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The Blue Sky marquee posted to the photo page is a different theater – uploading two shots of the Big Sky marquee now.
The Big Sky Drive-In opened in June 1955 at 2245 Main Street in Chula Vista. With 21 acres of space, its car capacity of 2000 made it one of the four largest ozones in the U.S. (Los Aitos in Long Beach held 2100 while the 41 Twin in Franklin, Wisconsin, and the Twin Open Air in Oak Lawn, Illinois, were the same size as the Big Sky). The full-color opening night features were Howard Hughes' Son of Sinbad, along with the Randolph Scott western Rage At Dawn. The stainless steel-filled snack bar was dubbed The Sky Bar, and for years the Big Sky advertised “Always two cartoons!” A “Kiddieland” playground on the property included swings, slides, and whirls. This drive-in went dark in July 1980. An industrial park was eventually built on the property.
The Lemon Bowl Cinema Dine was San Diego’s second drive-in theater, opening shortly after the Midway DI. The 1948-49 Theatre Catalog lists its original owners as C.E. Norcross, Suburban Theatres Inc. of Loma Linda, California. Ira Durham and Oliver McNeel operated the theater through 1953, before leasing it to Sero (which had opened San Diego’s third DI, the Rancho) for one or two final seasons. The lot included a restaurant, where snacks and dinners were served, as well as prewarmed bottles of baby formula, delivered for a time on carts that could only navigate horizontally along the lot’s flat surface aisles. With no local advertising after September 1954, it appears this ozone was torn down even before the nationwide atrophy of drive-ins began, to make room for access to the 94 freeway, with a portion of the property eventually housing a Toyota dealership.
Here’s the same article, this time with photos intact. http://sandiegodriveinhistory.blogspot.com/
New article with a fairly detailed history of this theater, along with photos from the late ‘20s thru today – http://gardetheaterhistory.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-grande-olde-garde-history-of-new.html
The theater plans to once again offer movie screenings on a regular basis, after the recent installation of a newfangled 4K Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) compliant digital projection system with eight channel surround sound, said to rival any similarly outfitted moviehouse in the region (with a screen that, at around 40 feet by 25 feet, is one of the largest non-Imax screens in the state).
The first major engagement planned for the screening is the 2015 Winter Film Festival, which starts up in January.
The Niantic Theater was closed in March 1980 for renovations, reopening in May as the three-screen Niantic Cinema 1-2-3. Owner George P. Mitchell (who purchased the theater in 1979) told the New London Day (4-25-80) that the old theater seated about 630 people, while the three-screen version seated 200 people in each downstairs theater and 150 more in the balcony that had been turned into an upstairs screen (with rocking chairs). The projection booth was automated at the same time, and a new box office gate was installed with an automatic ticket machine.
The theaters ran mostly second run and foreign film thru late 1982. They added a 280 seat fourth screen in early 1983, by taking the adjoining building (which formerly housed Larson’s Carpet, the Niantic Package Store, and a bowling alley) and “jacking up the roof about 20 feet and redoing the building,” according to the New London Day (3-6-83).
BTW, the reason that big empty lot of concrete up the hill from the latterday DI remained undeveloped after 1972 was because the drive-in owners maintained ownership of their property where the original DI had been, refusing to so much as stripe the concrete for parking, in order to ensure that no business or cars would throw distracting light downhill onto their lovely new screen, now finally surrounded by trees instead of billboards and lit-up storefronts.
By the late ‘70s, that uphill wasteland was a mass of broken concrete, possibly broken up by the drive-in owners who wanted to discourage “bootleg” screenings by parked cars getting a free view the new screen, at least according to Waterford city officials who tried to get property owners to fix up overgrown lot (it’s true, you could usually hear the movie fine from uphill, especially if someone on the lot itself turned up a bunch of speakers!).
The fact that both the latterday DI lot and the old concrete wasteland remain undeveloped to this day leads me to suspect they’re still both own by someone apparently unwilling to sell or develop for some reason.
The Waterford DI at Boston Post Road near the intersection of Clark Lane opened in April 1955. In 1970, Raymond C. Sroczenski took over the theater and applied for permits to move the lot down the hill, a bit further from Clark Lane, to a space approximately the same size, but with one direct access entrance from the main road (Boston Post Road, aka Route 1). The new downhill locale also removed the screen from the “light pollution” caused by its original location being in the middle of a rapidly growing array of shopping plazas on all the surrounding properties.
The Google Maps image shows the ruins of the latterday locale, mostly covered in shrubbery. The original drive-in was to the left of that, on the lot now covered by broken concrete and where the small greytop building is attached to the building with the whit roof. Those buildings (the larger being a Stop ‘N’ Shop) went up in 1972 after the original Waterford DI closed, with the small grey roof building housing the indoor Waterford Theater, run by the same United General Theater chain that built the exactly identical Cameo Theater in nearby Niantic at the same time. Carl Sherman ran both the indoor and outdoor Waterford theaters
The new locale was built in spring 1973, though construction and permit delays kept the drive-in from reopening until August 29, with a screening of Dillinger (“Free admission to the first 25 Ladies in Red!”) backed with The Little Cigars Mob. It closed after the summer 1980 season.
The single screen Centre Cinema at 185 Center Street opened July 2, 1969 with a screening of “Finian’s Rainbow.” By 1975, it was being run by Robert Ahearn, though he was cited for several fire code violations and then went bankrupt, with the bank foreclosing on the property on June 4, 1975, forcing the theatre’s closure. The bank decided to lease the theater to the Centre Cinema Corp, operated by Franklin Ferguson of Franklin Ferguson & Theater Associates, which ran eight other theaters at the time. Ferguson and manager Leonard Paul of West Hartford fixed up all the code violations, and the theater was reopened at the end of December, 1975. It remained in operation until the 1990s.
Corrections – the Norwich-New London Drive-In Theater opened April 8, 1950 (not 1955), on a 17 ½ acre lot purchased by operator E.M. Leow from Walter and Helen Chabasinski for $100,000. Built by Bruno Weingarten, the opening night included a double feature of It’s A Great Feeling (starring Dennis Morgan, Jack Carson) and Sand (Mark Stevens). In December 1971, construction began on a second screen and an expansion of the physical lot, increasing car occupancy from 1,110 cars to around 1,400 for its reopening in April 1972 under a new marquee, now proclaiming it the Norwich-New London TWIN Drive-In. Bruno Weingarten’s wife Beatrice and her family continued to run the theater with the Leows after he died in 1978, through its closure in the mid-1980s.
Final screening at this theater was October 10, 1985, a double bill with Deep Throat and Taboo – http://whenporntheatersinvadedconnecticut.blogspot.com/
Smack dab in between the Casino and Aztec theaters on 5th Avenue was this disreputable little cave that screened mostly silent porn loops, in a foul-smelling space reeking of disinfectant. I used work at the Aztec and Casino, and I recall catching whiffs from inside the Foxy while standing on a sidewalk ladder to put up new marquee letters…the Foxy door would open, and I’d about swoon and fall over from the malodorous assault. Open since at least 1977, it finally closed around 1987.
John Antonelli owned the Lux Theatre just underneath the Neptune Hotel, having opened it in the early ‘70s. His brother Andy Antonelli ran Sonny’s on the west side of 5th, with grindhouse theater operator Wes Andrews and another partner. The Lux was later purchased by Rick Ford, who also operated a porno filming place upstairs in the Neptune that he called Seabag Productions.
The collapsed storefront to the left of the theater was never rebuilt, and the wooden two-story structure seen in the photo to the right of the theater was demolished and replaced by offices now mostly used as county courthouse outlets, so the old brick-lined rectangular theater space is the only still-standing part of that entire east-side strip of the town square.
This used to be along the east side of the town square, which is now a round rotunda rather than a square. There’s one other storefront not seen on the left side of the vintage photo before the building ends, but that storefront collapsed a few years ago, which threatened the entire left wall of the former theater, occupied at the time by a wine and cheese shop with a small deli in the back. Luckily, the wall was shored up without having to replace, and the interior that was once the movie theater (a long, rectangular space) still has some of the original brick walls exposed.
As of 2013, the only remnant of its movie theater days is a film reel mounted on the wall that almost toppled (which is actually a large shipping reel rather than a projection reel).
I can confirm that theater seen in Boxoffice circa 1950 is indeed the same theater that was later split up and expanded for the Niantic Cinemas. There is no other Niantic moviehouse, unless you count the nearby Cameo Theatre, which only operated from 1972 to 1985. The much smaller Cameo (a porn house for all but its first two years) was just behind the Niantic Theatre, across Hope Street and occupying the far end of a strip mall.
If the Markoffs opened a third as-yet unidentified house in Niantic in late 1945, it was long gone by the 1970s. I’ve yet to find ads for a third house, but I’ll keep an eye peeled. Perhaps the Markoffs STARTED work on a theater in late ‘45, but that house later (1950) became this place, run by the Dubreulls?
The 1950 Boxoffice article mentions this theater’s owners also started a local newspaper shortly before the Niantic Theatre opened, which corresponds with the 9-27-77 article mentioning the Dubreulls running both the theater (since the early ‘50s) and the town paper, the Niantic News. So this was the Dubreull’s operation since before the day it opened, not the Markoffs’.
Sorry, Niantic (a village) and East Lyme (town in which Niantic sits) are all the same place to us residents! Cameo address should be 66 Pennsylvania Avenue, Niantic. The PO that now occupies 58 Pennsylvania is at the far end of a strip mall building whose address/suite numbers have all been shuffled a bit since various businesses have come and gone, knocking out walls and changing the resident configurations. The addresses of the strip mall occupants used to span from number 56 to number 82.
The spot that used to be number 66 (the Cameo) now appears to be number 58, the PO (the large space that used to house a supermarket now holds several other smaller stores). The PO is a bit longer than the Cameo was, occupying the former Cameo locale PLUS an adjacent space that formerly held other businesses.
I interviewed a woman who co-managed the Cameo and then purchased it with her husband during its final two years, and she confirms the somewhat shady organization who previously owned the locale and who provided its adult movie prints. “We never saw anyone ever. Film was delivered and every night we called a phone number to give the voice on the other end the totals for the day.”
“The Cameo looked exactly like Waterford Cinema, down to the red carpet and the mirror tiles on the lobby wall. We had a small candy counter with a small popcorn machine, a few candy bars and a small fridge for cans of pop.”
“There was a rectangular marquee on the roof above the theater and poster displays outside. Bo would put up the movies titles and the little town pranksters would re-arrange the letters into cuss words on it all the time. At some point, he stopped, and I think he just had the show times on it: Monday through Saturday 7:00 & 9:00, Saturday matinee at 4:00, and closed Sunday…we hung the movie posters on the walls in the lobby.”
During its final six months until it closed after the summer 1974 season, the Capitol showed X-rated features at night, G-rated kiddie matinees on weekends, and even hosted several rock concerts, including Delaney & Bonnie. This made for some surreal advertising blocks in the local New London Day newspaper!
In summer 1974, the State in Jewett City was being run by the Boston/NYC branch of the Pussycat Cinema chain and screening Deep Throat. The State shared employees with the nearby Palace Twin in Norwich, also part of the chain, which sometimes showed mainstream films on one screen and X-rated features on the other.
According to a New London Day article dated September 27, 1977, the Niantic Theater (later renamed Niantic Cinemas) was owned from around 1952 until at least 1977 by Alphonse and May Dubreull of Wild Rose Place, in nearby Waterford, who also published the Niantic News newspaper. The article was about the Dubreull’s attempting to sell the place.
The Waterford DI was closed for awhile in 1973, until it reopened under new ownership In August 1973. When it finally closed in 1980, owner Carl D. Sherman also ran the nearby Waterford Cinema, a single-screen on the eastern side of a strip mall overlooking the Drive-In. That theater would soon close as well.
Somewhere, I have a photo of a marquee pitching a double feature of “Blue Thunder” and “Purple Rain” – at least the names are a perfect pairing!
Fantastic info above! I wish I’d been in contact with you when I wrote the article for the SD Reader (the Aztec stuff I posted is only a short excerpt). Interesting you brought up Vasic – I’m writing about him now, in a Reader feature called “Battle Of The Peeps” about peep show theaters in San Diego in the 70s thru today (I ran Jolar on University in the mid-80s and got to know Vasic thru meetings of an adult merchant’s association).
A few of the corrections are mildly incorrect – employees did indeed take breaks in the Aztec basement, at least during my tenure working for Walnut (1979 thru 1981), tho it was pretty dusty. The manager who closed the theatre to kick out a rowdy was Freddie Bantug, a Phillipino guy who I understand went against Walnut’s wishes by hiring longhaired guys like me and Jay Bagrose (who I came across years later working at one of the local drive-ins).
I SO appreciate the correction about which theater showed the Waters movie and Phantom Of The Paradise! I knew it wasn’t at another “cult” theater like the Strand in OB (where I DID see Monty Python’s Beyond The Fringe) or the Ken, but something seemed fishy about my recollection of the sidewalks downtown – it was indeed at the Hillcrest theater! You’ve finally cleared up a memory that’s been far too fuzzy for years (might have something to do with those smoke breaks at the Casino – I know well that window you speak of!)
I wasn’t privvy to management much so I guessed wrong about locales exchanging prints, and I believed an apparently faulty reference about the Balboa’s waterfalls providing a sort of air conditioning. I eventually stopped going to the Balboa even for free movies – the rat problem was unspeakable, you could see and hear them constantly and they’d be brazen enuff to jump into an unattended popcorn bucket!
I didn’t know that the poster (okay, one-sheet) stash only dated back to 1973 – because the Aztec and Casino showed so many older movies, the one-sheets dated back to the 60s. Amazing to hear the stash remained there for so long after I left! One of the managers – I forget his name but he was an older guy who taught dance lessons in his other job – gave us some one-sheets and lobby cards as a Christmas bonus one year. I don’t think he was supposed to but I still have all of them, with Aztec stamped on the back.
Good times! Dan, I specialize in writing about this stuff for the Reader, I’ve done many features on local theaters over my past 10 years with the paper. I’d love to talk with you directly sometime – perhaps you could contribute to one of the upcoming articles. We’re working on Battle Of The Peeps now and will be doing another shortly on the old 50s Hollywood Burlesque theatre in downtown San Diego –
Jay Allen Sanford