Saturday, 8 July 2017

Old Cinemas in Randolph County, Missouri

A 1938 playbill for the Roxy Theatre in Huntsville
My trip to the 4th Street Theatre on Thursday got me to thinking about the other cinemas that operated in Randolph County throughout much of the 20th Century.  Randolph County has a rich history of entertainment going back to the 19th Century.  The Semple Opera House in Huntsville was built in 1884 and continued to operate into the 20th Century.  That same year saw the construction of the Hagarty Grocery Store and Hagarty Opera House in Moberly (the grocery was on the first floor, the opera house on the second). With the advent of motion pictures it should then come as no surprise that several successful cinemas would operate in the county.

With all apologies to my friends who live in Moberly, I am going to discuss the cinemas in Huntsville first. My reasoning is is twofold. First, it is the older of the two towns (in fact, it is one of the oldest towns in the area, having been established as the county seat in 1831). Second, not nearly as much has been written about the cinemas in Huntsville. The movie theatres in Moberly are a bit more well documented. I will be discussing the theatres in chronological order, beginning with the oldest first.

The Capitol Theatre: This was the first cinema in Huntsville. It had begun life as the Malone and Dameron livery stable. It was in 1913 that Judge W. O. Doyle and G. P. Dameron (the two men who owned the building) remodelled it as the Capitol Theatre at a cost of $8000. It was equipped for sound in 1932. Sadly, the Capitol Theatre burned on March 6 1935 with every bit of equipment lost. According to the March 6 1935 issue of the Moberly Monitor-Index, it was either caused by the theatre's furnace or "electric wiring leading to the motion picture machines". It was never rebuilt and never reopened.

A Roxy Theatre ad
from the June 20 1947
issue of the Moberly
Monitor-Index

The Roxy Theatre: The Roxy Theatre is the best remembered cinema to operate in Huntsville. Unfortunately, I don't know exactly when it opened. I do know that it had to have been in or before January 1938, as that is when the earliest advertisements in the Moberly Monitor-Index appear. It was originally named the Vita Theatre, a name it kept very briefly.  By May 1938 it was given the name by which it would be best remembered, the Roxy. The Roxy was located at 118 N. Main Street, where the Masonic Lodge is currently located. Many Huntsvillians have fond memories of the Roxy and it operated successfully for years. Sadly, like many theatres, it would close in the Fifties. It shut down in 1954.

The Gem Theatre: The Gem was the most recent cinema to operate in Huntsville. For a very brief time it was in direct competition with the Roxy. It was located in what had formerly been the Semple Opera House. As noted above, the Semple Opera House was built in 1884. The lower levels contained stores, while the upper level was the opera house itself. The Gem opened on October 31 1950, showing Colt .45 starring Randolph Scott and Ruth Roman. The Gem Theatre apparently did not remain open long, as advertisements for it ceased to appear after 1951. A variety of businesses would occupy the old opera building for the next several years, the last being a video store. The Semple Opera House had been vacant for several years when a portion of it collapsed in 2014. Unfortunately, it had to be demolished.

That is all of the theatres in Huntsville. Now I'll address the theatres in Moberly, which are much better documented.

The Grand Theatre: As its name suggest, the Grand was the movie palace in the county. It began life as a vaudeville theatre. Patrick Halloran built the Halloran Theatre for the then princely sum of $80,000. It opened on December 14 1903. It was in 1913 the Halloran Theatre was sold to George Sparks Sr., who leased the building to Fred Corbett and Jack Truitt that same year. They changed its name to the Grand Theatre. It was at some point later that it became a motion picture theatre. In its history the Grand experienced two fires, one in 1914 and another in 1925. It was rebuilt and leased to the Sears Amusement Company, which represented Universal Pictures in the area. It was in the early Thirties that it, along with the 4th Street Theatre, would be taken over by Fox West Coast Theatres Corp.  They would continue to operate it until February 9 1960 when it closed, a victim of growing competition with television. The building then served as the J. C. Penney store until a few years ago.

Bijou Theatre: The Bijou was a theatre that stood at 314 W. Reed Street in Moberly. I do not know when it opened, but the earliest references I found to it in newspapers was 1908. Beside it at 316 W. Reed was the Gem Theatre, and the two operated side by side for a few years. Like most of the early theatres, it was a vaudeville house that also showed motion pictures. Just as I don't know when it opened, I don't know when the Bijou closed either. I am guessing it was either in 1917 or a little after that, as the last reference to it in newspapers is in 1917.

Gem Theatre: The Gem Theatre stood at 316 W. Reed Street, right beside the Bijou. It opened on February 18 1910 and showed films from the very beginning. In a newspaper article on its opening, there is a reference to "a program of moving pictures." It was owned by Everett Tritch. It was in an article in the July 15 1913 issue of The Moberly Daily Monitor that it was announced that the Gem was consolidating with the White Way, owned by Fred Selby. The new building would be built on a lot owned by Mr. William O'Keefe (one of the five O'Keefe brothers who operated a grocery in town) "between Perkins' store and the new garage on Fourth Street." Quite simply, the Gem Theatre and the White Way Theatre consolidated and closed to become the 4th Street Theatre.

 White Way Theatre: I cannot be absolutely certain, but it appears to me that the White Way Theatre was on the corner of W. Reed Street and N. Clark Street. I also cannot be certain when it opened. The earliest newspaper references I could find to it are from 1912, but it could have existed earlier. At any rate, it clearly showed movies, as in the above cited article about the consolidation of the White Way Theatre and the Gem, both theatres are referred to as "picture houses". The White Way closed after its consolidation with the Gem, the building afterwards being occupied by a grocery.

The Amy Lou: The theatre that would be known as the Amy Lou in the end has perhaps the most complicated history of any cinema in the county. It was also one of the oldest. I am not certain when it opened, but the earliest advertisements for it date to early 1913. It was built by John A. Haworth, who owned and operated it in its earliest years as the Princess Theatre. In 1915 Mr. Haworth retired, and its operation was taken over by J. Oliver Bradley. At some later point it would be bought by T. R. Fiorita. When a fire burned down the Grand in 1925, the Princess would be renamed the Baby Grand and would take over the movies planned to be shown at the Grand until that cinema was rebuilt. At some point the theatre was leased to Fox, just as the Grand and 4th Street would be.

Sadly, the Princess or Baby Grand was not profitable much of the time. The April 28 1931 issue of the Moberly Monitor-Index included a news story on a Moberly City Council meeting at which a tax on theatres was debated. Theo Davis, who managed the theatre for Fox, questioned why the theatre tax should be doubled. He described the lease on the building as only being a "short term lease which the company intended to release as soon as a business could be found to occupy it." Mr. Davis said, "It has been the history of that house that the man who runs it lost money."

It was in 1936 that Louis Sosna leased the building that formerly housed the Princess Theatre. Mr. Sosna and his brother had operated a cinema in Manhattan, Kansas and would open a theatre in Mexico, Missouri as well. Mr. Sosna had a deal with Warner Bros. and Mongram for all of their first run films. He gave what had been the Princess Theatre its third name, the Sosna Theatre. As will be seen later, this would cause confusion for many local people later on! Mr. Sosna operated the Sosna Theatre on Williams Street until 1946, when the building was leased to Dickinson Operating Co. This did not mean Louis Sosna was out of the theatre business in Moberly, as he would open a new theatre on 4th Street (more on it later).

As might be expected. Dickinson renamed the theatre again, this time calling it the "Dickinson". Dickinson Theatres, as the company would finally be called, was a major chain in the late 20th Century. They eventually ran theatres in seven different states, including ones in Little Rock, Arkansas, Columbia, Missouri, and Springfield, Missouri.  It was in 2014 that Dickinson Theatres was sold to B&B Theatres. B&B had originated as Bills Theatres, which was founded in Salisbury, Missouri. In 1980 it would merge with Bagby's Travelling Picture Show, a local company that operated what was essentially a travelling movie theatre that traversed the state of Missouri, and became B&B Theatres.

Of course, years before B&B Theatres acquired Dickinson Theatres, Elmer Bills,(the founder of B&B Theatres) leased what had been the Dickinson Theatre. He renovated it and then reopened it as the Amy Lou in 1960. Sadly for the Amy Lou Theatre, the city of Moberly had other plans for the land on which it sat. The city purchased the property from T. R. Fiorita with plans to tear it down for a parking lot. The Amy Lou closed in 1962. Where it once stood at 112 North Williams Street there is now a parking lot.

The 4th Street Theatre: I wrote a detailed post about the 4th Street Cinema yesterday, so I won't repeat myself. You can read it here

State Theatre: When what had once been the Princess Theatre and later the Sosna Theatre was leased to Dickinson Theatres, Louis Sosna did not leave the theatre business in Moberly. In July 1946 he opened a new theatre, the Sosna, at 209 N. Fourth Street. This was the theatre that would come to be known as the "State" for many Randolph County residents. It was also the theatre I frequented the most as a child and young adult besides the 4th Street Cinema. Of course, the fact that it was originally called the "Sosna" would create confusion among Randolph County residents, local people confusing what was once called the Princess Theatre and was called the Sosna with what was once called the Sosna Theatre and what would become best known as the State.

It was in November 1949 that Louis Sosna leased the Sosna Theatre to the Dubinsky Brothers, who ran a chain that included cinemas in Iowa and Illinois. It was the Dubinsky Brothers who renamed the theatre, "the State". They operated the theatre until 1955, when it closed down. Fortunately, Louis Sosna would reopen the State in 1960, whereupon he remodelled it and renamed it the "Sosna State". He operated it until 1962 when it was taken over by Elmer Bills. It was once more renamed the "State". In the Eighties, B&B Theatres turned the State into a twin theatre by taking the balcony and turning it into another auditorium. The lower floor was then the "State I" and the upper floor the "State II". B&B Theatres continued to operate the State Theatre until March 1997, when it closed with the opening of the Moberly Five & Drive.

Highway 63 Drive-In Theatre: While I love drive-in theatres, I am not sure that I think of them as cinemas. To me a cinema means viewing a movie in an actual building. To be complete, however, I really have to talk about the Highway 63 Drive-In, given its importance in theatre history here. Bills Theatres opened the Highway 63 Drive-In in June 1950. It would open every summer until closing in 1985. It would remain closed until B&B Theatres struck upon the rather singular idea of not only re-opening the drive-in, but building a multiplex beside it. It was the first time ever that a multiplex was built with a drive-in theatre in mind. The multiplex portion of the Moberly Five & Drive opened in March 1997. The drive-in theatre reopened a little later that spring.

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.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

60 Years Ago Today John Lennon and Paul McCartney First Met

It was sixty years ago today that John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time. It was at a fete at St. Peter's Church in Woolton in Liverpool at which John Lennon's group The Quarrymen played.  Like other performers at the fete, The Quarrymen performed from the back of a moving truck. The Quarrymen were set to play again in the evening at the church's Grand Dance.

Paul McCartney accompanied his friend Ivan Vaughan to the fete. He and John Lennon chatted for a few minutes. Paul showed John how to tune a guitar (John's guitar at the time was actually tuned  in G banjo). Paul performed his version of version of Eddie Cochran's "20 Flight Rock", Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop-A-Lula", and various Little Richard songs. John and Paul were both various impressed with each others' talents. Eventually Paul McCartney was asked to join The Quarrymen and the rest is history.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Happy 4th of July 2017

As my regular readers are already well aware, for many holidays I post classic pinups with that particular holiday's theme. The 4th of July is no different, so without further ado, here is this years batch of classic pinps.

First up is Sixties startlet Carole Wells, who is riding a rocket!

Next up is the lovely Elaine Stewart, who is celebrating the 4th with some rather large firecrackers!

Next up is Adele Jergens, who is celebrating her 4th of July on the beach! And with fireworks!

Next up is Jayne Mansfield and a very large Uncle Sam hat.

The lovely and leggy Cyd Charisse is celebrating the 4th with cake...and firecrackers!

And, last but certainly not least, the lovely, leggy Ann Miller in a patriotic costume!

Happy 4th of July!

Monday, 3 July 2017

Some Movies for the 4th of July

Every 4th of July I watch the classic animated movie Yellow Submarine (1968). Of course, I realise that Yellow Submarine has almost nothing to do with the 4th of July. Indeed, not only were The Beatles not from the United States of America, but the film itself was made in Britain! I watch it because it reminds me of my childhood, when for several years CBS would air it in late June or early July. That having been said, I realise my fellow Americans might want to watch a movie that has something more to do with Independence Day. Here then are five movies that would make for perfect viewing for the 4th of July.

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939): Drums Along the Mohawk is from master director John Ford. It centres on a farming community in the Mohawk Valley of New York during the American Revolution.  The community faces attacks from the Seneca and raids from Tories. Like many historical dramas, Drums Along the Mohawk sometimes plays fast and loose with history. That having been said, I think it is one of John Ford's best films, with plenty of action and drama, and with some fine cinematography from Ray Rennahan and Bert Glennon.

The Time of Their Lives (1946): The Time of Their Lives is not exactly a Revolutionary War movie. Instead it is one of the many fantasy comedies popular in the Forties, and one starring Abbott & Costello at that. It centres on a pair of ghosts (played by Lou Costello and Marjorie Reynolds) who died during the Revolutionary War and still haunt an estate 166 years after they had died. The Time of Their Lives differs from most Abbott & Costello movies in that Bud and Lou do not play friends or even partners in the film. What is more Bud Abbott plays a fairly unsympathetic role. Regardless, it is still one of the best Abbott & Costello movies in my humble opinion, and a very funny movie.

The Scarlet Coat (1955): The Scarlet Coat is one of the early films from John Sturges, now best known for The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963).  It deals with one of the pivotal events of the American Revolution, General Benedict Arnold's betrayal of the Continental Army. Like many similar films it does depart from history a bit, but it is an entertaining film nonetheless.

Johnny Tremain (1957)Johnny Tremain is a Disney film based on Esther Forbes's children's novel of the same name. Like the novel it centres on the silversmith's apprentice of the title who soon finds himself swept up in events that would lead to the American Revolution. While it is a total work of fiction, it is very entertaining and particularly suitable for children. Among the events portrayed are the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere's ride, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

1776 (1972):  1776 certainly has its flaws:  some of the songs tend to be forgettable and  it is littered with historical inaccuracies (although most of them are fairly minor). That having been said, it is ultimately very enjoyable and features some fine performances from such talents as William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, and Ken Howard. The signing of the Declaration of Independence might sound like an odd topic for a musical, but ultimately it works.