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New information from the county register. The building was built in 1927—ergo the Newman/Normal/Studio/Movie House/Highland Cinema are the same building. Still operating as the concert hall for Newby’s. Looks pretty dismal on the inside.
It was later operated by Dave Lebovitz along with three indoor and two other drive-in theatres. All served the “colored” community.
Park Avenue has no highway number although it is an important thorofare. It begins at a fork from Lamar Ave. and veers in another direction. The fork is near South Parkway and Park Avenue stretches from midtown Memphis to the border of Germantown at which time it changes its name to Poplar Pike and continues east for a long way thereafter.
From the MOM nostalgia website: “This Cinema opened October 7, 1981 and closed September 28, 2000 – Last movies shown at the Mall of Memphis Cinema as a General Cinema Theatre were "Bait,” “Highlander End Game,” “Nutty Profesor II, The Klumps,” “Original Kings of Comedy” and “Scary Movie.”“ The last operator was Cinema Grill. The Mall of Memphis closed Christmas Eve, 2003. It is gone without a trace and the land is for sale.
City directories show that a theatre called the Gem opened at this address in 1926.
Dave Lebovitz owned and operated several “Colored” movie theaters: Ace, Harlem, and Georgia. He and his brother also owned and operated three Drive-in movies: Sky-Vue, Lamar, and Sunset (West Memphis).
The above photo was taken in November, 2012. The passage to the theatre and anything on the upper level are gone, only the left hand storefronts remain. Dave Lebovitz owned and operated several “Colored” movie theaters: Ace, Harlem, and Georgia. He and his brother also owned and operated three Drive-in movies: Sky-Vue, Lamar, and Sunset (West Memphis).
A very nice gentleman from the Royal Knights, headquartered in the building, let me look inside. It is a bar with a low ceiling supported by posts. It can be seen where the lobby wall was, otherwise no trace of the interior. He said that it had been a bar since the mid-1970s but also said he would look up more information.
Dave Lebovitz owned and operated several “Colored” movie theaters: Ace, Harlem, and Georgia. He and his brother also owned and operated three Drive-In movies: Sky-Vue, Lamar, and Sunset (West Memphis).
This image was used on the cover of an edition of Memphis Blues by W. C. Handy which commemorated the dedication of Handy Park on Beale in 1931.
A 2012 photo of the restored building facade has been posted.
This just in. Went by to look at Osaka Bistro today. No trace of the interior of the Plaza remains but the restaurant is very elaborate and beautiful. Haven’t eaten there yet. The canopy and front window remain intact with the “Osaka” letters where the vertical letters always have been. See the new exterior photos.
This photo is from “Memphis Greets You” a promotional photo book of Memphis dated 1916. One is in the possession of the Memphis Shelby County Room of the Memphis Public Library and one is also in the Library of Congress collection.
The book “Night in Memphis” is available at the Memphis Shelby County Room of the Memphis Public Library.
Jimmie Tashie of Malco Theatres and the theatre manager on duty were very kind to me about taking these photos yesterday. The theatre is indeed very handsome, I would only want the older woodwork exposed and better light fixtures in the lobby. The theatre now caters to an adult—as in mature, want some substance to their movies—crowd. It is prospering and has become a “bistro” cinema serving wine and extra goodies. It is completely redone, converted to digital and I saw “Hugo,” “Marigold Hotel,” and “The Artist” there. The auditoria are remodeled almost out of recognition—for the better—except for the final demise of the curtains over the screen. The old square boxoffice has been removed and the outer foyer area furnished with bistro tables and chairs. Malco can now be really proud of it again as they were in 1977 when in opened. Was looking to see if there was any big spread in Boxoffice Magazine about the Highland Quartet when it opened. There was just a notice. The Ridgeway, I guess being the new home offices, was the one that got the glory. It also is free-standing where the Highland Quartet was in a four-sided…well they called it a mall in 1971…but everything faced outward with just an arcade around the outside. The Highland Quartet was a prime example of the “mimimalist” cinema style of the 70s—it didn’t even have any sort of eye-catching display, just a sign on Poplar Avenue and changeable letter boxes by the front entrance. Thank heaven things are different now.
New photos have been uploaded of the remodeled theatre. A collage of famous Hollywood faces by House of Cruthirds is the focal point of the Ridgeway lobby and has been since its opening on June 17, 1977. It also inspired similar decoration in many later Malco theatre lobbies although this is the finest example. Many of the others were airbrushed.
Interesting note, the second auditorium looks very much like many of the Malco multiplex auditoriums in the 1970s.
See other photo for an even earlier theatre at this location.
Just returned from a trip to Nashville and was interested in M A Lightman’s first big venture into the motion picture business in Tennessee. MALCO is still going strong in Memphis and elsewhere in the region. Executive Director Stephanie Silverman was very kind to me and took me into the side hallways and upstairs to get the glimpses of the 1925 plasterwork. It was fascinating and they are very proud of the theatre and its history. However, there is really no chance of any of this being brought to light since there is so much mechanical and other between the newer walls and ceiling and the old and it is an operating and prospering theatre. But at least we can see it. And the 1925 proscenium has been recently refurbished. I posted several new photos. The theatre still offers occasional stage fare. I understand there was never any grand street display at either the original Hillsboro entrance or on the Belcourt side. Old photos have not surfaced. The competing theatre, I believe the Belmont was its name, down the block (which forced the Lightmans out of the Hillsboro) is gone without a trace.
The main cinematic claim to fame for this Bijou is that the Cinematograph was demonstrated in this theatre in 1896.
Kemmons Wilson built this theatre in 1941. Ads from the period call it the “Airway” though locals always knew it by the name of the nearby street, which is “Airways” because it was laid out to go to the airport. In its later years as an adult theatre the ads show the name “Airways.” When this happened is still being researched. Though demolished now, it lasted longer because of the adult trade.
1943, Memphis and Shelby County Room
Memphis Public Library and Information Center
Memphis and Shelby County Room
Memphis Public Library and Information Center