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Note how similar the marquee is to the Decatur Princess Theatre. I suspect Crescent Amusement Co. out of Nashville owned the Gadsden Princess at some time.
Cheaply built, the Thunderbird was on the outskirts of Decatur and really catered to residents of neighboring Lawrence County, which had no movie theatre at the time. It played second run movies, exploitation flicks, bikini beach pictures, horror movies – a perfect venue for American International Pictures product! Cars packed the theatre for Banko night (a variation of bingo), but the real draw was the naughty midnight movie. A showing of the X-rated version of “Cinderella” got the manager thrown in jail for a few hours. Of course, the city fathers had to watch the movie several times before deciding that it was “pornographic”!
Cletus Benton owned the theatre. Mr. Benton also owned the Ford dealership in town, and opened the Shoney’s Restaurant in 1971, back when the I-75 ended almost at the theatre. The Starvue’s manager was a wheelchair-bound man who had been injured in a fall from a lift used in painting the screen (a number of other theatre employees died in similar falls during heyday of the drive-in theatre). Seems like his name was Hank, but I’m probably wrong. I believe there may have been a house at the base of the screen. It wasn’t unusual for the manager, or projectionist, or maintenance man and his family to live there.
This theatre is now closed.
The building still exists. It was used for offices by the nearby Mutual Life Insurance Co. for a number of years. I believe the building was closed in the 1970s. It has changed hands a few times with some attempted renovations, but it has not been in use for 30+ years.
It was never the “Gateway 5” Theatre. The theatre was sectioned off into 4 auditoriums with 4 screens.
Photo is totally wrong! How can it be changed?
Theatre is scheduled to close in 2012.
When Beltline Cinema closed, it did not move into the Gateway. The Gateway was operating (and owned by the Hammonds company, which also owned the Beltline theatre). In the 1980s, Gateway was divided into 4 screens and was extremely popular as a $1 admission theatre. The shopping center owner, however, declined to perform needed renovations to the building’s air conditioning system, which forced the theatre to close.
Carmike will close this theatre in 2012 and reopen in a remodeled store at Decatur Mall.
The Beltline was located inside Beltline Mall (know known as Decatur Mall), on the northern end near what is now Penney’s Outlet. The mall decided they no longer wanted a theatre in the mall and did not renew the lease. Ironically, the current mall owners recently announced that Carmike will convert a former store into a movie theatre this year, and are not renewing the lease of the current free-standing Regal Theatre just outside the mall, not far from the old Beltline cinema location. (We’ll see how long that lasts).
The address is incorrect. The Delite was a block or so farther north on Second Avenue, if I remember correctly.
Location was farther south than what Google is showing.
The Princess management is looking at showing a few classic movies sometime later this year, according to their Facebook page.
It also had stadium seating. I’m sorry to hear it is closed.
The theatre’s Web site is www.erwinmovies.com
The Art Deco renovation was actually in 1940-41 and was done by the theatre’s then-owner, Crescent Amusement Co. of Nashville, Tenn. Crescent later opened Decatur’s first drive-in theatre, the Crescent Drive-In Theatre (naturally!). After a few years, the company tore down the drive-in and replaced it with the Crescent Motel. Crescent always built first-class facilities. The Princess went through a partial renovation and expansion in 2001. It is currently raising funds to pursue a complete renovation/restoration, trying to duplicate the splendors of the 1941 remodeling.
This and many other theatres in Tennessee and Alabama were built and operated by the Crescent Amusement Co. based in Nashville, Tenn.
This theatre was built by W.W. Hammonds and company of Albertville, Ala. The company also owned, at various times, the Bowline Drive-In Theatre, the Princess Theatre and built the Thunderbird Drive-In Theatre in Decatur, Ala. It also owned theatres in Florence, Ala., Albertville, Ala., and Guntersville, Ala.
This theatre is still operating, but is in sad disrepair.
Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Freehauf built and own the theatre. They recently opened an indoor theatre at the same location.
My dad, James A. Duncan, managed this theatre from the time it was built, I believe, until 1959. At one time it had cartoon character cutouts adorning the exterior of the fence facing 23rd St. He often did promotions by emceeing from the roof of the concession stand. My father died in 2001 and my mother recently died. As I can find photos, I will forward.