, which requires a multi-year history of supporting, nurturing and growing the arts. Circle Cinema is proud to be one of the organizations that contributed to this achievement.
Circle Cinema was named the Oklahoma Main Street Business of the Year. The award nomination stated, “Circle Cinema is a beloved icon, gathering place, cultural institution, date-night mainstay and hub of activity for not only Kendall-Whittier, but the entire Tulsa metro area.”
Circle Cinema was selected as an official Satellite Screen for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Circle Cinema was one of twenty-one venues to receive this honor, and premiered official Sundance Film Festival movies to sold-out audiences at Circle Cinema.