Friday, 7 July 2017

The 4th Street Theatre (AKA the 4th Steeet Cinema)

Last night was a fairly special night for me. I finally got to meet one of my fellow Turner Classic Movies fans (and a fellow Missourian), Meredith of Behind Her Time and Vitaphone Dreamer in person. I also got to see Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) on the big screen. While I have seen it many times on television, I had never seen it in a theatre. What made both of these events even more special is that they happened at one of the two theatres of my childhood, the 4th Street Theatre in Moberly.

The 4th Street Theatre was one of two cinemas I frequented from childhood well into adulthood (the other was the State Theatre, which happened to be at the opposite end of 4th Street). When I was growing up it was known as "the 4th Street Cinema" or simply "the Cinema". The 4th Street Cinema was the theatre where I saw my first "grown-up" movie (Logan's Run in 1976). It is also where I first saw Star Wars (1977) and several other movies. While I have fond memories of the State Theatre as well, it was the 4th Street Cinema that generally got the "big movies". What is more, even in the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties, it was clear that at one time it had been a movie palace in every sense of the word.

The 4th Street Cinema was a very old theatre even when I was young. The 4th Street Theatre was the result of the consolidation of two movie houses in Moberly:  the Gem Theatre, owned by Everett Tritch, and the White Way Cinema, owned by  Fred Selby.  It was built on a lot owned by William O'Keefe, one of five brothers who ran a grocery in Moberly.  The 4th Street Theatre was designed by a noted local architect name Ludwig Abt. At the time no one knew if movies would last, so while it was primarily designed as a cinema, there was also a stage for vaudeville acts, as well as an orchestra pit. The 4th Street Theatre opened on February 9 1914. It was on that day that the theatre showed its very first film, An Hour Before Dawn (1913), starring Laura Sawyer and House Peters. Sadly, it numbers among the many lost films from the Silent Era.

In 1924 the 4th Street Theatre was remodelled by the Boller Brothers. If you are a cinema aficionado that name probably sounds familiar to you, as the Boller Brothers designed a large number of theatres throughout the United States (including the Missouri Theatre in Columbia, Missouri and the Orpheum in Hannibal, Missouri). Many of them are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Over the years the 4th Street Theatre would change ownership several times. For a time it was leased to the Sears Amusement Company, which represented Universal's chain of theatres in the area. It was in the late Twenties that both the 4th Street Theatre and the Grand (then the movie palace in Moberly at the time) were ran by Fox West Coast Theatres Corp. Fox continued to operate the theatre until 1954. It closed on May 5, 1954, and would remain closed for eight years. As to the Grand, it had opened in 1903 as a vaudeville theatre called the Halloran and in 1913 was renamed the Grand Theatre. It was also one of the many theatres designed by designed by the Boller Brothers. It closed on February 9 1960.

Fortunately, the 4th Street Theatre would reopen in 1962. when Oliver Penton (my cousin, who had been a projectionist at a number of theatres in the county) and Don Robbe leased it. It was a few years later that Bills Theatres bought the 4th Street Theatre outright. They installed a new, wide screen and also updated the theatre's marquee. It was Bills Theatres that renamed it "the 4th Street Cinema", although most local people would simply call it "the Cinema". It was in 1980 that Bills Theatres merged with the Bagby Travelling Picture Show, essentially a travelling movie theatre that traversed the state of Missouri, to become "B&B Theatres". B&B would continue to operate the 4th Street Cinema until March 1997. B&B having built a new multiplex beside the site of their drive-in theatre, the Moberly Five and Drive, there was no need for the Cinema any longer.

B&B Theatres then donated the 4th Street Cinema to the Randolph County Historical Society. The Randolph County Historical Society spent the past many years restoring the 4th Street Theatre to as close to its original condition as possible. This included not only restoring much of the ornamentation in the theatre, but the orchestra pit as well. The orchestra pit having been covered up decades ago, many people (myself included) did not even realise it had one. At any rate, the Randolph County Historical Society did a fine job of restoring the theatre, which looks beautiful.

Both Meredith and I took several photos last night. I have to apologise for the quality of my photos. I was using my tablet, which does not perform particularly well in low light! If you want to see what the 4th Street Theatre looked like in its days as the 4th Street Cinema, there are photos to be found online.

The 4th Street Theatre restored to its former glory

The auditorium 

One of the wall ornaments

Inside the theatre they have several classic movie posters, some of which are going to be shown in the coming months. This is the one for Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The chandelier in the lobby.

I plan to go back to the 4th Street Cinema soon, when with any luck I'll have a proper camera with me! At any rate, if you are ever in mid-Missouri, you will want to check out the 4th Street Theatre.

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