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An article in the Birmingham News from August 1950 announces the sale of the Community Theaters circuit to the Newman Waters Theater Company. The owner of Community Theaters was Frank Merritt and he was also the GM of the Acme Theater Company which operated the downtown locations Empire, Melba, Galax, and Royal.
Waters Theaters was also the owner of the Lyric although they did not operate it. That was the responsibility of Paramount through their Wilby-Kincey subsidiary. As part of this deal with Community, the contract with Paramoount was ended and management of the Lyric was taken over by Acme. That lasted for about eight years before Acme closed the Lyric followed four years later by the Strand. The Galax and Royal / Newmar had been closed earlier.
The Melba and Empire soldiered on until 1984, the last 15 or so as urban Blaxploiation houses under the management of R.C. Cobb.
Well David, that is an interesting comment. Regarding that endless loop platter, this link is for a theater in Atlanta where I occasionally worked:
My comment is first in line and describes my experiences of running that thing which mirror yours. Further down there is a link to a theater in Delaware that actually used that abortion to run regular movies.
As for Regal paying minimum wage and requiring the operators to wear uniforms, that was standard practice for them in Atlanta. In addition, they were required to work the floor when not actually threading up, even if only for a few minutes. The point, of course, was to keep them from getting the idea that they were anything special and thus entitled to a living wage. AMC took it a step further by trying to make the booth position just like any other. They would try to make sure the manager scheduled different people to work the booth and that the “projectionists” worked shifts down on the floor. I received many prints directly from AMC theaters that were both damaged and improperly broken down.
I was amused the other day when AMC was forced to downgrade their guidance to investors because their big summer quarter is going to be a financial disaster. I do not understand this. For years I was told in negotiating sessions that having to pay a professional projectionist prevented the theater from making a profit. With the advent of digital, operatorless projection they should be making millions.
Still a church.
While the Thunderbird played its share of sex and horror drive in fare, it was mostly a standard second run venue. The first run locations were still downtown or in the north side suburbs. First run movies did not come to the south side until 1977 when ABC opened the Hoover Twin about a mile down the road. In 1971 Cobb opened an indoor quad in the old Homewood Lanes bowling center but it was also second run.
If you look at the picture that Drive In 54 was kind enough to post, the building on the right is the Vestavia Lanes bowling center which is still there today. In 1972,a new shopping center was built on the other side of the Lanes. It contained a single screen Jerry Lewis Theater which competed for the second run product, but not for long. In less than two years Cobb bought it out, changed the name to “Vestavia” and for the next few years operated both an indoor and a drive in separated only by the bowling center.
Like millions of other children of that era I have memories of attending the drive in dressed in my pajamas with pillows, blankets, etc… filling the back seat of the family sedan, in our case a Chevy of course. This was the closest location of any of the Birmingham theaters to our house. Because of the small number of first run theaters in town it was not unusual for lower profile first run product to play here, although two of my more distinct memories concern seeing 10 Commandments and The Longest Day, both sub runs, at Shades Mt.
Shortly after we moved, this location was demolished and the Red Lobster that now sits in the parking lot of the shopping center marks the rough location of the screen and box office. Cobb moved down to the foot of the hill near where 31 crosses I-65 and built a single screen drive in there called the Thunderbird. This location closed in September 1968 with the Thunderbird opening at the same time.
Among the last two programs to play here were “The Detective” with “Fathom” and “Wild In The Streets” with “Glory Stompers.” By this time Shades Mt. and then Thunderbird played fairly standard second run programs along with the Skyview and recently opened Mustang. The sex and horror programs usually associated with drive ins mostly played at the Airport, Bama, and especially the Robinwood locations.
Yes, 35MM mono of course despite the side it was in having 70MM equipment. The other side had “The Deep” so it was a good summer for Loews. By the time it opened they knew it would be a big draw so they built a second concession stand in the corner of the lobby opposite the rest rooms. Obviously they knew where the real money was made.
Seattle: Was this one of the dozen or so nearly identical 8’s that GCC built in the late 80’s? The intro is a little vague. That batch seemed to have two other things in common: excessive rent and hard to find locations.
Scott, regarding that Google picture that is currently appearing at the top of this page, is that the old lobby of the GCC 8? It looks like the layout of several 8"s that GCC built in the late 80’s. Appears to be some sort of sports bar now.
Also, regarding the original twin inside the mall, was that one opened by ABC in the late 60’s or early 70’s before being sold to Plitt and then Cineplex?
Ahhh, the wonders of the internet and the interesting people you meet on it. I have never been to Australia, but I did run Breaker Morant and Crocodile Dundee. I also enjoyed the VFL games that were on ESPN in the early 80’s. In those early days when anything more than a four screen theater seemed like science fiction, there was only one ESPN, all sports, no talk and no politics. They were desperate for programming and would run the VFL games live overnight. I can still remember the opening theme:
The Maggies, Demons, Saints, the Hawks,
the Lions and the Blues,
The Dons, the Swans, the Tigers, Bulldogs,
Cats and Kangaroos….
Sorry, a little off topic here. However, it is nice to think back to those days when most big releases opened exclusively at one theater and when the run was over you could catch it at a drive in like this one doubled up with something from the previous years from the film company vault. Usually whatever the local film exchange had a print of that was in runable condition.
If you think that name is odd then you are obviously not from eastern South Carolina. It is the legendary nickname of Francis Marion who fought the British in that swampy area during the revolutionary war. Mel Gibson’s character in The Patriot was very loosely based on him. Very, very loosely. Leslie Nielsen played the Swamp Fox in a Disney TV series of that name which occasionally ran as part of Disney’s Sunday night show.
As to the previous comment by “Hhhh” posted on 6/14/17, while the events may be accurate I believe that he has this location mixed up with another theater, or really two other theaters.
Bestoink Dooley, real name George Ellis, did run an art house in the mid to late 60’s, but it was the Festival on Walton Street. When he left it became the Gay Paree and it has this page on CT:
George moved out to Ansley Mall and took over the Ansley Mall Mini Cinema and renamed it Film Forum. This was the place the Lonesome Cowboy episode referred to above took place although that was still during its Mini Cinema days before Ellis took over. The solicitor had tipped off the news media about the raid and film of the people exiting the theater, clearly recognizable to anyone who knew them, was shown on the 11PM news that night. The Film Forum has this page on CT:
As to the theater on this page, the Central, I was never inside. I did walk past it several times on the way to the Citizens Jewelry Company next door. In those pre Best Buy days, Citizens was the place to go for electronics at prices that beat Rich’s and Davison’s. I came to Atlanta in 1967 and by that time the programming here was as described by Jesse Brantley in the first comment on this page.
Everyone, I have enjoyed this back and forth on the showtimes and lineups as we try to puzzle out the way things were done in those good old days. That ad is hard to read but to me it says:
Jaws at noon 2:15 4:30 6:45 9 and 11:15
Benji at 12:15 1:55 3:40 5:25 7 8:55 10:25
Wind And The Lion 7:05 9:15 and 11:30
All of these showtimes would fit into a single screen schedule although I am glad I was not the manager trying to pack those Jaws sellouts in with only 15 minutes intermission.
As a former manager there are several things about this that interest me. First, to Joe’s point, I have been involved in two openings where one theater did not open on grand opening day. Once was because it was not ready and like here they decided to advertise only night shows to give them the rest of the day. It still was not ready but they opened anyway with only half the seats in. In the other case the movie that theater was set to open with did not start until the next week. Both of these explanations could be the case here.
Or, they could have left the fourth theater unbooked and interlocked Jaws on two screens which would account for there not being two sets of show times. They might also have interlocked Benji in the afternoon and run Wind And The Lion only at night. I think that unlikely since at least in my part of the country Benji opened in the summer of ‘74 so it might have just been something for the kids.
Of course Michael has seen the ad in the paper that has Wind And The Lion on two screens and I have never known him to be wrong on something like this. If all four theaters were ready, and knowing the way business was done in those days, if I had to bet I would say that Jaws ran interlocked in two houses, Benji in one, and Wind And The Lion in one, maybe even giving up its afternoon slots for Jaws to be triple locked although I doubt that.
Michael, does your research show this to be an exclusive Jaws engagement for Tucson? If not and they were only contracted for one house maybe they were trying to boost their gross by playing it in two and trying to fake everyone out by falsifying the ad. In a small city like this I am sure someone would have noticed but I have seen that done many times in those days.
Perhaps the most simple explanation is the correct one. Either only three screens were ready and the third on not until that night or the fourth one was waiting for its opening attraction at a later date.
Thanks for those pictures. They brought back a lot of memories. Based on the names of the managers listed under the logo for each theater, I can date the first Kiddie Camp flyer to 1985. I was at Northlake that summer and business was so busy that we used all three houses. Since Northlake was the only reel to reel GCC theater we were not able to interlock so we biked the reels from house to house starting shows every 30 minutes.
As for the movies themselves, Neverending Story was a big hit and I think we ran it every year. Annie was also very popular but it did not run as often because it was over 2 hours long. The bulk of the business for most of the theaters was from day care centers who would bring kids in by the bus load and more than 2 hours, especially at Northlake where the last show started at 11, caused them to get out too late.
Charlotte’s Web was another big hit. I think that the only thing that kept them from running it every year was print availability. Every projectionist dreaded the arrival of these prints, as well as the midnight show ones because the condition of the prints so poor. Sometimes it would take hours to inspect and repair a print and you had to do it since you were finished if you had a print break while running interlock especially at Akers Mill which had a very primitive, heavily modified interlock system. (Remember, this was in the day before the arrival of the polyester / mylar prints starting in 1996. Those were unbreakable which brought about its own set of problems, but that is another story.)Since GCC ran this program circuitwide, there were not always enough prints to go around even though they staggered the order and rotated the prints around the country.
The second Kiddie Show flyer is sometime after 1988 since it includes Hairston 8. Hairston was the citywide champ for kiddie show business. I worked there several times even after they did not use union operators regularly since the manager did not trust his staff projectionist to run it. They ran shows at 10, 12, and 2. At 10 we would interlock 7 of the eight houses, all the system would allow. At noon they would cancel the first show on four movies and run the kiddie show in the four large houses. At 2PM they would cancel another show of whatever adult movie they had and run it in the two big houses. All of this required a lot of print shifting and I think that my all time high was 17 print moves in one day before all of the regular movies were back where they belonged.
Like so much about this business, that was a time and experience that will never happen again.
It is hard to believe that I have been commenting on this site for 12 years, but in June 2005 I made my first comment on this theater. In it I lamented the fact that there were no known pictures of the auditorium in its original Ultravision configuration. This link:
is to a picture of the Plaza Theater in Columbus Ga. ABC built some wonderful looking Ultravision theaters in the late 60’s. Some like the Plaza were free standing and had a very impressive and distinctive look while others like Phipps were built in malls. The auditoriums however, except for size, were identical as they had to be to use the Ultravision process.
This picture is exactly what the Phipps auditorium looked like. Imagine dark red seats and deep gold curtains and you get the idea. The picture was floor to ceiling and if you look closely you can make out where the edge of the screen was, one floodlight inside the exit doors. The curtain, when opened, did not bunch up at the edge but disappeared behind the wall drape between the screen and the exit door. At the edge of the screen on each side was a bank of vertical floods. Whenever a movie with an overture played the house lights could be darkened and the vertical screen floods used until the end of the overture and the opening of the curtain.
Great looking presentation in these houses second only in my experience to the old Martin Cinerama / Atlanta Theater downtown which had a deeper curve and ribbon screen.
It is possible that Oscar statue was for the theater, not the star. The Ultravision projection process was awarded a technical achievement Academy Award and most if not all of the ABC theaters noted this with a plaque mounted on the outside near the entrance doors. When it was properly adjusted, the Ultravision process greatly enhanced the quality of the picture. 35MM used the entire height of the screen for flat, and the scopes looked magnificent on the big curve. The single 70MM screening I was fortunate enough to see was the finest looking film presentation I have ever seen.
The 500 seat twins created when they split the original auditorium. You can only imagine how nice and wide the 860 seat house was before they built the wall. The top picture is #1, on the left side of the lobby. The bottom is #2 with the curtain opened to flat. This house has the seat and drape color of the original house.
Main entrance to the downstairs Phipps Plaza Theatre which opened in 1969 and closed in 1990. The box office was originally located to the left of that column on the left but was moved to the center when the nice 860 seat auditorium was split in 1975. The best looking of the 1965-1980 era theaters built in Atlanta and until it was twinned, the very best place to see a movie due to its ultravision projection system.
This is the Phipps Penthouse Theater which by the time this photo was made had lost its identity and was just lumped in with the downstairs theaters. Note the lettering of the word PLAZA and you can tell from the spacing that a longer word, PENTHOUSE, was once there. At one time there was a round open air boxoffice about where you can see the doors open. The 550 seat auditorium was unchanged during the entire 17 year life of this house. It opened on 12/26/1973 with The Exorcist.
I never saw this theater of course, but from the comments above I know exactly what it looked like. All GCC builds from 1968-78 had that same bleak red white and pale blue look. Couple that with those two position seats, long thin center aisle auditoriums with windowboxed screens and you had the ultimate in bland movie going experience.
Since most of these were new builds, often in free standing buildings I could never understand why they insisted on long, thin houses that had the center aisle taking up the prime seating / viewing area. Why not put the seats in the middle and run the aisles down the sides? The fake drape sound absorbing walls were painted light grey instead of dark and always resulted in a distracting reflective glare. Those awful seats always made me feel like I needed to brace myself against the seat in front to keep from sliding forward. And, I can not recall how many times someone rang the booth to tell me that the picture was off. The public, not knowing the difference between flat and scope was always complaining about the flat picture on that unmasked scope screen thinking that I was not showing the entire image.
The larger auditoriums, like the #1 house here apparently, which had a center seating section, were soon ruined by twinning which resulted in even worse looking theaters with terrible presentation. I never saw exposed front speakers (when Dolby was added they at least got our three placed behind the screen) but the surround speakers were a waste of time since all they added was noise. The houses were far too long and thin for proper stereo. And of course the worst sin of all, being a Pepsi bottler, they served Pepsi products. I had to bring my own Cokes to work with me.
I never could understand why a company with all that money and designing theaters from a clean sheet of paper could to come up with a better product.
I never saw a movie at this theater but was inside once, 2000. Place was still open then and looked much like other theaters of the same vintage. I was told that the world premiere of “Spencer’s Mountain” was held here.
As far as the question of four or six screens goes, they did the same thing with their Starlight Drive In here in Atlanta. The cost of converting to digital is so high, to say nothing of the ongoing maintenance costs that they probably decided that four was enough. I can recall several times when all six fields were full but that was often because the cars from one blockbuster spilled over into the adjacent field. I imagine that their research showed that the cost of those other two projectors would not be returned.
There is a private commercial directory published in 1965 that lists the Auto Movies No. 1. It does not give a street, only Bessemer Super Highway, but it does list the owner as a Louis Worthington of Bessemer. This link:
will take you to the Birmingham Rewound “This Month In History” page for August 1967. Scroll down to the movie section and you will see an ad for the Auto Movies. It is just a small one column, one inch ad, between Divorce American Style and Gnome Mobile. This ad, and the one above it for the THC Drive In ran for years in the Birmingham paper.
This location must have done pretty well in this industrial working class area which was dependent on the mining of TCI and the steel mills. In 1966, another drive in, the Bama opened just down the highway, and a modern indoor, the Midfield just up the road across from the new Western Hills Mall.
The Bama Drive In was probably opened in 1966. It is not in the 1965 phone book but does show up in the one for 1967. This link:
will take you to the Birmingham Rewound “This Month In History” page for August 1967. Half way down, in the movie section are a couple of ads for the Bama grouping it with other drive ins operated by the Newman Waters Theater Company. A year or so later, Waters locations were taken over by the R.C. Cobb company.
Brighton is one of the many small towns located along an arc that runs from SW to NE above Birmingham starting with Bessemer and ending in Irondale that owe their existence to the mining and steel industry that was beginning to fade out by the mid 60’s. Many of them are still incorporated and given the growth of Birmingham and especially Bessemer, which is right next door to Brighton, it is hard to tell when you are leaving one city and entering another.
About a mile up US 11 / Bessemer Super Highway, was the much older Auto Movies #1, and just beyond that another mid 60’s build, the Midfield indoor theater. From the looks of the overhead, the trailer park next door is still there, now nicely covered in trees.
Thank you for your interesting comment. Information like that makes wading through all of the clutter on this site worthwhile. A privately published Birmingham commercial directory from 1965 lists the THC drive in and shows the owners to be Jack and Mary Borders. Do those names ring a bell?
This is a link to an article on the career of Bob Endres, the long time lead projectionist at RCMH and contributor to this page. Lots of interesting stories for projectionists as well as Music Hall buffs. Well worth taking a few minutes to read. Thanks Bob.
PS: I have been to the Lake Theater.