Showing 9 comments
Yes I remember this theater and standing in front of it and looking it over on the outside. It was ONLY for African American patrons. The entrance may have been on Henry Street. The Academy of Music, The American, The Rialto, The Jefferson, The Grandin, The Lee and The Park did not allow African American patrons back then. The Roanoke did but only on Kirk Ave next to the American Theater stage entrance but our African American patrons had to climb many steps way up to the second balcony which was steep and you almost looked down at your shoes to see the movie or the stage show. That was nuts and finally in 1963 or 64 ALL theaters opened their main entrances to ALL people who bought a ticket, red, yellow, black or white. And the funny thing was within a week or so, it seemed it had always been that way.
The Academy of Music was in the 400 block of west Salem Ave about half way between 4th street and 5th street. Lots of stage productions there and often starring actors of note. I have a bill where Boris Karloff was staring in a play. The inside of the theater was very nice but had more of an auditorium feel than a theater to me. Two theaters in Roanoke, Va were larger. The American (1928-1971)(2,000 seats) and The Roanoke (1911-1961) (about 1400 seats including a second balcony for African Americans) which was next door to The American on Kirk Ave but it’s entrance was around the corner on Campbell Ave except the upper balcony had an entrance with small box office and marquee on Kirk Ave for African American patrons. I know that sounds nuts today but that was the way it was then and I knew back then as a teenager working there that it was not right and was glad when my black friends could walk right in the main entrance starting about 1963 or 64.
The Roanoke for it’s first years was on the Keith circuit which fed a steady diet of stage presentations. The Roanoke’s stage was wider than The Academy of Music but not as deep. Probably about 25 to 30 feet deep with dressing rooms up stairs on the side of the stage but high enough for wing space on the stage and additional dressing rooms under the stage.
I use to work for National Theatre Corp and the Rialto opened in 1920 and closed in 1955. It was a long and very narrow theatre with a small balcony with the projection room in the back of balcony. For years and years Mr. Hines only booked WESTERN movies often starring Hoot Gibson, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers etc there. At the Park Theatre Mr. Hines often booked your Gary Grant or Loretta Young type movies. At the American which had 2,000 seats he booked the big films such as Gone with the Wind. At The Roanoke was usally second run films and often it was a film that just finished a run next door at the American. The newspaper ad would read “Dial M For Murder HELD OVER FOR A FOURTH WEEK AND MOVED NEXT DOOR TO THE ROANOKE!”
Also the Roanoke in the teens and 20’s was on the Keith circuit and had a regular diet of stage shows. Even in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, Mr. Hines would often book stage shows at the Roanoke usually on Wednesday nights. And several over the years were dancing “girl” shows complete with 10 to 15 piece band down in the pit in front of the footlights. Lots of women in town then would be mad at their husbands if they found out they had been to The Roanoke Theater for that kind of show!!!
Mr.Hines was a stern boss and manager who never watched a movie himself, always called at 10:15pm every night on the dot to get the box office report on The American, The Roanoke, The Park and The Rialto. He never took a vacation according to legend and arrived at his plush office in The American Theater building at the same time each day and left at the same time each night. He said his job was “to put seats in seats”. He WAS the boss and part owner of the company and booked all movies, stage shows and created all newspaper ads and other ads. After the plush American opened in 1928, he rarely went to his other theaters including The Roanoke which was just next door. One of his long time employees, T. R. Emerson, liked to hide liquor in various places. He was a stage hand for the American and Roanoke. Night watchman at times at The American and slept on a couch on the mezzanine near the Managers office where he would watch the Tonight Show every night which had Steve Allen, then Jack Parr and finally Johnny Carson on the manager’s black and white TV set (only B&W tv then anyway) and he would operate the movie projectors at The Roanoke on a simi regular basis and occasionally The Park and The Rialto. Mr. Hines fired Mr. Emerson about 40 times and Emerson just kept coming to work and each week had a pay check signed by Hines. I never figured out how that actually worked:–) In 1976 after Hines died and all of his theaters had closed and torn down, Emerson was projectionist at The Grandin Theater on Grandin Rd in Roanoke which was a Craver Theater Co. property then and he died of a heart attack while on the job. 60 years of continues work in theaters in Roanoke, Va. May I tip my hat to him!! He was a great guy and loved to smoke cigars that he often would send me (as a teen) to buy up at the Hotel Patrick Henry on Jefferson St at midnight. I guess I was too young to buy ‘um but I just said I was with The National Theater Corp and I was here to pick up some cigars for Mr. Emerson and bang the guy would hand me three of Emerson’s brand.
seats in seats".
Joe Vogel. That picture above of the American is from the 1928 grand opening. I’m rather sure of that. The screen is not there. The camera was about half way up the long sweeping balcony which seated almost 1,000 people with the main floor seating 1,000. We use to claim the theater seated 2,000 but it as just a few seats short of that and it was in the balcony where it was about 996 or so seats. It also looks as if the lights that shined down on the three steps of curtains that ran down to the top of the stage were off. They were in the attic. Toward the camera was a large square section in the ceiling that had large white lights in each corner & smaller lights running from one side to the other on all four sides. All of the lights I’m discussing now were not on during the movie:–) Running next to the ceiling from the front of the balcony all the way to the back of the house to the projection room on both side was a long row of inset lights that looked like the footlights on the stage. There was a yellow one, then a blue one and a red one and the process repeated itself until it reached the end many lights later. Each color was on individual switches on the big switch board back stage which was on the Krik Ave side of the stage. If the switch was in the middle position, it was OFF. If it was down it was ON. But if it was UP, it would come on when the operator up in the projection room would press a master button up there. Every switch for the house lights and stage lights that was in the UP position would come on or go off when the projection room operator would hit that button between movie showing.
BTW. In the picture above, the entrance you see at the bottom on the main floor on the right led back stage and the one on your left went up steps and then there was an exit door that led to Kirk Avenue which was on the south side of the theater building.
In 1940 the marquee of the American was updated with neon that flashed. It had neon shooting stars that were blue and their tails flashed in sequence in red neon. Lightening strikes flashed in red neon on the sides and the word AMERICAN would flash red then green then red and green together and then start over. At the bottom were running border lights which were just standard 25 watt light bulbs.
At the same time Mr. Hines had the marquees at The Roanoke, The Park and The Rialto updated with action neon. Roy C. Kinsey sign company did it. The same people who put the star on Mill Mountain in 1949.
That is correct. That is the Academy of Music which was in the 400 block of Salem Ave.SW on the southside of the street. There is a parking lot there now and it’s about half way up the block between 4th & 5th streets. As far as I know, no movies played at this house. It was ONLY stage productions & had more of an auditorium look than a theater look inside to me but it was a nice looking place in older photos. Deep stage but not very wide.
The Roanoke Theater was at 14 Campbell Ave SW but the entrance was narrow and a Planter’s Peanut Store was in the same building which was a remolded three story building built about 1904. It wasn’t very wide. The box office was on the right hand side & after getting your ticket, you strolled by one sheets advertising the current movie & coming attractions including some stage productions which in the theater’s latter years was usually on Wednesday nights. Then though to doors with half moon glass in them and up a long ram to the lobby & ticket taker. You made a right angle turn to enter the downstairs of the actual theater which was built and opened in 1911. To the left of the concession stand was steps which led up to the restroom. If you continued and the rope which read “Balcony Closed” was not hooked, you went up to the balcony which featured box seats on both sides that could also be accessed from steps both right and left of the main floor box seats that you accessed from the downstairs (mainfloor) though a curtain next to the front side exit doors on the main floor. If one continued by the box seats the next door took you back stage both left and right of the stage.
Three digit addresses didn’t begin on Campbell Ave until one got to the next block west or east. Jefferson St was the dividing line between SW and SE and north of the train tracks just two blocks north on Jefferson St is where NW & NE divided. Anyway going west or east on Campbell Ave or Salem Ave, the first block had single & two digit addresses and in the next block it began 101 and up to the end of the block.
The American Theater which shared a wall with the Roanoke on Kirk Ave had it’s front on Jefferson St and it’s address was 212. The theater building had other stores including a restaurant & night club called the Raskeller so the actual theater building probably several addresses. The 18 story office building on the theater footprint today, I think is
214 or maybe 213.
So the Roanoke Theater which was really on Kirk Ave with it entrance and lobby in a older three story long but narrow older building was built and opened in 1911 and was closed by Elmore Hines in 1961 & torn down for a parking lot with the old front entrance building which included the lobby & stair that accessed the balcony was also torn down and the bank expanded even further down west Campbell Avenue. Some pictures of the Roanoke Theater entrance that date to the 1940’s and older, show that then the bank was not down to the theater entrance with a Thom McAnn shoe store and a lunch counter restaurant between the bank & the theater entrance which also included a Planters Peanut store with a mechanical Mr. Peanut moving back and forth striking a silver dollar taped to the window. So over the years, the bank at the corner of Jefferson & Campbell now known as Wells Fargo but originally First National Bank slowly kept taking more and more of the businesses on west Campbell Ave as it expanded further west.
The American: 1928-1971 (razed in 1973)
212 S. Jefferson St.
The Roanoke: 1911-1961 (razed in 1961)
14 W. Campbell Ave. Main house w/ African American entrance for upper balcony on Kirk Ave between the American theater stage entrance and the rear entrance
to F. W. Woolworth.
The Jefferson: 1910-1977 (razed in 1978)
400 block of Jefferson St. at corner of Jefferson & Luck on the northwest corner.
The Park: 1921-1956 (razed in 1962 or 63)
500 block of Jefferson St. on the west side of street about half way between Luck Ave and Franklin Rd. Very close to the Jefferson and a narrow parking lot there now.
The Rialto: 1920-1955 (razed in 1955)
about 8 or 10 EAST Campbell Ave east of Jefferson St next to the Colonial American Bank building which is on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Campbell and build in 1927.
Elmore Hines operated the American, Roanoke, Park and Rialto and for a time before 1930, operated The Jefferson.
Hines also had a few 5cent small screens without balcony and stage in downtown Roanoke. One was The Princess in the 100 block of west Campbell Ave. And on the otherside of Kirk Ave from the American in the 300 block but on the same side of the street as The American; were The Comet, The Virginian and the Bijou all in a row & next door to each other. All of these theaters were actually Nickelodeians & all closed by 1930. I never saw them operating personally but one of Hines older employees who had been with him since about 1916, T. R. Emerson, told me about them and showed me where they were. I worked in The Jefferson, The American and The Roanoke and remember them inside and out very clearly even today. The Jefferson had about three face lifts inside and out and the last one hid the interesting faces at the top of each section that had a light fixture down the sides of the theater between the lobby and the stage/screen. One of those was saved and in a museum.
The Isis was in the same block as The Roanoke Theater entrance as were the Electric Parlor and The Lyric but I don’t think Hines ran those.
I should have written the entrance of The Roanoke Theater was on the southside of Campbell Ave just west of Jefferson St just beyond the First National Exchange Bank (now Wells Fargo) and BETWEEN THE BANK AND THE 5 & 10 that later was a Peoples Drug Store & now is a closed night club & bar. The auditorium of the Roanoke was right behind that building on Kirk Ave and was between The American and the read entrance of Woolworths on Kirk Ave. The Roanoke’s rear house wall was used as The American’s real stage wall, so when the Roanoke was torn down in 1961, they had to leave that wall & one could still see the rear house paint & light fixtures for the Roanoke at the lower level & both balconies. That wall was finally torn down in 1973 when The American went. The rest of The Roanoke site became a parking lot which is still there on Kirk Ave. If one walks down the ally between the parking lot & the old Woolworth building, there is about 15 feet high of the Roanoke Theater wall left in the back facing the rear of the building that use to house the People’s Drug store. If you look carefully, one can still see where the under stage dressing room windows use to be and the bottom of a stage exits and house exits down the rear ally. What is left of that wall, was build in 1911, the year the theater opened. Originally the Roanoke was stage shows only and was on the old B. F. Keith circuit. But even well into the 1950’s, stage shows were often at The Roanoke, booked by Mr. Hines usually on Wednesday nights. I remember we had The Three Stooges
on stage at the Roanoke in the 1950’s and kids packed the theater. Also when the movie at the American was a big smash, Hines would have The Roanoke Symphony play it’s monthly concert at The Roanoke rather than The American. The last time I remember that happening was in 1957 or so.
The buildings that housed the Bijou, Comet & Virginian are still there but other business are in them including a bar where the Comet was. They were very small without a stage & balcony. Others this side were the Electric Parlor, Lyric, Isis & Princess on Campbell Ave.
The Jefferson opened in 1910 and closed in 1977. I worked there for several years for Carver Theaters and the manager was George Mann. Also I worked at The
American for Billy Fox who was only the second manager the theater had. I was a doorman & usher &
gofor. I loved to work the first shift on Saturday so I could turn on all the lights on the two switch boards under the stairs leading up to the mezzanine, ladies room & lower balcony entrance. The Manager’s office was in the middle of the mezzanine w/ the men’s room on the opposite (Kirk Ave) side.
The Roanoke Theater was the second largest in Roanoke & seated about 1260 white & about 200 black patrons in the second level balcony. (Larger than the old Academy of Music in the 400 block of Salem Ave.) It also had box seats far right & left downstairs & at the first balcony level. The entrance was on Campbell Ave on the southside of the street not far west from Jefferson St….just beyond the First National Bank & a 5 & 10 which later was a drug store & now is a closed night club & bar. The actual auditorium was on Kirk Ave
next to the American theater. The American, built in 1928, used the rear house wall of The Roanoke for it’s rear stage wall. And the Roanoke, built originally in 1911 for stage shows, had a larger stage with more wing space than the American but the house was smaller & the lobby was nowhere near the size and opulence of The American. There were exit doors that opened on Kirk Ave on all three levels with the upper two having a green fire escape. From 1911 to 1928 the Roanoke was cooled by fans but the huge AC system in
the basement of the American was piped into the Roanoke via duct work that ran from the roof of the American through a hole in the common wall the two theaters shared. The Roanoke closed in 1961 & was razed. The Rialto in 1955 & The Park closed in 1956
wasn’t torn down until about 1962. It did not have a balcony but did have a side exit door that led to an ally that ended up on Franklin Rd near H. C. Baker.
When I was a teen and working in Roanoke theaters, there were five! The American, The Roanoke, The Jefferson, The Rialto and The Park. Also there were neighborhood theaters the Grandin on Grandin Ave and The Lee on Williamson Rd. The Academy of Music operated until the late 40’s on Salem Ave. downtown but was for stage productions only. Also years before my time in the teen’s & 20’s Roanoke had the Lyric, The Bijou, The Isis, The Princess, The Virginian, The Comet, The Electric Parlor, The Wonderland, The Azusu & maybe a few others. These were small houses with no stage or balcony & the silent films were 5 cents. The Virginia and The Boston were theaters for African Americans back in that day.
I worked at the American Theater in the 1960’s. The Park Theater was on Jefferson St between Luck & Franklin Road on the west side of street. It did not have a stand alone ticket booth but the American did. Also we claimed the American seated 2,000 rather than 1800 but it was actually about 1997 or so as the balcony was a little shy of 1,000 seats but the downstairs was! Next door and heated and cooled by the American system was The Roanoke Theater which seated 1265 with box seats & balcony and about 150 more in the second level balcony which was closed in 1960 as it was for African American patrons. Yep that was nuts but that is the way it was then:–( The Roanoke was build in 1911 for stage shows only and movies were added later. It actually had a larger stage and more wing space than The American.