For more than 20 years, the name Frank J. Miller was synonymous with entertainment in Augusta, GA. Through his company Augusta Amusements, he and his partners operated five downtown theaters and the brightest star in that constellation was the Miller.
In 1938, Jacksonville-based architect Roy Benjamin was commissioned to design a theater large enough to accommodate the city’s growing audiences. The result was a beautiful Art Moderne-style building that featured Italian marble terrazzo, black walnut millwork and a performance stage framed by fluted columns and hand-painted panels. Named after its founder, the Miller Theater seated over 1600 patrons and was the second largest theater in Georgia, behind only Atlanta’s Fox Theatre.
The Miller opened in February of 1940 with a sold-out performance of “A Night at the Moulin Rouge”, beginning what would be a 40-year run as one of Augusta’s premier entertainment destinations. Hundreds of movies, musical acts and other memorable events found an audience at the Miller Theater.
The theater closed in 1984, falling into disrepair until 2005, when Augusta businessman and philanthropist Peter Knox IV bought it with the goal of preservation. After installing a new roof and updated ventilation system and removing water-damaged carpets and fixtures, Mr. Knox began considering what would be best for the theater and community moving forward. In 2008, Mr. Knox offered the Miller Theater to Symphony Orchestra Augusta (SOA) as a performing venue and home and, after extensive feasibility studies, the Symphony Board of Directors accepted his generous offer. A capital campaign was launched, and in June 2016, thanks to the generosity of the community and many foundations, coupled with SPLOST funds and federal and state historic preservation tax credits, enough funding was in place to break ground. The renovation project, which has spanned more than seven years and cost nearly $25 million, is a testament to the volunteers and donors who believed there was real worth in not only preserving an important piece of Augusta history, but also providing its symphony orchestra a permanent home and the community a state-of-the-art venue designed with a variety of artists and stage performances in mind.