Palace of Memories, Classic Movie Theatre
- Palace of Memories: Classic Movie Theaters
Over the last few months, the Classic Movies Forum has become home to
a group of true-blue classic movie fans, who delight in posing
questions for each other, such as "What's Your Favorite Fred and
Ginger Movie?" and "What's the Worst Line Ever Uttered?" No flames,
no spam, just fun discussions. Kind of a minor miracle, actually.
Recently "Mira" started a thread about old movie palaces. I thought
that her lovely post and the equally fascinating responses that
resulted were worth sharing with those who may not visit the Bulletin
Board regularly. If you're one of those, I hope you'll enjoy these
stories, and then check out the Classic Movies Forum. There's a lot
more where this came from!
Born in a Trunk in the Princess Theater
No, this isn't about Judy Garland's dynamite number from A Star is
Born. It's about remembrances of theaters past -- the thick-carpeted,
gilt-arched, wall-sconced palaces of (some of) our childhoods. A few
such cinema castles still exist, but when I was little, that was
where you saw movies -- not at home on TV (grateful though I am for
AMC day and night) and not in the mini-screening rooms of modern-day
I spent a lot of time in the Patio Theater as a very little kid
because my mom was one of the two cashiers there, and often, when my
grandma couldn't watch me, I was allowed to go to work with mom.
While she sold tickets, I had the time of my life and saw (sometimes
2-3 times) every movie that came to our small town.
Bruce was the usher. He wore a snappy light gray uniform with a
maroon chest and a double row of small brass buttons -- sort of like
that Johnny kid who called for Philip Morris in the old commericals.
Bruce saw people to their seats using his flashlight. When no one
needed his escorting, he gave me rides on his shoulders and talked to
me about his favorite movie stars (he was in love with Carole
Lombard) and occasionally sprang for (pure heaven) a nickel treat. I
spent a long time deciding from among the 5-6 pull knobs on the one
candy machine in the lobby. Never bothered with popcorn -- went
straight for the hard stuff: Root Beer Barrels, Nonpareils (never
bought those), Mason's Dots, Good N Plenty. And a chewing gum knob (I
never pulled that one, either).
I understood how quiet one must be, slipping into the darkened
theater to watch a bit of the movie, and then out to the lobby to
talk to Bruce, hope for candy, maybe visit my mother if no one was
buying tickets. And sometimes to see the Theater Manager. I guess he
was the owner too. I was scared of him, always thinking he would ask
to see my ticket (he never did, of course). One early evening show,
he actually invited me to pull the winning ticket stub out of the
spinning cage to choose the person who would take home the big prize
on "dish night." Everyone in the audience knew I was the cashier's
kid and our family wasn't eligible for the prize, so my selecting the
number was OK with them. What glory!
And sometimes we had "amateur night" before the feature film. I
remember that a little girl tried to sing "My Blue Heaven" but forgot
the words. Her name was Helen Ann Homeier. I'll bet her mama
reassured her that no one would ever remember. (Don't you believe it,
Helen Ann.) OK. Sorry to ramble on. What do you remember? What was
the name of your cinema palace? How much did a big box of popcorn
cost? Did you sit up in the balcony? Did you sneak past the red
velvet rope to do that? Could people smoke in your theater? Were
there ever any amateur night bits before or after the feature film?
Response From Chris
Although I'm sure they were not as spectacular as some of the great
old movie palaces in larger cities, I fondly remember the beautiful
Alhambra and Crest Theaters in Sacramento, California, which I
frequented in the early '60s. The Alhambra was a stately, white
Moorish-style building with a little tiled courtyard and fountain
outside, and the interior, of course, featured plush everything, with
sweeping, carpeted staircases and graceful lighting fixtures in a
rainbow of subdued colors. The interior of the Crest was similarly
elaborate, with a sweeping crescent of a balcony and, as I recall,
fascinating murals on the walls (always adding a touch of mystery in
the dim light).
Moviegoing was one of my greatest pleasures as a kid, and how well I
remember the delicious sensation of entering the cool depths of a
theater on a searingly hot summer afternoon, and the equally
wonderful sensation of feeling the intense rays of the late afternoon
sun on my face and arms when emerging again.
The Alhambra was demolished years ago, and whether the Crest has
survived in anything like its former glory, I don't know.
Response From Actor
I grew up in a small town. The theater burned down about 30 years
ago. I visited there last Christmas, and just for the memories I
walked the entire length of Main Street, just short of a mile. The
lot where the theater was is still vacant. It couldn't have been more
than 20 feet wide, probably less. I remember there were six seats on
each side of the aile. I think it must have held a maximum of 200
people. About the size of a "mini-screening room."
I remember they closed down for a week to install the "Cinemascope"
screen. The first wide screen movie they showed was From Here to
Eternity. It blew me away -- not the movie, the screen, which may
explain why I like letterbox today. Everybody commented on how the
new screen was not as tall as the old one, although it did reach from
wall to wall.
The theater played four different movies per week, one on Sunday and
Monday, one Tuesday, one Wednesday and Thursday, and one on Friday
and Saturday. The one night Tuesday movie was generally a monster
film or teen-oriented flick, and they had a Bingo game to lure the
customers. When the old theater burned down, the whole town pulled
together to build a new one. It was built across the street from the
old one in a pre-fab metal building. The new manager got a new
projector that would hold the entire evening's program on one big
reel. He had to do a lot of splicing before and cutting after to get
it back on the reels it came on, but it allowed him and his wife to
operate the theater alone. She would tend the box office and he would
run the concession stand. When it was time for the movie to start he
would simply throw one switch beneath the counter.
Some theaters today are taking credit cards. I remember you could go
to this theater and write a check, even make it out for a little more
than admission so you would have change for the concession stand.
When the VCR came out the business began to fail. They tried renting
video tapes to make up the slack, but the grocery stores and gas
stations were doing the same thing. The city fathers gave him a
subsidy to keep him is business (so the kids would have a place to
go) but in the end it failed. It is still standing, its marquee
empty. I'm told that the screen, seats, projector, even the popcorn
machine are still in there gathering dust.
Response From Rich
No wonder you love classic films. You grew up practically in a
theater. Several things you mentioned hit home for me. Yes, I did
sneak, with a friend, up to the balcony. For Saturday shows, it was
not allowed. Too many young rascals like me running around, I guess.
To stop us from climbing the stairs, they used to have two lovely
gold poles set across the stair. The chain attached was wrapped in a
beautiful red cloth. The sign said, "Sorry, The Balcony Is Closed."
My particular memory was of the beautiful Academy Theater, aptly
named. Above the marquee was a tall, spiral structure adorned with
lights of many colors. At night, the lights would start from the
bottom and wind their way to the top of the dome. As you walked
inside, the carpet seemed to wrap itself around your shoes. The doors
were very large, and when they opened, the color hit you. Greens,
blues, and reds. The material looked like pure velvet. The
exquisitely decorated chandelier then slowly became darker and darker
while at the same time the curtain began to rise. In stages and in
horizontal rows, one after another. For me, it was a magical
experience. There were many other theaters in Pasadena, California at
that time, but there was something about the Academy that made it
special in my mind.
I'm not sure of the price back then. It was probably about 35 cents.
Smoking was probably allowed, although I wouldn't remember as my
brother and I grew up in a thin haze that was everpresent in our
home. Remember, this was the 50s, and probably 7 out of 10 people
smoked at the time.
My favorite eats were popcorn and Coke. Once in a while, I would get
a box of Milk Duds, but that was rare.
I'm in a daze just thinking back, Mira. What great memories. Thanks
for reminding us of the great memories we had at the movies