2617 13th Street,
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The orginal Legion Theatre opened in 1941 and was located at 1408 27th Avenue in Gulfport. It seated 650 people and its name was changed in 1951 to the Gulf Theatre after the new Legion Theatre was opened. Both theatres were co-owned by Ed Ortte and the local American Legion Post. I worked between the two theatres during the 1960’s.
Opening in 1951 the new Legion Theatre, located one block away on 13th Street was a huge theatre with 1,200 seats. The opening picture for its grand opening was MGM’s “The Great Caruso” with Mario Lanza. It was a three story red brick building with the auditorium located behind the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad building which faces 13th Street. A long one story entrance located between the the railroad building and the Oustalet building lead to the theatres main entrance and lobby. This entrance way contained the box office which faced the street, the concession stand and a beauty shop located across from the concession.
After the beauty shop closed in 1959, its area was used to store the plastic letters for the marquee and sign on top of the marquee. Doors were installed in 1960 to close in the outer entrance at the street for security reasons and the concession moved to the main lobby across from the main restrooms. We refered to the outer entrance as the outer lobby thereafter. The theatre had a second boxoffice and entrance to a small inner lobby which led to the balcony stairs. Additional restrooms and concession area were located on the landing beneath the balcony. Double doors in the inner lobby opened into the main lobby. This inner lobby was used as a smoking area and the balcony opened for frequent over flow crowds on weekends.
The interior of the Legion Theatre was a sand colored plaster that actually looked as if it had a sand coating. The acoustics were bad due to the plaster walls, so it was decided to place acoustical panels on the auditorium walls to remedy this problem. Disney cartoon characters and Mighty Mouse were painted on the north wall panels and sailing scenes on the south wall panels. On thing that surprised me was the large stage with all the curtains and stage trappings hidden behind the huge wall to wall screen. The stage as far as I remember was never used and remained intact.
The balcony had a large projection booth with two Simplex machines and a stereo sound system. It had a great collection of old and new records to play before the first showing each day. We always refered to the building as a huge barn, as it was so hard to heat and cool.
In 1961, it was decided to change the name of the theatre. A contest was held so patrons could choose the new name. After several months, I had the task of counting and compiling the entries. The name chosen was Sand Theatre, which I thought appropriate because of the plaster walls. All entries received a free pass to a future movie and the winner a years pass.
In the early-1970’s draperies were installed to cover the auditorium walls, the front of the theatre was remodeled moving the boxoffice inside the inner lobby to the old concession stand area and a new marquee installed. The balcony was opened on a regular basis at a discounted admission. The theatre was a very popular theatre known as the home of the Disney and MGM pictures.
In 1973 a early morning fire in the back of the balcony and booth area cause heavy damage to the roof. The theatre sat boarded up for several years before being demolished and there is now a parking lot on the theatre site.
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