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The September 15, 1972, issue of Boxoffice featured an article about the 50th anniversary of the Rialto. The house opened on August 19, 1922, over a month after it had been completed. The delay was the result of a railroad strike which had stranded the Theater’s organ in a Cincinnati railyard. Henry Hall finally grew impatient and arranged for a ten-piece orchestra to substitute for the missing theater organ at the opening. The first movie shown in the new house was Douglas Fairbanks' “The Three Musketeers.”
The Boxoffice article gives a higher seat count at the time of the Rialto’s opening than the theater currently has, saying there were 526 opera chairs on the main floor and 200 additional seats in the balcony. Over 1300 tickets were sold for two shows on the opening night, at 10 and 25 cents.
The year after the Rialto opened, the Halls bought a competing Beeville house, the Mission Theatre, later renaming it the Rex. They operated the Rex until 1959. When the Rialto was gutted by fire in 1936, the Halls opened another theater called the Rio, intending it to be a temporary replacement until the Rialto was rebuilt, but Hall was still operating the Rio at least as late as 1972.
The Aquarius IV was designed for Trans-Texas Theatres by Austin architect Earl J. Nesbitt Jr., who I believe is still in practice at Austin.
An article about the Aquarius IV (the marquee, like the Boxoffice articles about the theater, featured the Roman numeral, not the Arabic number) published in the September 17, 1973, issue of Boxoffice, some months after the house had opened, gave the seating capacity as 1,606. Auditoriums I and IV each had 254 seats, auditorium II had 656, and auditorium III 442.
The June 7, 1947, issue of Boxoffice said: “J.E. Charbonneu, owner and operator of the Concord, Concord, N.H., for many years, has disposed of the property to Theresa Cantin, who has been booking and managing the house for some time. Charbonneau will retire from active business.”
E.L. Jack Johnston was operating the Mecca Theatre in 1931, when a letter he wrote in praise of Universal serials was published as part of an ad placed by Universal in the August 4, 1931, issue of Exhibitor’s Forum. Johnston died in 1964, and the brief obituary published in Boxoffice mentioned that he had once operated a theater at McAlester, but did not give the years of its operation.
Whenever the Mecca closed, Jack Johnston was gone from McAlester sometime before 1944. He ran a classified ad in the March 11 issue of Boxoffice that year, seeking employment as a theater manager and giving a P.O. Box address in Cordell, Oklahoma. The ad said he was currently employed in California but would be available April 2. Some years later he bought the Washita Theatre in Cordell, operating it until his death.
A small photo of the Star Theatre appeared in Boxoffice, May 15, 1948. The caption said it had opened in February, had 520 seats, and was operated by Chris Geoghegan, who had been operating the Colonial Theatre in South Hill for 15 years.
The address of the Sylacauga Tehatre was probably 100 N. Broadway Avenue. Google Maps has no trouble finding that spot. It looks like when the Street View truck went by, there was construction going on on the vacant lot where the theater used to be. In the background you can see a house on the next street which can also be seen in the after photo on this page (very near the bottom) at the Bamaboy’s web site.
For some reason, Google Maps insists on calling Sylacauga “Oak Grove, AL.”
Comparing the before and after photos again, it now seems to me that the Martin might have been a few doors down the block from the site of the Bank. The building in the background in the 1959 photo doesn’t quite match the one beyond the bank in the recent photo. In fact the building in the background in 1959 might actually be the bank before it got a drive-up window. But the theater was definitely on the west side of Broadway between 1st and Fort William Street.
The Before and After page of the Bamaboys' web site has a photo of the Martin (near the bottom of the page) and the Frontier Bank which is apparently the building that replaced it. A web search shows the Frontier Bank is at 43 Broadway Ave., though Google Maps doesn’t like that address (it insists on calling Sylacauga “Oak Grove”, and does weird things with the street numbers.)
The Before and After page also has a photo of the Sylacauga Theatre and the vacant lot where it stood, and comparing it to Google street view shows that the Sylacauga was on the northeast corner of Broadway and 1st, and the Martin was apparently on the southwest corner of the same intersection.
The November 29, 1971, issue of Boxoffice said that Martin Theatres had opened a single-screener in Sylacauga called the Plaza on November 4th. It was converted from two stores in a shopping center. That’s most likely the theater that is now the Stardom. Judging from the description of Stardom in the article, and the photos on its web site, I don’t think it could be the 1951 Martin. The building looks very 1970s.
There was a photo of the auditorium of the Martin in the September 1, 1951, issue of Boxoffice. It was a large room with a high ceiling, decorated in a simple moderne style.
The photo was black-and-white, of course, but the caption says that the screen curtain was of aqua rayon and had a mural depicting marine life, and the side walls were covered in pleated gold fabric overlaid with white diagonals, each panel having in its lower corner decoration related to the screen curtain mural. The stage also had a sheer front curtain in chartreuse, and the valance was a deep green damask, with borders of dusty rose. It sounds like it was quite the perfect 1950s color scheme.
The architect for the 1960 remodeling of the Fain Theatre into the Tropic, which was quite extensive, was Rufus E. Bland. Bland was the long-time in-house architect for the Martin circuit, and MCM, the company that operated the Tropic, was a partnership that included members of the Martin family. The remodeled theater had 450 seats, according to an article in Boxoffice of April 3, 1961, which was accompanied by three small photos of the house.
Rufus E. Bland was the Martin circuit’s in-house architect from no later than 1948 until at least 1973. He might have been designing for them even earlier, and could have been the original architect of the Ritz, or perhaps he was only the architect of a major remodeling at some later time. It’s possible that he designed all of Martin’s Theatres during the 1950s and 1960s, at least. He’s mentioned in Boxoffice a few dozen times.
The April 23, 1949, issue of Boxoffice said that the Martin Circuit was converting a Coca-Cola bottling plant into a theater. Would that have been the Martin Theatre? The architect was Rufus E. Bland, who was Martin’s in-house architect for over a quarter of a century at least.
The November 13, 1948, issue of Boxoffice said that the new Martin house in Bainbridge would have 1,414 seats. There must have been delays in construction, as the March 3, 1951, issue of Boxoffice, when a photo of it appeared on the cover of the magazine’s Modern Theatre section, referred to it as “recently opened.”
Boxoffice has something to say about the Ritz, too, but it’s a bit puzzling. The January 21, 1939, issue of the magazine said that the Ritz was celebrating its fifth anniversary. The 1930s picture Lost Memory linked to shows not only a much older-looking building, but a marquee that looks like it was installed no later than the 1920s. Maybe the Ritz was only celebrating its fifth anniversary under Martin operation. It must have been one of the many existing theaters the circuit acquired over the years.
The correct name of the architect of the Comet Drive-In was Rufus E. Bland. As the Martin circuit’s in-house architect, he designed many theaters for them from the late 1940s, and perhaps earlier, until at least as recently as 1973.
The March 18, 1949, issue of Boxoffice reported that the Martin Theatre in Lafayette had opened recently. The 669-seat house was of the quonset type, and was designed by the Martin circuit’s in-house architect, Rufus E. Bland, in association with engineer John Mauk. Bland was designing theaters for Martin at least as early as 1948 and at least as late as 1973.
Martin operated multiple theaters in Sylacauga, and the Ritz was opened by the circuit in 1934. They also operated a Sylacauga Theatre, which was closed when the Martin opened in 1951. The Ritz closed in 1955.
The Martin Theatre at Sylacauga was opened on June 5, 1951, according to Boxoffice magazine’s issue of July 28 that year. Boxoffice gave the seating capacity as 1,100, but an article in the June 9 issue had said it was 1,150. Though none of the items about this theater that I’ve found in Boxoffice give the name of the architect, it’s pretty much a certainty that it was designed by the circuit’s in-house architect for at least a quarter century, Rufus E. Bland.
The June 19, 1948, issue of Boxoffice says that the Martin Theatre had opened in June, 1938 with 1600 seats (a 1947 Boxoffice item gives the seating capacity as 1,638.) The 1948 item was primarily about a second theater that was to be built by Martin in Opelika. The new house was supposed to have 800 seats and was designed by Martin’s in-house architect of the time, Rufus E. Bland. Construction was to begin shortly. It might have opened as the Ritz, but I’ve been unable to confirm that yet.
There’s a possibility that Rufus Bland designed the 1938 Martin Theatre as well, but I’ve been unable to confirm this either. The earliest mentions of Bland in Boxoffice appear in 1948.
The auditorium of the new Martin Theatre was being built behind an existing theater (no name given) according to the brief item in Boxoffice of October 16, 1937, which said that construction on the new auditorium was going ahead rapidly. The July 9, 1938, issue said that the new Martin had opened to the public on July 1.
The Martin had a stage, and an October 11, 1947, Boxoffice article said that a series of live shows had been planned for the theater, beginning with an appearance by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra. This article also said that “…E.V. Buckner, projectionist at Martin’s Opelika Theatre here, has been with the house for 28 consecutive years.” Other than this, I’ve only found the name Opelika Theatre used in Boxoffice prior to the 1938 opening of the Martin, and I think it might be the theater that the Martin replaced. Presumably, if this is the case, part of the old theater must have become the new Martin’s entrance, and the rest of it retail space. It would also mean that the original theater had opened no later than 1919, the year in which Mr. Buckner must have been hired.
The address of the Martin should be changed to S. 8th Street (without the S., Google maps places it on North 8th Street.) An adjacent building that is still standing can be seen in the Bing Maps bird’s eye views. The Martin’s auditorium was behind the street front buildings to the south of its entrance, and its location is now part of a parking lot. Historic Aerials only has a 2006 view of Opelika, but there’s an aerial view of the town here, and it’s possible to pick out the Martin just about dead center.
A couple of September, 1969, items in Boxoffice say that Martin was building a new theater in Opelika at the Midway Plaza Shopping Center, and that the old Martin on 8th Street was to be demolished as part of an urban renewal project to create a downtown shopping mall. I see no evidence of such a mall in Opelika today, so the project probably fell through, but a parking lot and a small park now exist on the western half of the block the Martin was on, as seen in the Bing Maps bird’s eye view. The theater appears to have been almost the only building on 8th Street that was actually demolished.
I finally found the architects of the Wynnewood. The June 7, 1952, issue of Boxoffice attributes the design of the house to the firm of Pettigrew & Worley.
The June 7, 1952, issue of Boxoffice devoted its Modern Theatre section to articles about remodeling. One article was about the State, which had been expanded and remodeled at a cost of $20,000. The architects for the remodeling were Kemp, Bunch & Jackson.
The June 7, 1952, issue of Boxoffice devoted its Modern Theatre section to articles about remodeling, and one of the theaters featured was the Athens. The article said that the architects for the remodeling were Kemp, Bunch & Jackson, and that the new configuration of the auditorium provided space for 812 seats.
The March 8, 1952, issue of Boxoffice reported that the Westwood Theatre had opened on February 28 that year. Ontario Premier Leslie M. Frost cut the ribbon. The Century Theatres house was designed by theater architects Kaplan & Sprachman.
Harold Kaplan and Abraham Sprachman were among the leading theater designers in Canada from the early 1930s through the 1940s. They designed upward of 100 Canadian cinemas (one Wikipedia page says 300.) Abraham Sprachman’s son Mandel Sprachman also became a theater architect, designing many of the multiplex theaters in Canada.
The Circle Theatre was designed by the architectural firm of Kaplan & Sprachman. The City of Toronto web site provides an isometric drawing of the Circle Theatre by draftsman Eric Hounsom, then employed by Kaplan & Sprachman, but later to design at least one Toronto theater, the University, under his own name.
I’m sure that’s the same building in the 1983 photo ken mc linked to above. It looks like they painted everything but that strip of pink around the base of the box office. It also looks like they used letters from the name Santa Rosa to make the name Stars on the vertical sign.
The July 11, 1942, issue of Boxoffice reported that the Harris Grand Theatre had suffered a major fire and only the walls were left standing. Later issues said only that the theater had been gutted. The October 3 issue, which gave the date of the fire as July 2, said that permission had been received to begin reconstruction of the theater. The project didn’t get underway until 1943, when the February 6 issue of Boxoffice reported that the contract had been awarded to the C.A. Pike Construction Company.
The theater was finally reopened more than a year after the fire. The July 31, 1943, issue of Boxoffice said that the opening had taken place the previous Thursday. It gave the original construction date of the theater as 1906, and said that the Harris Grand had been built by the late Robert H. Harris with money earned from a travelling stage show. The Harris Grand originally presented stage productions, but added vaudeville and movies later, and was the second theater in Indiana to present talking movies.
The article added that “Little change has been made in the interior of the house, aside from decorations, except that the boxes have been removed and replaced with ornamental panels.”
The January 3, 1943, issue of Boxoffice said that plans for the rebuilding had been drawn by Chicago theatrical architect David Sandine. Y&W Theatres must not have been pleased with the results, as just five years after reopening the Harris Grand underwent a $40,000 remodeling which included a “..new marquee, completely revamped new front and extensive interior remodeling” according to Boxoffice, September 18, 1948.
The purchase of the house by Peter Turlukis and its renaming to Towne Cinema was reported in the August 15, 1966, issue of Boxoffice. I haven’t found anything about the final fire and demolition, but Mr. and Mrs. Bill Dennis are mentioned as exhibitors at Bloomington in Boxoffice as late as 1976. The name of their theater at that time is not mentioned.
The May 5, 1951, issue of Boxoffice attributes the design of the Trail Theatre to Dietz Lusk of Boller & Lusk. The Dickenson’s Theatres house had just opened with 700 seats.
The March 15, 1941, issue of Boxoffice ran an item announcing the closing of the Grand for remodeling, describing the plan to build a new theater behind the existing building and convert the former auditorium into a lobby. Manager Gene Lutes said the house would be closed for about three months.