In Paris, Texas, it was called the Lamar Theater. It opened in 1930. It would seat 452 downstairs and the upstairs balcony area would hold over 100 more. It had only one screen of course, and the old timers still talk about the long lines at 202 Bonham Street for the opening of “Gone with the Wind”, “High Noon” and “Bad Day at Black Rock”. The last movie shown there was in 1963. TV chased the bad guys (and the good) right off the big screen.
It was the Zia Theater in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. It opened in the early ’40’s, would seat 350 people, all downstairs as it had no balcony. In Ferriday, Louisiana, the Arcade would seat 450 movie goers. In Pulaski, Tennessee, it was the Sam Davis Theatre. It had room for a whopping 754 seats!
The La Vista Theater opened in Hollis, Oklahoma, the year Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic and Babe Ruth belted 60 homeruns. The Garza Theatre entertained them for years in Post, Texas. It was The Ritz in Hinton, West Virginia and Baxter Springs, Arkansas.
It didn’t matter if you spelled it theater or theatre. A balcony was nice, but it wasn’t necessary. Many had stages down front but most were seldom used. They were always built on the square……or at least downtown if your little place happened to be square-less. Part of the excitement and attraction of the movie house was you got to “go to town” to see the picture show!
They are mostly gone now. Some completely demolished, others turned into restaurants, coffee houses, used book stores or flea markets.
For my generation, the physical plants might have faded…..but never the memories!
I don’t remember life without the Park Theatre up on the corner of Cedar and Main Street. It was there I punched cattle with Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott, played cards in gilded saloons with Burt Lancaster, leaped tall buildings with Superman, waded ashore with John Wayne at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima…..
My first trip to Mexico was with Gene Autry in “South of the Border”. I was right there when Sam played it again in “Casablanca”. I covered my ears as the Austrian hills came alive with the “Sound of Music”.
When the heat index jumped to triple digits in late July we’d pay to see anything….just as long as it got us into the only building in town that was air conditioned!
And sure, you can say the pace was a bit slower “back then”; the world maybe a tick more innocent. Some would have you believe that time stopped altogether on occasion....you know, like watching paint dry. But we didn’t know that. And we didn’t feel that!
We had the Park Theatre to guide us. If we saw a western on Saturday, we played cowboys and Indians all week. If Tarzan was the main attraction, we spent the next few days pulling ourselves out of quicksand or diving into the swimming pool looking for alligators.
We honed our own entertainment skills in the darkness of that old theater. We’d sit up in the balcony and accidently drop popcorn on unsuspecting individuals below. We would sail Necco Wafers across the wide expanse of the room, listening for contact. We’d crawl under the seats and grab someone’s leg every time the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” rose up out of the water.
I fell in love for the very first time in the Park Theatre. Her name was Hayley Mills. I think we were both thirteen. A few years later I took Billie Jean to the Court Theatre over on the square in Huntingdon to see “Birdman of Alcatraz”. I felt guilty the whole time I was there. It was like I was cheating on my hometown cinema!
You can’t possibly understand the two-way loyalty unless you had been there. Nor could you feel the magic, the charm or the importance of such a lasting relationship.
Those old movie houses were a tie that bound an entire generation together. We ALL grew up on Roy, Gene and Hoppy. We ALL ran out in the woods and practiced our Tarzan yell.
So when I drive by the Luna Theater in Clayton, New Mexico, which opened for business in 1916, I feel a kinship with the whole town. It’s the same when I think of The Texas Theatre in Shamrock, the Ritz in Toccoa, Georgia, or the 81 year old Port Theatre in Port St. Joe, Florida…..