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I have three distinct memories of the Ritz while growing up in Birmingham.
1962: How The West Was Won. My parents told me before the show that I was going to see a movie so big that it took 3 screens to show the entire picture. I guess that is how they had to describe it so a 10 year old would understand. I do not remember much about the movie itself because I was constantly looking at the right and left screens to see what was going on away from the “action.” In 1998 I made the trek to Dayton, Ohio to see HTWWW at the Neon Cinerama. It was not until then that I was able to appreciate the incredible focus and 7 track sound.
1965: Doctor Zhivago. The Ritz hosted many roadshow movies while the other ABC operated theatre, The Alabama, played the more standard fare. My mother took me to see this one because she thought it would appeal to my interest in History. (My father, having seen it with her earlier said “…once is enough.”) She was right, as usual, and from the first viewing Doctor Zhivago has been one of my favorite movies of all time. I do not know how many times I have seen it over the years, but my viewings have been in every type of venue from mono shoebox theatre to 70MM presentations at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. I have also had the pleasure of working at several theatres where it has played, managed one, (South DeKalb) and run it as the projectionist twice, both times at the Fox. I now have the new 2 disc DVD, and never tire of seeing it.
1965: Sound of Music. The Cobb operated Eastwood Mall Theatre was the main competition for the Ritz and Alabama although its 1960’s draped auditorium and living room style lobby were no match for these other two fine places in atmosphere. SOM played its reserved seat engagement at Eastwood, but the day after Zhivago left the Ritz, SOM was brought in as a filler until whatever Christmas show they had booked that year opened. Since I had already seen it at Eastwood, it was not the movie itself but the condition of the print that made this a notable experience. In those days, prints were not produced in anywhere near the numbers of today. More like 300 than 3000. By the time they got to an engagement such as this, there was no telling how many poorly maintained booths and film butchers they had encountered. The Ritz did not get the film in time, or did not bother, to inspect it. It was full of scratches, sound pops, and at least half a dozen breaks, one of which lasted for at least 15 minutes. This made the show end almost an hour late. The result was a massive traffic jam on Second Avenue on the Friday before Christmas as my mother and dozens of other parents there to pick up their children, had to wait in their cars for us to leave the theatre. (Remember, this was in the day when most of the department stores, and by extension Christmas shopping, were still downtown.)
I am sure that I visited the Ritz on other occasions but do not remember any in particular. I also remember going to the Alabama, Empire, Melba, Homewood, and even the Shades Mountain Drive In, but in those days I was more interested in the movie than the venue.
I think that the original post by Don might refer to the old Miracle or perhaps some theatre of that time that might have used the name Town and Country. This location was a 1970 era build. It was of the second generation of Eastern Federal Theatres built here, and like the Cobb Cinema and Ben Hill, was cheap to build and operate. The junction of the T&C shopping center had something of a small town square feel and the box office opened out onto it.
Inside it very much resembled the old Sandy Springs Mini Cinema. Small paneled lobby, shallow, wide shaped auditorium with a good sized screen, but NO concession stand. The far wall of the lobby had vending machines for drinks, candy and popcorn. During these years it was not unusual for theatres to have vending machines, but this was the first one I saw with machines only. On busy nights an employee would be stationed nearby to issue change and assist with mechanical problems. In the spring of 1972, the machines were removed and a very small concession stand built in their place.
The booth was manager operated and equipped with a Cinemeccanica V-18 projector and 12,000 foot reels which were mounted behind the projector. Since these reels had a capacity of about 2 hours and 20 minutes, anything longer had to have an intermission. Tora, Tora, Tora in May of 1972, Nicholas and Alexandra in September of 1972, and Sound of Music in its 1973 reissue were the ones that I remember being split. Sleuth, in the spring of 1973 was the longest movie I saw run on one reel.
In those pre VCR days, it was common for theatres to bring back old hits to fill in gaps in their booking schedules. Whenever one of my favorites would reappear in this manner I would try to go see it since you never could be sure when or if you would get the chance again. A July 1971 booking of the double feature Bullitt (or as it was listed on the marquee: Bullet) and Bonnie and Clyde first brought the T&C to my attention. Later that year I started working for EFC and saw many movies here. Being located in Cobb County, T&C (as well as the Miracle, Cobb Cinema, Cobb Center, and Belmont) could play the big first run movies day and date with the first run houses in Atlanta. Since I could now get in free, I made the trip to see Dirty Harry, Cowboys, Last Picture Show, What’s Up Doc, Butterflies Are Free, Sleuth, and Jeremiah Johnson, among others. The screen here was a very nice size in relation to the size of the auditorium and I recall Cowboys and Jeremiah Johnson looking especially fine with their cinemascope aspect ratio.
In 1973 I fell from grace with Ira and the EFC crowd, so I do not know much about the history of this place following those years. This was a time of big business for this place and during my EFC days it was fortunate enough to be well managed by Cliff Bryson. I heard later that he moved to NC to manage theatres for EFC there. I understand that when tripled, the original auditorium was left intact, but I never saw it. I heard that during the construction for the twin addition, a storm blew down the concrete block wall and they had to start over. The only other thing I remember about this place took place in 1991. In the newspaper ad for T2, the theatre listings at the bottom had a big “Presented in 70MM” collar around the logo for the Marietta Star Cinema. I had never heard of this theatre, but when I looked up the address, I found it to be the old T&C, now run by George Lefont.
The T&C, like countless other places like it, was a product of the particular conditions of movie booking and exhibition that existed from 1965 until about 1980. Looking back from 30 years in the future I can see that they were just cheap, and it turns out, temporary stopgaps between the movie palaces of old and the megaplexes of today. But, to those of us who worked in them, they were a big deal then, and am glad that I had the chance to experience that era of the movie business.
There are so many posts on this page that I may have missed this link, but even so it is worth re posting:
4 postcard views.
Postcard image of the DeGive Opera House years before it became the Grand.
For those of you interested in old pictures of Atlanta, this site has dozens, and links to dozens more, pictures of transit vehicles from the early 1900’s. As for its relevance to this page, this link,
shows a trolley at the intersection of Peachtree Road and Rumson Road. If that information is correct, then the shopping center in the background is the Garden Hills. Since the location of the theatre would be behind the trolley I can not be sure, but it looks right.
I first visited this theatre in 1999 while on a visit to Winterset to see the Madison County covered bridges and the John Wayne Museum and birthplace. It is located on the east side of the town square. At the time they were playing two separate shows, a family movie at 7PM and an adult (as in Adam Sandler type adult, not XXX) feature at 9PM. Winterset is only 35 miles from Des Moines so the turnover in features here is pretty quick in order to keep the local customers from traveling to Des Moines if what they want to see is not currently playing at the local theatre.
The manager / owner was working the box office, but he was nice enough to let me in to look the place over and talk about the difficulties in running a one screen small town theatre in close proximity to a large city. Print availability on national release date and preview availability were two issues he mentioned. These seem to be problems common to most theatres is this type of setting.
The theatre itself is old and occupies a narrow storefront on the square. Like most cold weather businesses it has a double lobby. Once you enter the street doors you come to the box office. From there you go through another set of doors into the main lobby, which in this case is taken up mostly by the snack bar. The interior of the auditorium is 1950’s art deco style with two off center aisles. The outside frontage had been covered with wood siding, but the owner said that removing it and restoring the exterior to its original state was his next priority. From the look of the two pictures posted on this site it seems that he has not gotten around to it yet.
In 2005 I noticed on another theatre website that this location was listed as closed. I called the Chamber of Commerce and the lady there said that it was open and had not closed at any time during the past 6 years.
Opened in the summer of 1985, six months after the Shannon. This was good timing for the operator since Georgia Theatre Company had emptied out the used projector warehouse when equipping the Shannon. The Southlake had all new booth equipment. 7 Century 35MM and one Century 35/70MM. The only time I am aware that the 70 was used was for “Black Cauldron.”
There was also a very odd piece of equipment known as the Christie Endless Loop Platter. This ridiculous gadget was proclaimed to all theatre owners as a way to finally get rid of that pesky projectionist. It looked like a regular platter only with one platter instead of the usual 3 or 5. When being loaded with a new movie the leader would be threaded through the projector and spliced onto the tail of the movie. The film would be pulled from the center as normal but instead of winding onto a different platter would wind onto the back of the print. To keep the film from backing back off of the edge of the platter, a spring loaded arm would gently and rhythmically bump the print in towards the center of the platter as it turned. Even now I have a hard time describing it. It really had to be seen to be believed.
Fortunately the Southlake, or any other theatre I ever heard of, did not use this abortion to run their actual movies. In keeping with the Rube Goldberg nature of the whole operation, the projector was aimed toward a mirror which reflected the image onto the back of a screen which faced the lobby. It was used to show a constant stream of previews to the people, and unfortunate employees, who were in the lobby. In those days previews were not distributed at anywhere near the current number so there was seldom more than 30 minutes or so worth before the loop started over. Mercifully, I only worked this location occasionally so I never had the pleasure of changing the previews or remounting the loop.
The only other notable thing I remember about this place was the freedom with which the staff would use the house PA system. I recall hearing announcements in the auditoriums about car headlights being left on, convertible tops being left down in the rain, paging the manager to the phone, and even calling employees back to work when their break was up.
As with all other GTC properties and employees, the end came with the sellout to United Artists Theatres in the late 80’s. I did not notice when this place was closed, but it certainly gave it up by the time the AMC Southlake Pavilion 24 opened.
As Jack stated above, the ultimate in bland, unpleasant theatre design. But, at least in the 80’s there was no reason to put extra money and effort into creating a nice movie going experience. The GCC Northlake 2 and Southlake 2 triples were truly the poster children for the dozens of theatres built around Atlanta during this period which offered little more than a seat, a screen, and sound for the patrons. Three identical, long, thin, shoeboxes with 400 of the trademark GCC two position seats in each house. This notorious example of contempt for the customer was also the bane of many theatre employees who spent countless hours pushing the seats back to their upright positions while cleaning the auditorium.
The Southlake was the fourth GCC venue to be built in Atlanta following the Perimeter Mall in 1973, Northlake 2 in 1976, and Akers Mill in 1977. I believe it opened in 1978. The booth was equipped with Century 35MM projectors and Christie Autowind 3 platters. One house had the first generation pushbutton style Dolby sound rack. In an improvement over its Northlake predecessor, the screens had up and down masking for the flat picture so that both the scope and flat pictures filled the entire screen.
The main reason that these theatres were built so bland is that the public demanded little else. All they wanted was to see the hit movies, and in this area that meant going to the GCC Southlake for the most part. The only first run competition was a 3 screen effort by Plitt a couple of blocks over. I worked at this theatre several times between 1984 and 1988. During a two week stint covering a vacation for the regular projectionist in 1984 I saw the place filled to near capacity many times while showing Ghostbusters, Gremlins, and Bachelor Party. The next year Back to the Future was a big hit. As usual, this kind of success attracted the attention of the competition and before long Georgia Theatre opened an 8plex across the street, and Cineplex followed with a 6. Eventually AMC put all of these efforts out of business with their 24 screen Southlake Pavilion.
One constant during all of the time I was connected with this place was the complete lack of an adequate number (qualified or un) of job applicants. GCC considered themselves a class operation, and to be fair, they were in many respects. Help Wanted was just too crass a way to attract the best workers they felt, so at GCC it was always Employment Opportunities Available. When a sign in the lobby did not attract enough applicants, they would sometimes put the appeal on the marquee itself. However, there was not nearly enough room for all of that copy, so the word Employment was left off. It never ceased to amuse the staff how many people came in and asked about the movie “Opportunities Available.” Granted, that is not much of a story, but it was not much of a theatre.
Just like the Northlake 2 it was torn down in the early 90’s and a Sports Authority now sits on the site.
This is a link to the AJC article on the closing of the Garden Hills. It requires you to register and is good only for 7 days before it moves to the archives where you will have to pay to access it. CT says we can post one paragraph without violating the AJC copyright, so here is one on the future:
“The seating is going to remain there,” says Victor Romano of Victor Realty, which manages the strip of shops on Peachtree Road that contains Garden Hills. “We can’t very well lease it as a theater without any seats.” But Romano hopes that the space will become home to a live theater company, rather than another film exhibitor, and says he is in talks with potential tenants. There is a stage beneath the theater’s film screen, though only 12 feet deep and 36 feet wide. A theater company would almost certainly have to remove some of the front rows of seats and expand the stage deeper into the auditorium.
Actually that is two paragraphs, but only five sentences so I hope they will not mind. For the record, the article states that there are 375 seats. Other than that, there is not much in it that you can not get from all of the comments above.
Below is a link to the drive-ins.com page for the Circle Drive In. There are a total of 16 pictures and judging by the look of some of them this is a pretty bleak area.
I forgot to note that the Westgate was owned and operated by the Georgia Theatre Company from the time I first found it until the late 80’s when it was included in the Georgia Theatre Company sellout to United Artists Theatres.
I do not know who was responsible for building it in the first place. I am sure that it was closed by United Artists before the sellout to Regal.
In October of 1973 the Bibb was playing a forgetable Blaxploitation movie called “Detroit 9000.” The evening shows on the final night of its run were cancelled for a radio station promotion and free screening of the Bibb’s next attraction, “Save The Children.” Apparently, no paper passes were distributed, but instead it was just general admission to everyone up to capicity. Needless to say, a huge crowd showed up well before showtime. When it came time to open the doors, the crowd started pushing and managed to shove the people in front through the plate glass doors.
In the resulting chaos, the lobby was trashed and a mini riot broke out on the street. Needless to say, the show was cancelled and scores of police, supported by the departments armored car, were required to restore order. The mayor, Ronnie Thompson, AKA Machine Gun Ronnie in respect for his tough stance toward crime, called out the city busses to give everyone a ride home which had the effect of quickly disolving the crowd.
“Save The Children” enjoyed a more sedate opening the next day.
“The American Drive In Movie Theatre” by Don and Susan Sanders is probably the best book on the history of drive ins. Page 109 has an excellent picture of this screen during its prime, long before the insurance office was built in front of it. The caption states that when it was built in 1947 the screen had an Indian themed mural. Later, it was redone to show the “Baylor Bear”, the mascot of the University of Baylor which is located in Waco, running through the football stadium. You can just barely make out this image in the modern day picture linked to above.
Another venue from my past. I attended the Riverside many times while I was a student at Georgia College in Milledgeville during 1972, 73, and 74. There were two indoor screens and one drive in screen in Milledgeville, all operated by Martin, but if you wanted first run product you usually had to drive the 30 miles to Macon. At the time, Riverside was operated by its builder, the Weis Theatre Company and was still a twin. I would guess that the seating capacity was about 500 per side. The front doors opened into the lobby and the auditoriums were to either side. Concession stand straight ahead in the middle, with the box office opening to the outside between the sets of entrance doors.
A notable feature of the auditoriums was the lack of a false ceiling. All of the lighting fixtures, ductwork, conduits, etc… were exposed, but painted black so that you really did not notice them unless you happened to look up. During intermission a slide projector in the booth showed slides at an angle so that it hit half screen and half panels located on the wall. At first I thought that the projector was misaligned, but since it was always that way I guess you can say it was “art.” In those pre advertising days the slides were pictures of movie stars and some stills from classic movies.
The Riverside was the newest theatre in Macon at that time and competed with the Georgia Theatre Company operated triple in the Westgate Shopping Center for first run product. I can remember seeing “What’s Up Doc”, “Nicholas and Alexandra”, “The Exorcist”, and “Sound of Music” among many others at this location. In the mid to late 70’s the Weis Theatre Company hit hard times and started disposing of their properties. Georgia Theatre Company bought up the ones in Macon which also included the downtown Bibb, the Weis Drive In in Warner Robbins which was the only air conditioned drive in I ever saw, and the half of the Macon Mini Cinema that Weis and GTC had jointly owned and operated for several years.
When I left Georgia Theatre in the early 80’s they were still running it as a twin. I was not aware that it had ever been quaded, or when it closed. One other note: Just out Riverside Drive a little ways was the Georgia Theatre operated Riverside Drive In. It was located in the nicest setting I have ever seen for a drive in and was a great place to see a movie.
website is www.plazaatlanta.com
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.”