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I was 7 when I had my first visit to the Cameo was to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. The next film I saw was Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country in 1991. My mother grew up on that side of town and the used to call the place “Kenny’s Cow Palace” in reference to the large barn hall feel.
I worked here just after it opened up. It was 2 screens with auditoriums called the Emerald and Ruby rooms. Most of the early equipment and seats were salvaged from the collapsed Ritz Theatre. This was a fun place to work. After closing hours, we would explore the cavernous empty floors of the former department store. From top to bottom we explored. There wasn’t much in the way of lighting but flashlights along with windows did the job.
Also, Anne Trebilcock – There was never a stage. It was a flat floor with reclining seats. The place was gutted for parts and still stands empty. The roof has been leaking for years and last visit, I saw that it had started to cave in. With the exception of the pizza place on that end, most of the storefronts connecting to it were falling down.
As one of the last managers…I may be able to shed light on the name. The owner was also the owner of The Art and The Ritz before the sold them to another person and then moved out of the country. He returned and got The Art back. The Ritz had collapsed so he opened this place. It was in shambles when we first started. It had been derelict for a year and was vandalized. During this time, the prior owner of the former Ritz had salvaged the equipment for the new “$1.50 Cinemas” located in the former Burt’s Department Store building in Endicott, NY. We couldn’t use the $1.50 name since there were a few already in use in NY so we called ourselves the “$1.49 Plaza Theatre” We still charged $1.50 per head and our thing was to give a half dollar coin back in change. I posted a pic I took of the main entrance hall. I was the one who came up with the “Wait A Little…Save A Lot” slogan.
I was the last manager of The Ritz the day she collapsed. I got a call from the owner letting me know what happened. From what we were able to deduce, the weight of the 1994 blizzard snow fall landed just right on the roof to start the timbers falling like dominoes. For those who braved going up in to the ceiling crawlspace, it was amazing. The roof was braced with timber measuring 12X12. As soon as the first one fell in the screen side of the auditorium, it was over in a few minutes. The old water tower in back stayed up and since the projection booth was built independently of the hall, it stayed up as well. It did have a severe list forward and the firefighters were afraid it would collapse too. I was shocked to see one of the rooftop HVAC units swinging in the lobby being suspended by electrical wires. We were able to get it braced and save all of the projection equipment. It was my first theatre gig. I loved going up the wrought iron spiral staircase to the booth. I hated hauling up the film cans. The basement was old foundation stone and dirt. Shelves still held decades of memorabilia that sadly was crushed. As stated above, “the auditorium collapsed one morning about two hours before the first show of “Nightmare Before Christmas” was to begin.” That is correct. We were showing Nightmare for a $1 a seat and selling out EVERY show. The house collapsed at about 9:30am. I was supposed to be in at 10:00 top start the popcorn. Doors were opening at 11:15 and first show was scheduled for Noon. Like it said…two hours later and it would have likely ended as one of the Top 10 largest losses of life in a US theatre. Amazing how fate works.
I worked as the Assistant Manager at The Art from 1993 until 1997ish. I stayed on as the show promoter for the monthly playings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with full stage cast. The Art was one of THE BEST theatres I ever ran. When she died, it was running a 35mm for main films and a 1940’s era 16mm beast for the Rocky Horror print. The last owner brought in great live shows and one of the finest was John Lee Hooker. The Best Man at my wedding had his wedding ceremony on the auditorium stage. I was quite saddened to see the building die.
Also, in response to ‘academy133’ I was managing it as you walked by. I ran the projector for each of the titles you mentioned.