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Here’s a report by the fire chief of Kansas City describing the fire that destroyed the Willis Wood Theatre in 1917:
“Willis Wood Theatre, northeast corner Eleventh and Baltimore, January 8th, 1917. The first alarm was received at 12:50 A. M., followed by a second alarm at 12:51 A. M. The building was a three-story brick theatre owned by the Willis Wood estate, and occupied by Messrs. Richards & Flynn, as a moving picture theatre. Upon arrival of the Department the fire had spread throughout the entire building. The fire was practically confined to the theatre, with nominal exposure losses on the Home Telephone Company’s building and the Kansas City Southern Railway building, adjoining. The loss on building and contents was $87,296.51, the total insurance being $551.549.82. Eight single streams and two turret streams were used in extinguishing the fire; cause, unknown.”
Boxoffice of May 9, 1966, mentions the Lido: “Ramon Lence, who operates the Lido (formerly the Major) in Dallas, is converting the house to live talent and art movies….”
The house was still called the Major in 1965, when the March 29 issue of Boxoffice reported that Phil Isley had sold most of his circuit to John Rowley, but had retained ownership of the Major Theatre in Dallas and the Canyon Drive-In at Snyder.
I’ve found Phil Isley’s Major Theatre mentioned in Boxoffice as early as the issue of February 11, 1950, in an item saying that R.V. Scott had taken over as manager of the house. I haven’t found the opening date for the Major, but judging from the style of the building I’d say that it might have opened in early 1950 or in the late 1940s.
Boxoffice of July 10, 1954, said that D.B. Stout, operator of the Uptown Theatre, had announced that the house had been closed permanently as of the first of the month. The highway department was widening Sycamore Street, and the front portion of the building was to be demolished to accommodate the expanded right-of-way.
The Lincoln Theatre in Cairo was mentioned in Boxoffice of June 14, 1947. The Opera House had burned down on February 7 that same year. If the Rodgers became the Lincoln when it replaced the Opera House as the town’s African-American theater, then the name change must have taken place that year.
Boxoffice of October 26, 1957, reported that the Rodgers circuit had announced that their Lincoln Theatre at Cairo would be closed “…for an indefinite period.” I haven’t found any later mentions of the Lincoln in Boxoffice.
The destruction of the Cairo Opera House by fire was reported in Boxoffice of February 15, 1947. The fire broke out shortly before noon on February 7, and destroyed five buildings.
Another brief item in the magazine’s issue of April 12 said that the Opera House had opened in December, 1881, with Fay Templeton in “Mascotte” and that the last stage production at the house had been Irving Berlin’s “Music Box Review,” presented in 1937. 56 years was an impressive run for a small town theater.
I would surmise that the discrepancy in seating capacity between the 1890s and the 1940s was probably the result of the closing of some part of the auditorium— probably upper galleries and side boxes— when the house was converted for showing movies. The main floor might have been reseated with larger chairs and wider rows at some time as well.
An article in Boxoffice of January 16, 1967, gives a somewhat different history of the Gem than that currently presented here. According to Bill Griffin (the subject of the article, and former assistant manager of the old Gem and manager of its replacement) the original Gem did not burn down, but was demolished to make way for the new Gem. It was the new Gem which suffered the fire.
Although the Boxoffice item says that Griffin watched “…the beautiful new Gem Theatre burn to the ground,” the facade that survives today doesn’t look like anything that would have been put up in the 1930s. My guess would be that the fire only gutted the theater and it was rebuilt within the old walls. Griffin arrived in Cairo in December, 1926, so the original Gem was demolished after that. My guess, judging from the architectural style of the newer building, is that the ill-fated second Gem was built in the late 1920s.
That’s obviously a very old building, probably dating from no later than the early 1920s, possibly from the 1910s. If I were to hazard a guess (and you know I will) I’d say the Roxy was probably in operation in the 1920s under another name.
But the only mentions of the Roxy I’ve been able to find in Boxoffice so far are from the early 1950s. The issue of February 12, 1955, in an item saying that Maurice Stahl had recently acquired the house from Claughton Theatres and planned to redecorate it.
The Mesa Theatre suffered a major fire and was rebuilt in 1948. Apparently the walls survived the disaster. Reconstruction was about to begin, according to Boxoffice of March 6, 1948. Operator E. R. Hardwick said that everything in the theater would be new, including the four (segregated) rest rooms. The stadium-style auditorium was to seat 768. The architect for the project was Jack Corgan.
Boxoffice of March, 1988, said that Commonwealth Theatres had closed its State Theatre in Clovis the previous December 18, the same day the circuit’s new North Plains four-plex was opened.
A 1944 Boxoffice item said that E. R. Hardwick, long-time operator of the State, had entered the theater business in 1909 as an usher, and had been in charge of theaters in Clovis since 1913. He became an affiliate of Griffith Theatres in 1933.
The Crystal was a very early movie house on Elm Street, Dallas’s “Theatre Row.” A bit of its history is told in this article from Motion Picture Times of October 6, 1928. The Crystal was being dismantled at that time.
Rongee: The other four theaters you remember are all listed at Cinema Treasures:
A Ritz Theatre opened at Midland in 1928, and was designed by theater architect W. Scott Dunne. Motion Picture Times of November 3 that year said that the house, owned by W. H. Williams, would open about Thanksgiving Day.
Boxoffice of January 17, 1977, said this: “Video’s Cinema, formerly the Ritz, in Midland, Tex., has been completely remodeled and will reopen soon.” I can’t find any other refences to a house in Midland called the Cinema.
According to volume 2 of a 1912 publication, “Genealogical and personal history of Fayette county Pennsylvania”, by James Hadden, the Soisson Theatre was built in 1907 by Joseph Soisson. It was originally designed as a venue for live performances. I haven’t been able to find anything else about its early history, but it was showing movies in 1928.
The Soisson Theatre had been dark for many years when it was renovated and reopened by Vernon F. Scott’s Ideal Amusement company in 1937. Boxoffice of November 20 that year said that the opening was scheduled for November 24. The architect for the extensive remodeling was Harry W. Altman, Sr. of Altman & Altman, Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
The Soisson was acquired by the Warner-affiliated Brown Amusement Company in 1941. Boxoffice of August 1, 1953, said that the Orpheum Theatre at Connellsville had reopened after being closed for six weeks and that the Soisson Theatre was scheduled to go dark. The Soisson is mentioned again in Boxoffice of May 22, 1954, in an item saying that it would be operated on weekends only.
The Soisson and Orpheum are mentioned as the only two theaters still oeprating in Connellsville in Boxoffice of September 26, 1956. I haven’t found the Soisson mentioned as an operating theater in any later issues of Boxoffice. The Orpheum operated at least as late as 1965, but was closed and its equipment sold by 1971.
This theater returned to its original name of Paramount in 1953, according to the February 7 issue of Boxoffice that year. The house had been closed for six months. The September 4, 1954, issue of Boxoffice reported that the Paramount at Connellsville had been closed.
I haven’t found the Paramount mentioned in any later issues of Boxoffice. A 1956 Boxoffice item said that the only theaters still operating in Connellsville were the Soisson and the Orpheum, so the 1954 closure of the Paramount had probably been permanent.
Vernon Scott was the head of the Ideal Amusement Company, according to Boxoffice of October 2, 1937. The item said that the Vernon Theatre had opened “…at the turn of the year….” I guess that would mean either December 31, 1936, or January 1, 1937.
At the time of Scott’s death in March, 1942, the Ideal Amusement company operated a circuit of 14 theaters. Scott was succeeded as President of the chain by former general manager F.X. McClellan.
The earliest mention of the Majestic by name that I’ve found is in Boxoffice of February 5, 1938, which said the house had suffered $7,000 in damage due to fire. It was owned by J.V. Carter. A December 15, 1951, Boxoffice item said that J.V. Carter Jr. had sold two theaters he had operated at Comanche for twenty years. A December 29 item about the sale (to Jack Arthur and Harold Flemins) gave the names of the theaters as the Ritz and the Majestic. That’s the only time I can find mention of a Ritz at Comanche, Texas. An often-mentioned Ritz at Comanche, Oklahoma, muddies Internet searches.
Jack Arthur was mentioned as the operator of the Majestic at Comanche in Boxoffice of September 20, 1965, so the house was still open at that date.
The “Twenty Years Ago” feature in Boxoffice of November 8, 1947, mentions another theater at Comanche, the Lyric, operated by C.V. Caver. It had opened on October 14, 1927. I’m wondering if the Lyric might have been renamed the Ritz. An obituary for Claude V. Caver in Boxoffice of March 2, 1959, indicated that he had moved to Dallas in the late 1920s, a bit before J.V. Carter would have begun operating theaters in Comanche. Caver’s obituary indicates that he was operating a theater at Comanche at least as early as 1921.
Motion Picture Times of March 30, 1930, said that N.W. Story was planning a new theater at Comanche, Texas. This might have been the Majestic, though I haven’t found anything to confirm this. There is another item from 1930 saying that a Roy Walker was interested in a theater project in Comanche. I can’t find either of them mentioned in connection with the town again.
There must be a typo in paragraph two of the intro. The line “The Modesto Theatre reopened on July 2, 1913….” should probably say 1914, as the theater burned in December, 1913. Unless, of course, time occasionally runs backward in Modesto.
According to a card in the California Index, the Los Angeles Examiner of January 25, 1914, reported that Ralph T. Morrell (his middle initial was actually P) was the architect of a theater to be built at Modesto. There aren’t any details on the card, but the project referred to was most likely the rebuilding of the Modesto.
Morrell was a fairly significant architect in the San Joaquin Valley. His office was in Stockton, where a large number of his works were built. A 1920 issue of Architect and Engineer said that the offices of Ralph P. Morrell had let contracts for the construction of an Odd Fellows Lodge in Stockton which was to have a movie theater on the ground floor. So far I’ve been unable to discover which theater this was.
Boxoffice of October 23, 1954, has this item datelined Nanty Glo: “Closed for three years, the Liberty Theatre here is being dismantled and will be remodeled into a store room.”
This one has been a bit of a puzzler for me, too. Boxoffice mentions North Belle Vernon three times that I can find, in 1938, 1940, and 1971, and never gives a theater name in connection with the town. However, various other sources reveal the magazine’s error. Boxoffice invariably places the Verdi Theatre in Belle Vernon when it was actually in North Belle Vernon.
After much searching I’ve concluded that the Vernon Theatre must have been the Verdi, which was probably the town’s only theater. I’ve found no references to a name change from Verdi to Vernon Theatre, but it was operating as the Verdi at least as late as 1961, and multiple sources indicate that it was located on Broad Avenue.
The Verdi was built in or about 1916 by Zefferio Marini, who operated the house himself until 1932 and then leased it out according to a Boxoffice item of February 12, 1938. This item said he intended to resume operation of the theater when the lease was up on May 1. The lessees, Joe and Mike Mazzei, at first intended to build a new theater at North Belle Vernon, but eventually abandoned the project.
Boxoffice of September 4, 1954, said that CinemaScope was being installed in the Verdi Theatre. By 1961, the Verdi was being operated by Geno and Mary Tonarelli, mentioned in Boxoffice of July 24 that year (an item earlier that year gives the name as Gene Tonarello.) That was the last mention of the Verdi I’ve found in Boxoffice, and I’ve been unable to find any mention of a Vernon Theatre in either Belle Vernon or North Belle Vernon. After 1961, Boxoffice only ever mentions the Super 71 Drive-In.
Boxoffice of August 13, 1938, says that construction had begun on the B&J circuit’s new Four Star Theatre in Grand Rapids. The architect of this neighborhood house was Frank L. Proctor. An ad for the American Seating Company in Boxoffice of December 10, 1938, also names Proctor, and has a small photo of the facade (lower left.)
All I’ve been able to dig up about Proctor on the Internet is that in 1907 he was a draftsman for the Grand Rapids architectural firm Williamson & Crow, and that the 1920 City Directory lists him as a partner of architect Henry E. Crow in Crow & Proctor, though Williamson was also listed as being in the same office. Proctor was apparently in a solo practice by the time he designed the Four Star.
Frank L. Proctor was probably also the architect of that name who, in 1905, modified plans by the firm of Winslow & Bigelow for a stable at an estate called Holmdene which is now the campus of Aquinus College. The former stable, by th en converted to other use, was rebuilt following a fire in 1978 (it is now a chapel), so I don’t know how much, if any, of the original building survives. I can’t find anything about any other buildings Proctor designed, but if the Four Star was typical of his work they’d certainly be worth a look.
The pool links work for me, too. Flickr was probably having temporary indigestion.
Patsy: Check the Carlisle Theatre page. I posted a new link you’ll like.
The Sanilac Theatre was built inside the walls of Sandusky’s former auditorium, though it was otherwise a new building. The project was designed by architects Bennett & Straight, according to Boxoffice of November 13, 1937.
W.F. Caudell and F.G. Murphy were the first owners of the South Miami Theatre according to an item in Boxoffice of June 24, 1946. Boxoffice of March 10, 1951, said that W.F. Caudell had reopened the Hi-Way Theatre in South Miami after remodeling the front, adding a new marquee, and painting and reseating the auditorium.
The July 1, 1953, issue of Boxoffice said that the Sunset Theatre at South Miami was being operated by Milton Frackman. The earliest mention of Wometco in connection with the house that I’ve found is in the April 9, 1955, issue of Boxoffice which referred to the Sunset as “…the Wometco circuit’s newest addition….”
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Boxoffice always calls the house the Sunset Art Theatre. By the late 1960s it’s back to calling it simply the Sunset Theatre.
After being closed by United Theatres, the Abalon was dark for nearly a decade until Joseph Costello, owner of radio station WRNO, renovated and reopened the house as a venue for classic movies. A July 3, 1978, Boxoffice item about local protests against Costello’s plan to reopen the Abalon said that the theater was “…a thirty-year-old Algiers landmark….” A later Boxoffice item gave the opening year of the Abalon as 1951.
Boxoffice of April 2, 1979, quoted New Orleans movie and theater critic Al Shae’s comments on the renovated Abalon from his review of “Harold and Maude,” then playing at the house: “The new-old Abalon Theatre is the ideal setting for this fine film. The large 665-seat theatre is as clean as a whistle with expensive Dolby sound. Spacious, deeply cushioned chairs are comfortable with nary a bad seat in the house.”
The Abalon was still operating in 1983, when Boxoffice ran an article about Joseph Costello (He Went Into Films On His Ear, left column, right-hand page.) This article said that Costello, who had begun his career as a disk jockey, had presented live concerts by major rock bands at the Abalon, and frequently offered combined shows featuring movies and live performances by local bands. He also expanded his interests in exhibition, opening several additional theatres so that, by 1983, he operated more screens within the city of New Orleans than any other exhibitor.
Boxoffice of July 18, 1966, said that the Orangeburg Theatre had hosted 350 industry guests at the opening on July 7, at which a sneak preview of the Frank Sinatra movie “Assault on a Queen” was presented. The new house had 600 seats. The Orangeburg was operated by Lesser Theatres, a small circuit headed by Howard Lesser. The circuit then operated theaters at Mt. Kisco, Spring Valley, Lynnbrook, and Yorktown, and had a theater under construction in Peekskill. All were first-run operations.