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This theater is on the South side of Madison Avenue just West of McLean. When I arrived in Memphis in 1963 it was operating as a live venue known as Front Street Theater, even though it was a long way from Front Street. The bar/lounge upstairs under the balcony was a local talking point. By the early 1970s it had gone to porn—and not even very high-class porn, at that—and was limping along. I lost track of it in the late 70s, but believe it was closed for a while. Glad to hear the building was saved, at least.
The Bristol was a smaller neighborhood theater just West of Highland Street. According to Memphis old-timers, It got its name from the time when the area was way out in the suburbs and that section of Summer Avenue was called the “Bristol Highway.” Bristol is clear at the other end of Tennessee, about as far away from Memphis as you can get and still be in the state. In the mid-to-late 1970s it was being run by a Memphis movie buff named Mitchell Shapperkotter, probably more for a hobby than as a true commercial endeavor. I remember reading an article in the Commercial Appeal about it. My friend Bill Kendall, once manager at the Guild Theater (q.v.), worked there briefly after he left the Guild but eventually gave it up. I saw one film there—a second-run screening of John Wayne in “The Shootist,” which would have been 1977 or thereabouts. It was demolished shortly after that. I don’t remember much about the theater except that it had a very long, narrow lobby running clear through the office block to the auditorium on the back side. It wasn’t in real good shape in those days, either.
Saw several shows there in the early 1980s including “Time Bandits” and “The King of Comedy.” It was still running when I left Memphis in 1983. The entrance was in the mall and if the last show ended afterthe mall closed, you had to go out the back exits through winding corridors to the parking lot. Other than that, I can’t remember much about it—a typical anonymous mall multiplex of the period. Best wishes.
In the late 1970s and early 80s on Sundays I used to bicycle all around Memphis. I usually got down to Riverside Drive, and would then go up Beale Street past the Orpheum and the Daisys to the bus garage and around Linden Circle to Peabody; then back East to the MSU area. I remember passing a church on Linden Circle, with movie theater architecture, at or very close to this address according to the maps, with a sign reading “God Save America Prayer Temple.” I never saw any people there; and since I went by on Sunday mornings, that’s probably not a good sign. Anyway, I suggest that as late as 1980, this could have been the retreaded Linden Circle Theater.
The Airways was one of the larger “neighborhood” theaters. It had a spacious auditorium with a balcony. In size I would compare it to the Rosemary (q.v.) but with less ornate decoration. When I first saw it in the 60s it was already a porn house, showing mostly Euro-trash but occasionally some home-grown material such as “Surftide 77” and “The Bare Hunt.” The balcony was “reserved for couples only.” The area was a little frightening even then and I only went there a few times. When I returned to Memphis in 1973 it was still running, and I went there once to check it out. Once was enough. The neighborhood, the theater, and the show had all deteriorated even further. In later years I drove by occasionally and it was still operating for a while, but eventually closed. Sorry I can’t provide any more recent information.
That sounds about right. The Handy was on the South side of Park Avenue just East of Airways, which is a Southward extension of East Parkway. Mapquest shows the address to be right where I remember it.
Mapquest also confirms 3475 Central Avenue (see the earlier posting on the Handy Cultural Renaissance Theater) to be just East of Highland, also as I suspected. Lots of retreaded old mansions in that area.
In the unfortunate era of segregation, African-American theaters in the South were sometimes named after well-known African-Americans such as W.C. Handy. That way, someone reading the newspaper ads would realize that it was an African-American theater and either go or not go, as appropriate in the social context of the times—without having to actually say anything. Another example was the Carver theater in Birmingham, Alabama (q.v.)
Re: Elvis' boyhood favorite (see comments above and also for the other Suzore theater).
Careful study of the maps indicates that the Suzore No. 2 on North Main St. was only a few blocks from the Lauderdale Courts projects. This theater, The Suzore No. 1 on Jackson Avenue was farther away, although still within walking distance. This supports the idea that it was the Suzore No. 2 that Elvis attended as a child, so the old-timers who told me it was the other way round were probably mistaken and Mr. Goldman was probably correct.
Re: Elvis' boyhood favorite (see comments for the other Suzore theater).
Careful study of the maps indicates that this theater was only a few blocks from the Lauderdale Courts projects where Elvis lived in the late 1940s/early 50s. The Suzore No. 1 on Jackson Avenue is farther away, although still within walking distance. This supports the idea that it was the Suzore No. 2 on North Main St. that Elvis attended as a child, and where he saw the early Tony Curtis movies that formed the basis of his later image as suggested by Albert Goldman in his Elvis biography.
In the picture posted above, I believe the building in the background just behind the “Crosstown” sign is the Sears Roebuck store.
Just noticed from the maps and street numbers that it must have been just North, not South, of Loew’s State. Sorry, it’s been a long time…
Mr. Dunklin, I’ve been thinking hard about it and wish I could remember more. I seem to recall that the lobby was narrow but rather deep, going in quite a distance before opening up to full auditorium width. It was also high, with a vaulted ceiling sort of like the Alabama theater lobby in Birmingham (q.v.), but smaller and darker. I remember the window wall at the back of the auditorium as described above, and if you got restless I think you could stand or walk up and down behind it and still see the show. The restrooms were up one flight of stairs on either side, at the landings where the stairs turned and went on up to the balcony; ladies on house left, men on the right. There was a vending machine in the mens' room that dispensed novelties of somewhat questionable taste. I don’t remember much about the auditorium, except for the ornamental leaded-glass “Exit” signs which I also saw at Loew’s State and years later at the State Theater in Cleveland, Ohio. They were made like stained glass windows but just said “Exit” in red on a white background. Maybe a feature common to the chain, or a favorite device of the architect. This made an impression on me because I had never seen anything like that before. Otherwise I’m still a bit vague, but if I recall anything else I’ll certainly post it. I had the impression that the theater was demolished before 1983 since I left Memphis in 83 and I remember seeing it being torn down—whereas everybody else says it lasted until 1985. Now I finally recall the details of that episode. I came back to Memphis several times throughout the late 80s, because no sooner had I left to go to graduate school in Birmingham, than I got involved with an old SW classmate who was still in Memphis, whom I ended up marrying in 1986 at the Unitarian Church on the River (still married as this is written, 19 years and counting). Anyway, sometime in 1985 I was back in Memphis for the weekend to visit her and also to work out at Kang Rhee’s Pasaryu Tae Kwon Do academy, and we went to visit a friend who had just bought an apartment in the newly “condo’d” Shrine Building right across Union Avenue from Loew’s Palace. I looked out the window and saw the Palace, frozen in time in the process of being demolished. Most of the roof was gone and you could see the rows of seats, so you’re right that it went down with the seats still in place. So the time discrepancy is solved and I’m certainly glad to get that cleared up. If anything else comes back to me I will be sure to let you know. By the way, I really enjoyed your description of other Memphis theaters, especially the Malco/Orpheum, which I attended many times but never got to tour backstage. However, I did incorporate the “ritual circumnavigation of the Orpheum” into my Sunday morning Memphis bike ride. Please feel free to email at
From the map, this does not appear to be the same as the Southhaven multiplex I remember from the 1970s/80s. That was on the West side of Highway 51 just South of the Tennessee State Line.
In 1951 the area was probably thought of as suburban…
There was no balcony as such, just a couple of “cry” or “party” rooms upstairs flanking the projection booth. The auditorium was split right down the middle when they twinned it.
That’s probably right then; my information was relayed from others, and maybe they or I (and Mr. Goldman, too) remembered it wrong. The building and sign were so far gone when I saw them that there was no way to tell. Thanks.
This was the one known as the Suzore No. 2. Albert Goldman’s highly uncomplimentary and controversial biography of Elvis Presley (which I neither endorse nor condemn personally) states that while living in the Lauderdale Court projects nearby, Elvis went often to the Suzore No. 2. There, supposedly, he saw several early 1950s Tony Curtis movies that had a major role in shaping his image. In the late 1970s I occasionaly went biking down Jackson Avenue and would go right past the remains—or ruins—of the Suzore No. 2. It had obviously been closed a long time and was literally collapsing in slow motion. The large once-vertical sign was lying on its side in the grass beside the building, rusting away.
The Strand was just South of Loew’s State with maybe a couple of small storefronts between. It wasn’t as grand as the other Main Street movie cathedrals—probably more in the league of the Princess just up the street (but which I never saw inside). I remember there were pillars supporting the balcony which caused some visibility problems. When I arrived in Memphis in 1963 it was limping along with conventional fare, such as Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in “A New Kind of Love.” By 1964-65 it had gone to porn, the fate of many downtown theaters across the US in that era. In an attempt to maintain their dignity, or maybe to reduce pressure from the vice squad, they always ran a double feature with some entirely conventional rerun as the main show. So you had to sit through a Robert Mitchum war movie or Doris Day musical before getting to the good stuff. The porn would be probably be considered mild by most folks nowadays, but was certainly controversial enough in the 60s. I remember Russ Meyer’s “Lorna” and “The Immoral Mr. Teas,” several early Barry Mahon and David Friedman classics, and a series of European “naturist” movies with the original German or French soundtrack replaced by English voice-over with an inspiring public-domain music score. If anyone is interested, a lot of this material is now available on VHS/DVD from an outfit in Seattle called Something Wierd Video. Camera angles and cuts were carefully (almost surgically) selected to avoid showing anything beyond topless. Even so, the Strand was constantly in conflict with the vice cops. The papers either censored their ads or refused to take them altogether, and I think it was raided and closed briefly a few times. Still it was popular enough with the sailors from Millington and college students, etc. to turn a profit for a few years. Another porn house was the Airways theater way out East at Airways and Lamar. The last time I went to the Strand was in June of 1967 to see a Euro-nudie called “Sunswept.” When I came back to Memphis in November of 72 I drove in from Arkansas and went right down Main Street, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Urban Renewal had struck. The Warner, the Princess, Loew’s State, and the Strand were gone without a trace. Only Loew’s Palace and the Malco (Orpheum) remained. The Palace was demolished in the late 70s as described elsewhere on this site, and the Orpheum narrowly escaped the same fate. I guess that’s progress.
According to the map it’s at Highway 51 South and Shelby Drive, and that’s what I remember. I think it was built between 1967 and 72 because I never heard of it until I got back from the AF in November 72. It was originally a 4-plex and very modern with (I think) lots of chrome and plexiglass. It was entirely contained in the mall with no outside entrance. The box office was in a kiosk right out in the middle of the mall. In the early 1980s they expanded to a 7-plex. The three additional auditoriums were separate and about 100 feet down from the first four. I never saw Elvis there or heard of him going there, but it could be since it’s not far from Graceland. In Memphis Elvis lore, the Memphian (q.v.) and the Malco Ridgeway 4 were supposed to be his favorites for private screenings. It was a good long haul from the midtown area, but I went there now and then. Saw Vincent Price and Diana Rigg in “Theater of Blood” (a re-working of “House of Wax” and “The Abominable Dr. Phibes,” and IMHO better than either although “House” has more historic significance); Albert Finney and just about everybody in “Murder on the Orient Express”; the original “Road Warrior”; Jesse Vint, June Chadwick, and Dawn Dunlap in “Forbidden World”; the softcore classic “The Cheerleaders”; Sissy Spacek and Nancy Allen in “Carrie”; and many others there. It was still operating in the spring of 1983 when I left Memphis, but that was the last time I saw it so I can’t report on later developments. Best wishes.
I never went to the Princess, but walked and drove past it many times. It was on the West side of Main Street across from and a little North of Loew’s State. I don’t remember how it looked, but do recall the many wierd multiple bills on the marquee. They might have two westerns, a science fiction space opera, and a Roger Corman horror movie showing continuously. A popular joke was that if you were really down-and-out, you could always get a job at the Princess carrying the dead cowboys and monsters off the stage. Ah, memories.
The way I heard it from Memphis show business old-timers, both the Rosemary and the Luciann (q.v.) were built by Augustin Cianciolo, a Memphis movie entrepreneur who named them after his daughters. The Rosemary appeared to be a little older and a little more ornate, in the late 1920s or at least pre-WWII style—in contrast to the stark, functional-looking Luciann. A script addition to the big “Rosemary” sign read, “A Cianciolo Theater.” I remember the lobby and restrooms as being very cramped. It was at the intersection of Jackson and Watkins, a mile or two West of the Southwestern campus, and I used to walk there and back to see the show (hey, I was on the cross-country team!) Saw “The Great Escape,” the original “Manchurian Candidate” (beware of imitations), Glenn Ford and Stella Stevens in “Advance to the Rear,” and Peter Ustinov and Melina Mercouri in “Topkapi” there, all first run I believe. My friend Bill Kendall who managed the Guild theater (q.v.) had grown up right across the street from the Rosemary and said he went there almost daily as a kid. This experience helped make him perhaps the greatest movie afficionado in the entire Memphis area. The Rosemary was still standing in 1973, but was torn down not long after and replaced by a branch of First Tennessee Bank. That lasted only a few years and was itself closed and then demolished in the early 80s. Until I left Memphis in 1983 I used to bicycle down Jackson Avenue occasionally, but don’t remember anything special there in the later years. Too bad.
The way I heard it from Memphis show business old-timers, both the Rosemary (q.v.) and the Luciann were built by Augustin Cianciolo, a Memphis movie entrepreneur who named them after his daughters. The Luciann was on the North side of Summer Avenue just East of Trezevant/East Parkway. It was already closed as a movie theater when I first saw it in 1963 and I’m pretty sure it was a bowling alley at that time. Later it returned to show business as a porno center, with private viewing booths and tape rentals, according to signs on the building. I never went in it, even though I lived only a few blocks away, at two different periods, for several years in all. From the outside it had that shortly-after-WWII “airplane hangar” look. Best wishes.
The Crosstown was on the East side of Cleveland a little South of North Parkway and the huge Sears Roebuck store mentioned above. Old-timers said it had been started in 1941 and construction was suspended during WWII so it was just a hole in the ground until 1946. I first saw it in 1963 as a freshman at Southwestern, which was a couple of miles East on North Parkway. Saw Jean-Paul Belmondo in “That Man from Rio” and Annette Funicello in “Muscle Beach Party” there, among others (you can tell I haven’t wasted MY life). It was still in business when I got back from the AF in 1973, playing things like “Towering Inferno” and re-releases of “2001-a Space Idiocy.” Malco wasn’t pleased with the cash flow, but didn’t want to let anybody else run it for fear of the competition, so they let it sit vacant for a while in the late 70s. They were looking for a way to unload it to someone who wouldn’t use it a movie theater. Enter the Jehovah’s Witnesses. By the time I left Memphis in 1983, they had taken over not only the theater for a conference center, but the entire surrounding block for offices, classrooms, and so forth. They left the marquee and the huge vertical “Crosstown” sign in place. I bet it’s real clean inside…. Best wishes.
Update: this web address
describes Malco’s “Studio on the Square,” a 5-plex at 2105 Court Street [sic]. I couldn’t find a map link on the site, but the name and address are certainly consistent with an Overton Square location, given the confusion of ‘street’ and ‘avenue’ as described above. Cinema Tour is a good site with lots of period photos, but without the commentary we have here; by all means, check it out. This was the first I had ever heard of such a theater, but then I haven’t been in Mempho in about 7 years and not in Overton Square for longer than that, so my speculation that it’s a recent construction is probably right. Malco stands for the M.A. Lightman Company, which operates multiplex theaters all over the mid-South. Just what Overton Square needed, a Malco 5-plex… Best wishes.
I’m living in Dallas now, but still have relatives in Ballinger and go there on occasion. My mother grew up there and her youngest brother and his 4 kids and their families (and dogs and cats) are still there. Drop me a line if you like at