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For those interested in the Plaza, it’s website is:
The only reason the Fox campaign worked is because it caught the city off guard. The city badly wanted to Fox to go so that the Southern Bell HQ could be built on the spot. Might have gotten their way if someone had not wondered just what was located at the 660 Peachtree Street address listed on the demolition permit application. Note that when the same situation came up regarding the Loews Grand, the Grand just happened to catch fire when plans for its demise were announced.
If you think about it for a moment, it is the history of this theatre and not its appearance or programing that makes it such a loss. The movies that would have played there will still make it onto a screen only it will be at the Midtown, Tara, or Phipps or perhaps the Lefont Sandy Springs. Even in perfect condition the place was not anything special once you were in your seat. As I said before, the Plaza, at least the downstairs part, offers a more accurate link to theatres of the past. I am sorry to see it go, but will not feel the loss as much as with other theatres where I worked such as the Lenox, now the Herzing Business College, the original Phipps, now Parisians, The Atlanta and Perimeter Mall, now parking lots, the Cherokee, now a grocery store, or even the Northeast Expressway Drive In, now a soccer complex.
All of this theatre closing talk does not affect the status of the rest of the strip, although it is hard to see how that property can resist the condo juggernaut that is sweping through the area now. However, a friend of mine who 20 years ago worked in a used book store located in the strip says that even then there was talk of the pending demise of the location. I would imagine that all that stands between the Garden Hills Theatre (and shopping strip) and the wrecking ball is the asking price.
I agree, it is a shame to see this one go. Although it does not have the “going back in time” feel of the Plaza, having been extensively remodeled by Weis in the late 60’s, it was one of those fast fading links to the past that Atlanta seems to intent on getting rid of.
When I moved to Atlanta in 1967, it was known as the Fine Art and was playing “A Man For All Seasons.” Although not exactly what we would call an “Art” house today, like Midtown, or Tara, it did play a mixture of “art” type movies as well as mainstream product. (In the 60’s the art house trade was the almost exclusive domain of the Peachtree Art at 1132 Peachtree Palace Theatreth as mentioned by Don above, and starting in 1971, the Film Forum of George Ellis.) The first movie I was planning to see there was “In Cold Blood” until, that is, my mother noticed the R rating on it. (We detoured to see “The Happiest Millionaire” at the Fox instead.) The “Uncle Toms Cabin” booking featured in the then and now picture linked to above played in early 1969. It was followed by “The Killing Of Sister George” definitely not mainstream, and then “Goodbye Columbus” which took up the entire summer of 1969. Some of the other slightly out of the mainstream type bookings here were “Sterile Cuckoo” (4 months), “Anne of the Thousand Days” (3 months), “Boys In The Band” (4 months), and “Five Easy Pieces” (3 months). However, the champion for longest run during this time was the strictly mainstream “Odd Couple” which played for the final 7 months of 1968.
For Christmas of 1970, Weis booked “Ryan’s Daughter” and that one ran one week shy of 8 months during the first half of 1971. That was a good time for the Weis company as the Capri (now Buckhead Roxy) just up the street was enjoying a 7 month run of its own with “Love Story.” With “Ryan’s Daughter” I finally made it to a show at the Fine Art. With its small entrance (box-office opening to the outside in those days), tiny lobby, dark auditorium, Weis inspired decorating, I did not think much of it as a venue when compared with Lenox and Phipps, etc… Also, I did not see the movie until July and by that time the print was certainly the worse for wear and a pale example of the 70MM presentation I would see at Phipps a year or so later. Following Ryan, more narrow appeal movies enjoyed good runs here, usually lasting a month to 6 weeks. Among these were “Walkabout,” “The Go-Between,” and “Harold and Maude.”
In the spring of 1972 I paid my second visit to the Fine Art, this time to see “The Last Picture Show.” This movie, which also had a four month run, was not at all what I was expecting to see and at the time I did not think much of it. (Later I became a fan of it and even made a trip to Archer City, Texas which is where the film, and its sequel Texasville, was set and filmed.) These were still the days of blind bidding, advance rentals, and exclusive runs, and bookings exceeding 3 months were not unusual. The Fine Art followed the usual pattern of those days by running a full day “grind” schedule with the first show starting about 2 PM with midnight shows on Friday and Saturday nights. As the run lengthened and attendance declined the Friday night midnight show would drop off, then the Saturday night one and finally the matinees. Other than the downtown theatres, the Lenox and Capri were the only theatres during this time that ran all day year round.
In the summer of 1970, Weis had taken over the old Peachtree Art Theatre and reopened it as the Weis Cinema. Shortly after that they built the Broadview (later twinned with the Broadview II becoming the Silver Screen and the Broadview I becoming the Great Southeast Music Hall) and in May of 1972 purchased the Peachtree Battle Mini Cinema (which was later sold to George Lefont and became the Silver Screen.) The point of all of this is that with more theatres to book, the product got thinned out and the number of blockbuster hits at the Fine Art declined. After “Picture Show” left, there was a year of steady but unremarkable bookings until August of 1973 when one of the biggest Fine Art hits of all, “American Graffiti” opened. Looking at the booking patterns of today, it is hard to believe that this huge hit did not open until mid August. I have heard the story that not much was expected of this small film with its unknown director, George Lucas, which is why it was dumped onto the release schedule when summer was almost over. Regardless, by the time it opened in Atlanta, Universal knew they had a hit and not only did the Fine Art run the usual full schedule, but they ran midnight shows every night until school started back.
“American Graffiti” finished out the year, and for the next couple of years it was back to the steady but unspectacular slate of films. Within a couple of years the entire Weis company was in trouble as a result of overexpansion with their acquisition of the mini cinemas, and their habit of gambling big advances to get the sure fire hits, some of which were not so sure fire. A very sad event, the death of the son of Albert Weis in an auto accident, also hurt as Mr. Weis seemed to lose interest in the day to day operations of the company after that happened.
My third and last visit to the Fine Art was in December of 1974 for an advance screening of Godfather Part II. As mentioned in other posts here and on the Film Forum page, George Ellis moved his operation here in the mid to late 70’s. After he returned to Ansley Mall, the Georgia Theatre Company took control of the Garden Hills, as it was then known (again). This was an odd turn of events and GTC never did much with the place and only held the lease a short time. In those days they had a habit of taking over theatres they really had no interest in, such as the Parkaire and Georgia Twin, aka Georgia Cinerama, just to keep the competition out. This may have been the case here, but I do not really know. At any rate, as every one here knows, George Lefont soon took over and the rest is well known.
Hold on there long island. That is being a little harsh. Lefont has been in this business for 30 years and kept this little theatre going for over 20 years as well as such other venues as the Silver Screen (formerly Peachtree Battle), the Ansley Mall (formerly Film Forum), and Screening Room (formerly Broadview II, as well as the Plaza. You don’t stay in business that long by running theatres into the ground. While Lefont may run a more laid back operation than the slick multi and megaplexes of today, the actual venues themselves, while old, were kept up. I know that the Garden Hills had new seats installed several years ago, and I also know that some of these places were not in exactly mint condition to begin with.
What really killed this and the others listed above is success. Lefont made a good living off of the art film market for many years when no one else would be bothered with such a small slice of the box-office pie. Once the theatre competition in Atlanta got so crowded, everyone was looking for any way possible to make an extra buck. It did not take the big boys long to catch on to the Lefont act and move in. The Tara, Landmark Midtown, and even the Phipps and old GCC Perimeter Mall started going after this relatively cheap and low risk market. As a result there was not enough of the foreign / art film supply and audience to go around. Money can be made in this field, but not if you have to risk big upfront advances to secure limited appeal movies. Madstone spent a ton of money refurbishing the Sandy Springs but that did not keep them from having to shut the doors.
I think that Lefont, a local businessman with a love for movies and the theatre business, did mighty well standing up to all of these big corporations for as long as he has. I have no first hand knowledge of why the run of the Plaza or Garden Hills has ended, but I would bet that the competition from the deep pocketed big guns has just made this part of the movie business too marginal to support an old single screen location. The Lefont 8plex in Sandy Springs is well maintained and still going with its mainstream offerings with whatever art product is available thrown in.
At some point during the late 70’s the Old Dixie went through the XXX phase. This seemes to be something that every Jerry Lewis Cinema in the entire country went through at one time. Their small size and minimal staffing requirements made them ideal for this purpose. The one on Buford Hwy still operates in this manner to this day. During this phase the Old Dixie was raided by the Clayton County Police and the manager / projectionist was carted off to jail. Funny how these things work. They never seem to arrest the owners or bookers, just the poor saps trying to make a living. The solicitors undoubtedly realized that it was an easy conviction since few managers had the money to hire a lawyer and the owners would just pay their fines and mark it up to the cost of doing business. The result: Business as usual for the theatre owner, good publicity during an election year for the solicitor, and a criminal record for the poor manager and projectionist who were just doing their jobs and had no say in what was being played.
This link will take you to two pages of pictures from the 40’s and 50’s. They show the marquee, exterior, box office, projection booth as well as the manager and some staff. Well worth the visit.
I do not know if this is the same theatre or not, but the Mini Cinema chain, which started in Atlanta, had one location in Chattanooga. It was submerged in a flood sometime in 1970 or 1971. I am not sure of the date because I was not working for them at the time and only heard the story after the fact.
I also heard that the location did not reopen and that the seats from it ended up in the Candler Road Mini Cinema in Decatur Ga. Again, someting I heard and have no first hand knowledge of.
For the GSU history project:
My family moved to Atlanta in the summer of 1967. The first movie I attended after that was at the Rialto, June 10, a Monday I think. The feature was the John Wayne western “The War Wagon.” Like most of the first run movies that played there during that time, it was a Universal Pictures release. By this time the exodus to the suburbs (movie theatre wise) was underway and only the big downtown theatres like the Grand, Fox, Roxy, and Atlanta were left to keep the Rialto company. The bookings for the Rialto were mostly lower tier first run offerings which seldom lasted more than a month. Although starting in 1970, I passed the Rialto every day on the bus on the way to class at GSU, I never saw anything worth attending even though I was in the neighborhood. Even the Universal releases such as “Coogan’s Bluff,” “Hellfighters,” and “Winning” had short runs before heading out to the second run suburban houses. The Rialto did enjoy a brief stint as a top grossing location in 1970 with an eighteen week booking of the blockbuster “Airport” followed by a six week booking of the Clint Eastwood western “Two Mules For Sister Sara.” In late 1971 two more Universal releases, “Play Misty For Me” and “Sometimes A Great Notion” marked the end of that era of Rialto history. After that it was a collection of sex, action, and / or horror movies usually lasting a week. The one, last, effort at traditional booking came in June 1972 with the “Airport” knockoff, “Skyjacked.”
Since early 1971, the Coronet Theatre, located near the Fox on Peachtree, had been drawing huge crowds of the previously untapped “black” audience with movies such as “Cotton Comes To Harlem,” “Sweet Sweetback,” and “Shaft.” The Martin (now Carmike) chain which operated the Rialto made the decision to “go black” as the practice was referred to in the business, and “Shafts Big Score” opened to huge attendance followed by a Jim Brown action movie, “Slaughter.” The Rialto booked whichever of these movies it could get and filled in the gaps with action, kung fu, and horror features of less than mediocre quality. Like all good things, this did not last as the Grand, Atlanta (where I worked at the time) and even the Fox jumped on the “Blaxploitation” bandwagon, and there was simply not enough product, good or otherwise, to go around.
After my GSU days I did not have reason to go downtown and lost track of the goings on at the Rialto. In 1985 I made my first visit in 13 years, the purpose of which was to check out the booth prior to working there for the regular projectionist while he was on vacation. By this time the Rialto had truly fallen on hard times, playing very low quality double features of horror and action themed movies and charging a one dollar admission at all times. In other words they were giving the admission away in the hopes of making their profit at the concession stand. The boxoffice had a large sign posted which stated “NO OUTSIDE FOOD OR DRINK, NO DRUGS, NO WEAPONS, ALL PACKAGES (INCLUDING HANDBAGS) SEARCHED AT THE DOOR.” Sure enough, there was a uniformed private security guard standing next to the ticket taker checking bags. When I made my way to the booth I noticed (just as Raymond did in his above post) that even though the feature had started, the house lights were still at the intermission level. When I hurried to point this out to the projectionist (one of the true old timers still left from the glory days of downtown theatres), he just smiled and proceeded to explain to this new youngster (who was 33 at the time) that only the cleaning lights were turned off during the show. The house lights were left on all day so the security guards could better see and be seen. Sure enough, there was another uniformed guard stationed in the auditorium.
Despite this beginning, I found the Rialto a great place to work. It was probably the last theatre in Atlanta where the projectionist used reels and made manual changeovers from reel to reel. In between features we would run previews which were often of Hong Kong made kung fu films complete with Chinese graphics and voiceover. I enjoyed working there so much that I continued on for about a year giving the regular operator a day off plus working his vacations. This all came to an end when Martin installed a platter system in the booth and did away with the projectionist, adding that duty to the manager. The last movie I ran there that did any great amount of business was Prince’s “Purple Rain” which brought back to me the days of “Airport” when I would look out of the booth and see a packed house. The last movie for me, prior to being let go was “CHUD” which stood for Cannibalistic Underground Humanoid Dwellers, and the intermission short subject, “Pipeline Critters” which was about the animals who made their home in the vicinity of the Alaska Oil Pipeline. What a great way to go out. Quite a change from John Wayne and my first visit to the Rialto.
This is probably the same theatre as the CAMPUS which can be found here: /theaters/4818/
I really should proof read these things before I post them. The worst of the typos is the movie title Charlie. It should of course read “Charly.”
Premiere feature: Elvira Madigan
With Ansley Mall, the first two editions of the Mini Cinema chain, and the only one in free standing building. It had about 350 rocking chair seats, Century projectors, 6000' reels, and a good sized screen with a small stage in front. The lobby occupied a tiny part of the southeast corner of the building and was just large enough for a concession stand and cashier desk combo. One odd thing was the ticket machine which looked like an old grocery store cash register which did not issue tickets as such but a paper receipt, just like you would get at the grocery store.
After entering the auditorium you found yourself in a wide walkway between the back row and the projection booth. Past the booth was a door leading to the booth door and the very tiny restrooms. Another door led to the utility room and ice machine. There was no office. Since, as with all of the early Mini Cinemas, the projectionist was also the manager, the booth served this purpose.
Although twice the size of the Ansley Mall Mini, Peachtree Battle was still tiny compared to the other theatres of the day, especially the first run editions. It played a lot of independent and foreign films and usually changed every two to three weeks. Unlike today, there was no national release date for many films, especially low profile ones. Theatres like this could book these films in advance without a hard date and bring them in when business for their current feature died off. This pattern changed in October 1968 when the theatres first big hit, Barbarella, opened. Three months later, on New Years Day of 1969, the Zefferelli version of Romeo and Juliet opened for a four month run followed by Charlie for four more months.
After this period it was back to the old pattern with a few sub run engagements of mainstream movies mixed in. The first movie I remember seeing there was the Mel Brooks comedy 12 Chairs during Christmas of 1970. In 1971, the Mini Cinema Chain subbed out the “office” duties of the chain to the Storey Theatre Company, and the mini cinemas started appearing in the Storey ads. During this time the Peachtree Battle would often play the same attractions as the other Storey intermediate break houses like North DeKalb and Lakewood. (Sandy Springs, the only franchise of the Mini Cinema chain did not take part in this and operated as an independent theatre although Storey still handled the mechanics of film booking.) Mini Cinema still had a say as to which movies played, especially when up front money was required. Occasionally, Peachtree Battle would play an exclusive of the type of film it once made its living with, such as Trojan Women and Roman Polanski’s version of MacBeth.
In May of 1972, the theatre was sold to the Weis Company and became the Weis Peachtree Battle. The first feature under this arrangement was foreign film Oscar winner Garden of the Finzi Continis which was actually booked in by Mini Cinema prior to the sale. After this the more aggressive Weis booking habit resulted in more mainstream first run features with longer runs. That summer, The Candidate followed by Sounder played for the remainder of the year followed by a Christmas booking of The Great Waltz. That one was not a very good movie but sounded great with the theatres seldom used 4 track magnetic sound system.
In the spring of 1974, Weis remodeled the place and gave it a very contemporary “mod” look. A new wall was built behind the last row, and the old passageway between the seating area and the booth wall was incorporated into the lobby. This was a great improvement as it allowed access to the restrooms, ice machine, booth and utility room without having to pass through the auditorium. Since the projection beam could not shoot through the lobby, and enclosed tunnel was built from the booth, over the lobby, and into the top of the new back wall of the auditorium. The decorator Weis used on all of his theatres obviously hated straight lines, so all of the public areas were covered in curved sheetrock and corrugated metal sheeting. By this time Weis had done away with the manager / operator arrangement with the union, and there was now a separate manager, but since the office had been nothing more that a desk inside the booth, the manager had to make do with a corner of the newly enclosed boxoffice which was hardly big enough for two people at once.
All of this made crowd control much easier which was a good thing since 1974 saw heavily attended engagements of Sugarland Express and The Groove Tube, each of which ran for months. In 1975, The Other Side of the Mountain also had a 5 month run. By 1976, Weis was in big trouble due mainly to the poor bookings which they had put up big advance money for in those blind bidding days. As mentioned above, George Lefont purchased this site in 1976 and it became a big success as Atlanta’s first revival theatre showing double features which changed two and sometimes three times per week. My favorite of all of the movies that played during this time was Libeled Lady, on a twin bill with Philadelphia Story, a great combo. In addition to these older movies George also booked more recent releases such as Last Detail / Last Picture Show, and The Hospital / Network. In a humorous clash of cultures, he also played The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight on weekends for many years.
In 1982, the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center expanded and took over the space of the theatre. It was torn down and a three story retail strip, the top two of which fronted Peachtree Road, was built in its place. The Silver Screen had done so well that the Rhodes had opened under new ownership showing the same type of programs and changing double features everyday. The VCR soon killed off this market so it is doubtful the Silver Screen would have survived much longer anyway. The only bit of it left now is in the #3 auditorium which George added to the Tara when he ran it. Unless they have been removed since, this theatre has the old rocking chair seats from the Peachtree Battle.
What a dump. Located within sight of South DeKalb, but as far away quality wise as you could get. It opened on December 17, 1970 and was the second Mini Cinema, after Doraville, to occupy space in a new Grant City Shopping Center. (South DeKalb Twin had opened the previous May. A third Grant City had opened in Sandy Springs in June and hosted the Cinema 285, AKA Hammond Square Cinema.) The Candler was the last Mini Cinema built and was the only twin.
It had incredibly small seats, about 250 in each house, which had seen their best days decades before. The screens were not much bigger, and the booth equipment was not much better. The booth itself was small to begin with and in those pre platter days, each screen had two carbon arc powered projectors with 6000 foot reels. At the start it even had two projectionists on duty, the reason being that both houses might require a changeover at the same time and there was no automation. This did not last long. Also, this was the only Mini Cinema to have a separate manager. In the others the projectionist had doubled as the manager with a flat daily management fee being added to the hourly booth pay. The manager had a desk (there was no office) underneath the half dozen or so steps leading from the concession stand to the booth.
The bookings here was almost entirely second and third runs and usually for one week only. Occasionally, when the South DeKalb was booked up, the Candler might get an intermediate break booking, but not often. The only example of this that I remember was The Graduate, in the summer of 1972. The only movie I remember seeing there was West Side Story, in February 1971, just a couple of months after the theatre opened. This was a memorable experience, not only because WSS is one of my favorite movies, but because it was the only time I ever saw it presented with an intermission.
If you are familiar with WSS, you know that there was a place for an intermission just after the war council and before the I Feel Pretty number. I read that prior to its initial release the decision was made to eliminate the intermission, but the spot for it is obvious if you are looking for it. The Candler put in the intermission, but instead of the proper place inserted it at the end of the next reel instead. This reel ends right in the middle of the rumble. So, just as Riff lost his blade and was pinned against the fence, the lights came up and an astro dater intermission strip appeared on the screen. 10 minutes later, the lights came down and the first image on the screen was Bernardo about to charge. Showmanship worthy of the venue!
In the summer of 1974, Weis Theatres took control of all of the Mini Cinemas. Around 1978, Weis left town. Peachtree Battle had already been sold to Lefont, Ansley Mall was George Ellis' Film Forum, Doraville became a Draft House, and Sandy Springs was gutted and became a restaurant. Candler went through a series of closures and reopenings under independent operators, sometimes as a $ house and sometimes as an adult softcore theatre. I did not notice when it closed for good. I was by the site recently and could not determine where in the shopping center it was located. I think the center may have been extended toward Candler Road making the exact location of the theatre difficult to pinpoint. Whatever spot it was has been completely reworked into a regular storefront.
What an outrage! Not only do you contradict me, but you have the nerve to be right. Further research reveals that at some unknown point during the late 70’s, George Ellis moved his operation from Ansley Mall to the 350 seat Fine Art / Garden Hills where the proceeds from the Rocky Horror Picture could better subsidize his art film operation. Later he moved back to Ansley Mall and the Rocky Horror Show moved down the street to Lefonts Silver Screen.
In 1982, Ellis exited the theatre business. Control of the Ansley Mall facility reverted to the mall owner. Lefont stepped in and operated the FF for about five years. In 1987 he sold his interests, except for the Screening Room apparently, to Hoyt. Hoyt in turn closed the FF the day they took over. Evidently they felt the costs of renovating the site were not worth the return on such a small venue. So, in total, the Ansley Mall Mini Cinema had a lifespan of about 20 years, a little longer and much more interesting than average for the class of suburban theatres built during the late 60’s to early 70’s.
To me, this place will always be the Capri. For about 8 years, it was one of the premiere first run theatres in Atlanta, not because of the facility perhaps, but because of the big bucks Weis was willing to put up in those blind bidding days to get the top pictures. Just like the Fox and later the Phipps Plaza, just playing at the Capri would cause even an average picture to do better business that it otherwise would have just because people assumed that if it played there then it must be worthy.
During those days the theatre seated about 850, of which about 200 were in the balcony. Possibly because of the up front money they had to guarantee, the Capri and its down the street sister, the Fine Art, had a reputation for very lengthy bookings. Among the longer engagements were Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (4 months), Funny Girl (8 months), Out Towners (3 months), Love Story (6 months), The Godfather (5 months), and Poseidon Adventure and Earthquake (about 4 months each). There was one period from Christmas of 1970 until August 1972 when the Capri played only 7 different titles.
Before it was outlawed, blind bidding was the movie theatre equivalent of Russian Roulette. Since Weis was the most aggressive practitioner of this risky business it was only a matter of time before the odds caught up, not only at the Capri but in all of his theatres. Aside from the hits listed above, some of the more expensive flops were, Tell Me That You Love Me Junie Moon, Lost Horizon, 7 Percent Solution, and the final nail in the coffin, Gable and Lombard.
When George Ellis was kicked out of his Ansley Mall Film Forum he briefly moved his operation here and the Capri took on the name Cinema Gallery although none of the signage changed. As I described this story in my Film Forum comment, George was soon back at Ansley Mall and the Capri went dark. The rest of the story is as described in the above post and comments. Other than that my main memories of the Capri involve the nice diner which was located across the street until it was town down to make way for the park that is there now, the fact that the box office had to be moved back into the entrance hallway because it kept getting robbed in its kiosk type outside location, and the fact that parking, other that the Sears store a block away was non existent.
Correction on the above timeline. The Ansley Mall Mini Cinema opened sometime in 1968. Ellis took out a sub-lease and changed the name to Film Forum in May of 1971. Weis took control of the Mini Cinema chain in the summer of 1974. I think the incident described above took place sometime shortly before that. I am pretty sure that the Ansley Mall location was long gone by 1978 when Weis closed up and left town.
Until Lenox started sticking theatres in its lobbies, this was the smallest place I ever saw a movie in. Of course, at 171 seats it would be a midsized moveover house in the megaplex of today. I do not know exactly when this place was built, but the Sandy Springs Mini Cinema was opened in December of 1968, so it was before that. With its small capacity, it did not play much mainstream first run product, but was what we would call an “art” house today. George Ellis took it over and renamed it the Film Forum in May 1971. His choice of product was so obscure that for weeks his newspaper ad was included in the section reserved for the 16 and 35MM softcore porno houses of the day.
My first visit was in October of 1971 for “Oh What A Lovely War.” (This film first played at the Peachtree Art at Peachtree and 14th, but by that time that neighborhood had become pretty rough. The Peachtree Art closed soon after and reopened in the summer of 1970 as the Weis Cinema with “Catch 22.”) Film Forum was not a good place to see a movie, but it usually played films that you would see offered no where else. There was a center aisle with two section seating. Although not very big, the screen was wall to wall which meant that it was located high enough to have the exit doors underneath. The theatre was located in a narrow storefront of a strip shopping center, despite its Ansley MALL name. The lobby was also very small and the whole place had a warehouse look to it. However, the audience to this theatre did not seem to mind and the place did great business for years.
In fact, the business was so good that it led to one of the more disgraceful episodes that I have ever witnessed in my days working in Atlanta area theatres, and that is really saying something. Apparently, the FF, despite being operated and managed by Ellis, still retained some type of connection to the Mini Cinema company. It could be that George was just a sub lessee. At any rate, the Mini Cinema chain was by this time in very poor shape and the absentee owners had placed the entire business in the hands of a hired gun who will remain nameless here. Since the FF was doing more business than all of the other Mini Cinemas combined and could supply some desperately needed cash, this guy, after a careful reading of the agreement, “reacquired” control of the Ansley Mall Mini Cinema, and did it in the dark of night.
The first George knew of this development was the next day when he showed up and found that his key no longer fit the locks. Mr. Mini Cinema soon found out that there was more to the success of the FF than just booking the right films. Since George knew most of his customers by sight if not by name, it did not take long for word of what had happened to get around. Needless to say, business dropped off to about 1% of normal, and before long George was back in control with a new ironclad lease agreement. This incident took place in about 1975, and was shortly before Weis acquired the Mini Cinema chain. Before much longer, and possibly because of the aquisition, the Ansley Mall location closed up. Ellis tried to keep his business going, and at different times operated the Capri (now Buckhead Roxy) and Fine Art (now Lefont Garden Hills) sometimes under the name of Cinema Gallery.
For a more upbeat and interesting story involving George Ellis and local theatres see:
In the late 60’s and early 70’s days of urban decay, a lot of places like this popped up all over Atlanta usually with the word “Art” added to the end. Houston Street Art, and Walton Street Art come to mind. I do not think that it was ever a real movie theatre. It was located in the block of Peachtree that runs from Baker to Ivy / Porter Place, and was part of a strip of storefronts that began with the Baptist Book Store and ended with the old St Francis Hotel. Or was it the Imperial? The entire block is gone now and John Portman’s 1 Atlantic Center sits on the site.
Thankfully I was never inside, but I did pass it everyday while riding the bus to and from Georgia State. It seemed to be one of those 16MM grind operations that advertised the first “showing” at 10AM and the last one starting at midnight. The sign over the door stated the admission as $5. Standard admission for regular movies in those days was about $2 tops. From its location, you could see the First Methodist Church almost across the street, a Catholic church behind it on Ivy, and the Episcopal church just north on Peachtree.
North Springs was the last of the big second run suburban theatres built by Eastern Federal. Like the earlier Cherokee, Toco Hills, Belvedere, and Miracle it had a very large auditorium, and a small everything else. It seated about 875 in three sections with two off center aisles and two more along the walls. The lobby was small compared to the size of the theatre but the box-office, managers office, projection booth, and janitors closet were the smallest I ever saw anywhere. There was no concession storeroom at all. Supplies were kept behind the screen with a chicken wire wall “securing” either end.
The theatre opened during Christmas of 1968 and I believe the first feature was Coogans Bluff. It usually changed movies every week showing whatever was on the “drive in break” that week. The first movie I saw there was Angel In My Pocket in March of 1969. I worked there from November 1971 until the spring of 1973. I was fortunate enough to work for an excellent manager, Mr. Neal Dolvin. Although the company was run so much on the cheap that it was not a good place to learn the manager trade, I did learn from Neal many lessons on hiring and managing a staff which I put to use later on.
In the office was a notebook with all of the theatres bookings listed, and only three or four times a year would a movie play for two weeks and never any longer. That changed on February 9, 1972 when Lady and the Tramp opened direct from its reissue first run at the Fox Theatre. It played for three weeks and did capacity business on weekend afternoons. On April 12, 1972 French Connection opened the day after it won its Academy Awards, and played to huge crowds for its six week run. Following that was a two week filler booking of MASH which was notable only for the incredibly poor condition of its print. This was a city wide booking, and every theatre in town was cursed with a print that had more yellow and green scratches that it did film emulsion.
The next day, June 6, 1972, Oh Calcutta opened for a three day run. This episode taught me a lot about how some theatre companies treat their employees as well as more than I ever wanted to know about the morality of public officials. The Fulton County Solicitor was up for re-election that year and despite the fact that Atlanta and Fulton County was littered with 35MM soft core houses and 16MM hardcore houses at the time, he realized an opportunity for free publicity when he saw it. On June 7, he “led raids” as the AJC so quaintly put it, on the three EFC theatres in Fulton County, the Ben Hill, Baronet, and North Springs. Off to jail went three managers, three projectionists, and the city manager. As the doorman, I did not have to make the trip, but stayed behind to answer the phone and explain to the hundreds of patrons who had purchased advance tickets for that nights showing why they were getting their money back.
EFC’s part in this shameful episode was to bail its employees out, and send them back to work that very night to run prints of MASH that just so happened to arrive almost before the paddy wagons had left the premises. This confirmed to me that EFC at least suspected what was going to happen and had a contingency plan in place. In the end, the EFC attorney pled everyone guilty, thus giving 7 good men criminal records, and paid their fines. I am willing to bet that they would have had a different strategy had the solicitor locked up the owners and bookers instead of employees who were just trying to make a living.
After this fiasco the theatre went back to its usual booking pattern only with a few more wide break first run movies mixed in. Among these were The Burglars, Cancel My Reservation, Rage, Shamus, Class of 44, Last American Hero, Last of Shelia, and the last two Planet of the Apes episodes. A look at these titles will tell you why they were wide breaks, i.e, get your money back quick before word of mouth kills the business.
EFC left town about 1978, but I was not around then, having fallen out of favor with the owners as all long term employees seemed to do in those days. Raymond can tell that part of the story as they were gone before I realized it. I did wander into the place shortly after that, and the independent owner was nice enough to invite me in and show me the booth. They had removed one projector and installed a tower. Later, a new owner twinned the auditorium and converted the place into a $ drafthouse. It stayed that way for many years. Around 2002 I was by there and a work crew was gutting the insides and turning it into a Hispanic themed nightclub. The owner let me in to look around and even offered me the old lamphouses which were still sitting in the booth. Had they been the old Simplex projectors I would have grabbed them. The carbon lamphouses from my time, where I had learned how to heat up a sandwich a la Alfredo in Cinema Paradiso, were long gone.
Beautiful setting. I took some pictures of this site during my visit in 2000. If this link works you can see them. http://www.driveintheater.com/drivlist.htm
The local theatre is called The Dome. It has a website that contains information on the drive in. http://dometheater.tripod.com/index.html
Raymond: If you would like a copy of this article let me know and I will send it. Also a picture of the Ben Hill Twin in its current role. My contact info is at the bottom of my final Stonemont post.
The plaza is still there. The site of the old theatre is now the Nation of Islam masque or the church that sits next ot it. Or maybe they divided the space from the old theatre. I only saw this place once and do not really remember where exactly it was in that small shopping center.
Typical cheapo Eastern Federal build of the type they threw up in the early 70’s with nothing like the character of the Cherokee, Toco, Belvedere generation.
According to the AJC article, the shopping center opened in 1954, but makes no mention if the theatre opened at the same time. Since the theatre was right in the middle of the center it probably did. The article also states that… “(t)he only Miss Georgia to ever become Miss America, Neva Jane Langley, helped open it up, along with actress and pin-up girl Anita Eckberg.”
I never attended either of these places, but do remember when both came into existance. I think that Raymond is right about the Roswell Village being the Jerry Lewis. If my memory is correct, not a sure thing these days, Septum took over the old JL at the same time as the Buford Hwy JL. They then built the Brannon Square later on. Or, it may have been vice versa, but I am pretty sure the Brannon appeared in the Septum ads after they were already established.
I have actually attended this theatre. April 4, 1971. A Sunday I believe. The feature was a double bill of A Fistfull of Dollars at 3PM and For a Few Dollars More at 5PM. Admission, $1. This was a very old location even then, and was located in “downtown” Roswell, GA. It had a little two line marquee sticking out over the sidewalk, and a very small lobby. The inside was unremarkable, and typical of the appearance of theatres built in the 1950’s. The projection light was among the dimmest I have ever seen, and flickered out on more than one occasion. I am sure there was a problem of some sort with the feed motor for the carbons because the picture would gradually get dimmer until it would suddenly brighten up, relatively speaking of course. I imagine that the operator was having to hand crank the carbons and sometimes didn’t get to it until they had burned too big of a gap.
I considered this place a real dump compared to the first run theatres of the day, or even the Sandy Springs Mini Cinema for that matter. I only went to it because I wanted to see the movies. Today of course I would love to see anything in such a venue. It all depends on your perspective.
At this time the Roswell Theatre was mostly known for showing soft core adult movies. “Tobacco Roody” was a movie I remember seeing advertised for what seemed like weeks on end. It also seemed to close occasionally, or at least stop advertising in the Atlanta paper. When I went it was in the process of trying the neighborhood family theatre route, possibly under different ownership. In those days, Roswell was much more of a small town than the close in suburb of Atlanta that it is today. That trip to the theatre on the town square on a lazy Sunday afternoon really gave it a small town feel, almost like I was going to the Royal in Archer City, Texas, home of The Last Picture Show.
I do not think that I have been to that part of Roswell since that day 35 years ago. The main 5 lane drag through town is a block to the east, I think, and I am sure the theatre is long gone although the building that housed it may still be in use. I doubt if I could find it now.
Todays AJC reports that the entire Belmont Hills Shopping Center is to be torn down and replaced by a condo / commercial / Wal-Mart development. While the theatre has been closed for years, the structure has remained. Now, it will soon be joining a long list of fine (and not so fine) movie theatres in the landfills of Atlanta.