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The Saturday March 03, 1917 edition of the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper mentions the Gem Theatre, Blytheville Arkansas. The article is about the pipe organ being installed at the First Methodist Church “being the third church to conform to the new regime. The Gem picture show was the first in the pipe organ line.”
So there was some business in Blytheville in 1917 showing movies and using the name “Gem.”
Dating this photo, The Revenge of Tarzan, played at the Wizard, York, Pennsylvania the week of December 16, 1920. Gene Pollar as Tarzan, Karla Schramm as Jane.
And it’s gone.
The entire mall has been torn down and the theatre has vanished. Of the three theatres that were within a couple minutes driver here, this was my favorite. (Carmike on Millertown Pike is operating, the East Town Crossing long gone.)
Another idle thought, wonder what ever happened to Mr. Fuji, for so many years the ticket taker?
In its last days, I went to see the animated Addams Family and afterwards, a friend and I walked around the mall one last time. The writing was on the wall as it were. There were maybe 6 stores still operating. It was a little poignant to see the pet shop, the camera store, Spencer Gifts, Penny’s, Sears, the food court, the shoe shops, the lingerie shops, even the last ditch dollar stores, all boarded over, no attempt at pretending there was any hope the crowds would come back.
On that last visit, the theatre staff were up-beat and working in top form as always. Everything was clean and looking good. the popcorn was hot, the picture crisp, the masking was “right,” the sound as good as ever. Sure it was just another almost anonymous mall multiplex, not the Paradise or Roxy, but still sad to see it gone.
Maybe someone saved the neon lobby sculpture.
The organ in the Flatbush was an early Wurlitzer, their opus 59 (out of a total of 2234 organs). The factory records show a Style “V” – vee, not roman numeral 5 – the first of 26 Style V instruments built over the next 3 years. The V was a fairly small instrument for a house of this size; 2 manuals and 8 ranks of pipes, lacking the distinctive Tibia Clausa which became the iconic sound of the Mighty Wurlitzer organ.
Moving Picture World magazine for April 6, 1918 says
“Lebanon, Pa.—J. A. Jackson, of the Theatorium, Lebanon, recently installed a magnificent organ which is considered one of the largest in this state.”
When it comes to organs, there is no end of hype, so ‘largest in the state’ is laughable. Cross referencing the pipe organ databases, there is no mention of the name Theatorium or Aldine in Lebanon PA.
This suggests the Theatorium / Aldine was nickelodeon-sized with a photoplayer in front of its tiny stage. As happened so often elsewhere, the older, smaller theatre lost out to the stiff competition from newer, bigger halls of the 1920s.
Hey Joe – I just tried to update this with fleshing out some information on the organ and I get a message that says “Your Message Appears to be Spam” and it kicked me out. What the heck?
DavePrice and DavidZornig, Last year you were mentioning, above, the park that is bordered by Church, North 6th and Anne Dallas Dudley (a.k.a. Capital Boulevard). In the June 26, 1915 Moving Picture World magazine there is an announcement for a new theater, planned for that site or possibly the adjacent parcel. I was wondering if either of you had run across this.
This is the first paragraph of the article.
“ William H. Wassman, Nashville’s pioneer motion picture man, is preparing to erect what is declared will be one of the finest and safest motion picture theaters in the country, and the first house in
Nashville to be built from the ground up. The building will be on the west side of Sixth avenue. North, and just north of Church street, extending back to the Capital boulevard, on the property owned
by the Sixth Avenue Property Company. The plans, which are being prepared by Marr & Holman. Nashville architects, call for a three-story building which will be the last word in theater construction.”
I’m not finding a Cinema Treasures listing for this hall. Certainly there were innumerable theatre building projects announced which came to nothing, but since this article mentions which architect is preparing the plans it would seem to have some legitimacy.
Setting a date for this photo, The Treasure of Pancho Villa with Rory Calhoun and Shelly Winters was released October 19, 1955. It would have gotten to a small neighborhood house like the Gay Theatre several months later. That and the almost bare trees suggests a date for this photo of early spring 1956.
Wid’s Daily June 8, 1920
“Horater Making Changes
Toledo, O. – Havey C. ("Doc”) Horater, managing director of the Alhambra theater, is making plans for next season.
The Alhambra will close on July 1 for a short time, to be redecorated, remodelled (sic) and repainted. New draperies will be installed and a $25,000 Hope Jones Unit organ will be installed.
Horater thinks the coming year will be the biggest in the history of the business and says the prices asked for productions, so far as he is concerned, cut no figures so long as the productions are good. He states that producers from whom he has heard say they intend making fewer pictures for the fall season."
Cross referencing to the Wurlitzer Organ Company (Hope Jones) opus list shows their opus 325, a style 135A organ, sold to the Alhambra. It was small II/4 + piano and had a piano console rather than the more prestigious horseshoe console. The cost of a 135A was +/– $8,500 rather than the $25,000 stated in the article. Personaly opinion: the little 135A would have been significantly underpowered for a 750 seat auditorium.
It is noteworthy that 10 days prior to the contract for this organ, a contract for an identical organ was signed for the Alhambra Theatre in Columnbus Ohio. One assumes a connection in ownership of the two halls.
Ken – that interior is amazingly distinctive for 1911. To my eye it says the architect was intimately familiar with the designs of Louis Sullivan or early F.L. Wright. I’d give you good odds the architect for the interior was George Elmslie who was working in the mid-west during the early 20th century.
The Wurlitzer records show a tiny 3-rank organ sold to the Eagle in August 1926. For an 800+ seat theatre that must have been about as effective as a – well, let’s not get into vulgarities. It does push the opening date back a little. The castellated architectural style popular at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries and the name Eagle, suggest the possibility that this was a fraternal hall re-purposed into a commercial theatre. Maybe?
Faux gas lights, hanging on chains. One smiles.
The Wurlitzer records show that the Grand Theatre purchased a model 140 pipe organ in October 1928. It was a tiny instrument of only 4 ranks and a “straight rail” console rather than the more familiar horse-shoe console associated with theatre organs. At an unspecified date, it was relocated to Neil Avenue Methodist Church, Columbus Ohio, which closed in 1995. Fate and location of the organ is unknown.
Here’s another mention of the Walnut Street Theater from The Moving Picture World, this time May 15, 1915:
TOUGHS RIOT IN LOBBY
Louisville’s Walnut Street Theatre Employees have Tussle with Gang of Roughs Who Attempt to Get in Without Payment – Assistant Operator Shot in the Leg Trying to Wrest Revolver from Gangster Who Had Fired at Him.
The Walnut theater, on Walnut street, between Forth and Fifth, got into the limelight when a gang of young toughs undertook to pass the doorkeeper without paying at the box office. The trouble occurred on Sunday night, April 25 (1915, ed.) According to employees of the theater a number of boys appeared in the lobby and made themselves disagreeable. They were ordered off the premises, but later returned with a gang which claimed that it was going to clean out the theater. The doorkeeper and two or three other employees called for police aid, but before the latter could arrive the trouble started. The employees of the theater were forced to chase the gang out, and some of the latter who happened to be armed started shooting as soon as an alley was reached. A bullet passed through the clothing of Thomas Newman, one of the theater employees. Leroy Nichols, 15 years old, opened fire on Whiteford Volles, 17 years old, assistant operator at the Walnut. Four shots failed to take effect, and Volles grappled with the boy doing the shooting. In the scrap that ensued Nichols discharged the gun into his own leg, and was removed to a drug store and later to the hospital. The police at last arrived and captured a few of the youngsters, who were taken to the Juvenile Court on Monday. Very few of the patrons of the theater became aware of the disturbance, although it caused a good deal of excitement on the streets. Trouble has been experience on one of the two occasions at the suburban theaters by young hoodlums, but his is one of the first cases in the downtown district.
From “The Moving Picture World” May 15, 1915:
The New Empire Theater, Winchester, VA., was built through the public spirit of W.H. Baker, the noted chocolate manufacturer, at a cost of $50.000, and is evidence of his broad interest in the welfare of his home town. The house was designed by J. Henkel Henry, vice-president and secretary of the Empire Amusement Corporation of Winchester, lessees of the structure. The work of construction was personally supervised by Mr. Henry.
Before entering the picture business, Mr. Henry owned and successfully managed a skating rink on the site of the Empire. When the skating rage decreased, the rink was converted into a picture and vaudeville house, which Mr. Henry conducted up to about two years ago, when the structure was destroyed by fire. The Empire was then erected upon the site, and it is one of the finest theaters of its kind for a town the size of Winchester.
The stage is fully equipped and can handle the largest traveling show, it being 35 feet deep, 60 feet across and 60 feet to the gridiron. in the dressing rooms there is hot and cold water, and gas as well as electricity. Each room is well ventilated. The Empire is among the first theaters to use the automatic sprinkler system. The drop curtain is asbestos.
The booth is unconventional in shape; it resembles in appearance a small cottage. The port holes of the booth have been banked and painted so that they bear a similitude to real cottage windows. The roof is gabled, and the flue running to the roof of the theater proper carrying off the heat looks like a chimney and accentuates the illusion of the booth being a cottage. The operating room is practically fireproof. The exterior is pebble dashed. It is fitted with all conveniences.
The indirect lighting system is used. The floors are carpeted, and the walls and ceilings are adorned with rich frescoes. The most attractive painting is directly over the proscenium arch and represents the people of Winchester appealing to George Washington for the protection against the Indians.
The Empire was dedicated Christmas Day, 1913, and has been making considerable profit since that date under its efficient management. The admission prices are usually 10 and 20 cents. The better class of road shows and vaudeville are run intermittently, but pictures are the principal form of amusement.
There are Sanborn maps on line for Memphis TX for 1908, 1914, 1920, 1924 and 1931. None show a theatre on Noel Street, which narrows the Ritz’s construction date a little.
The 1914 and 1920 Memphis Texas Sanborn maps show an unnamed cinema at 613 Main Street. It is indicated as being 1 story, 16 tall, but is a half-block deep. These same maps show 611 Main Street as a tiny frame building.
In the 1924 Sanborn Map, 613 is auto sales and service. The little frame building at 611 is still in use as a retail space.
The 1931 Sanborn shows 613 is still auto sales but 611 is now a half-block long cinema, 1 story, 16 feet tall.
These same maps also show a cinema at 507 Main Street, slightly wider and taller which I suspect is the Princess Theater. Moving Picture World magazine for June 12, 1915 describes that theatre as being “2 stories tall” which is the same information seen on the Sanborn map.
This is the long way around to a hypothesis that The Texas was built sometime between 1924 and 1931.
Apparently the Barton organ was sold to the Emmanuel Evangelical United Brethren Church, in Appleton, and though rebuilt and moved, remains there and in use.
Moving Picture World March 11, 1922 page 216
“Appleton, Wis. Theatre Installs Barton Organ”
“F.W. Fisher who owns a string of theatres comprising the cites of LaSalle, Ill., Kewanee, Ill., and Madison, Wis., recently purchased the Grand Opera House building in Appleton, Wis. Dan Barton of Bartola Musical Instruments Co. has personally laid out an organ installation for him which promises to be one of the finest in the state. A large model Barton organ will be installed in the proscenium. The instrument will have a special instrumentation which will provide all orchestral effects.Mr. Fisher’s entire circuit of theatres is equipped with Barton Musical Instruments.”
The hyperbole is charming as the Barton organ installed here was 2 manuals, 9 ranks, very much a comfortable, modest organ as theatre organs went. And as with most theatre organs, it apparently went as soon as talkies came along.
Snow White with Marguerite Clark in the title role opened nationally on December 25, 1916. It would have gotten to Knoxville later that winter. Note the people in the photo are in winter attire.
Tim, Replying to your post on July 31 2010. Notice on the link, the film at the Riviera is “The Bedroom Window” which IMDB lists as opened in June 1924 starring May McAvoy and Malcolm McGregor. Showing at the Queen is the 1923 western “The Fighting Strain” staring Neal Hart, written by Neal Hart, directed by Neal Hart, titles by Neal Hart, executive producer was (3 guesses!) Neal Hart.
At the 1921 opening there was a II/10 Moller pipe organ to accompany the silent pictures. While Loews was spending a lot of money on new buildings just after World War I, they skimped on their organs, buying Mollers instead of the more expensive makes. In larger markets many of Loew’s Mollers were replaced after just a few years. Here in Athens it seems the Moller survived to the sound era, at which point Loews fired all their organists and left to the organs to the mice. There is no record of what became of this one but it would not be unusual if it went to the landfill.
The restored lobby looks excellent! My memory of that space (1960s and ‘70s) was that there was always a row of stanchions and velvet ropes down the middle to separate entering and exiting customers with the terrazzo pattern indicating the direction of travel.
From Motion Picture World, August 7, 1915: “Ben Johnson, the new manager at the Gilbert Theatre at Beatrice, has purchased a new pipe organ. He has closed his Lyric theatre in Beatrice in order to devote all his time to the new acquisition.”
From Motion Picture World, August 7, 1915: “Ben Johnson, the new manager at the Gilbert Theatre at Beatrice, has purchased a new pipe organ. He has closed his Lyric theatre in Beatrice in order to devote all his time to the new acquisition.” If he was investing in an organ it suggests he had begun or was about to begin showing films.