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Wes Becker and Hugh Downs of the Cactus Drive-In had a great notion to start a Mexico City-centric Spanish Language drive-in at 3230 S. Park Road. On March 21, 1952, La Fiesta Drive-In Theatre — a 400 car drive-in was having its gran inauguración with “Dueña y señora” and “el Muchaacho Alegre.” Mi Cafetal was ready with free ice cream for the opening as well as tamales. The policy lasted for nine months when the drive-in went with Spanish language just three days a week and art films — primarily foreign language films in German, French and Italian — four days a week.
That didn’t work so well either so in December of 1953, the drive-in create a new, more traditional snack bar and had new rest rooms installed re-launching with more standard American double features. The drive-in pulls out all the stops running five features on some nights. But it’s not enough and in June of 1954, the Fiesta is back to Hispanic fare with some English language mixed in on weekends. In October of 1963, it’s again out with the Spanish language fare and back to exploitation and popular priced double features in English. In December of 1964, the theater switches back to Spanish language fare.
On August 16, 1966, the Fiesta starts an all-adult English language program which is then scaled back to popular price double features with one adult feature on weekends and mixing in Spanish language films on weekdays. Following the September 19, 1966 showings, the theater is listed as “closed until further notice.” There was no further notice.
The movie theaters operating at this time in Fort Wayne were the Jefferson, Strand, Grand, Hippodrome, Knitters, Creighton, Fairfield, Idle Hour, Wells Theater, Oprheum, and Transfer theaters. Vaudeville was the Palace, Lyric and Majestic. The Isis Theater in Kokomo is owned by the operators of the Orpheum in Fort Wayne and there are many Isis theaters in Indiana… but just see nothing abou this theater.
March 9, 1913 was the grand opening of the Empress Theatre at 134 East Wayne St. Articles about the forthcoming theater start in the fall of 1912 but each one is about another facet of the theater’s construction and hiring as personnel are on board months prior to the theater opening. The theater adopts a Kinemacolor projector that was only marketed on more year and the theater only lasts three years and three months as the Empress. The Rialto Amusement Company took on the location opening its Strand Theatre on October 29, 1916. Ads said they spent $15,000 to transform the the Empress to a fairyland with nothing but the walls the same.
Architect was Wilbur T. Mills which became Mills & Millspaugh whose best known work was the Kearse Theatre in Charleston, WV.
Grand opening was July 6, 1950 as part of Redwood Theatres Circuit launching with “Streets of Laredo.” In addition to spaces for 500 cars, the theater had a walk-in auditorium for those who preferred to leave their cars at home. Closed October 27, 1979 with a 65 cent show. Offered for $14,000 in 1980 with the city changing zoning from commercial to multi-residential and demolished. Replaced with residential complexes.
The original Van Nuys Theatre opened May 26, 1917. The New Van Nuys Theatre relocated from Sherman Way to its new $35,000 home in the Shacklett Building on Van Nuys Blvd. The theatre launched with Rinty in “Find Your Man” October 9, 1924. On August 2, 1936, the theatre along with the Rivoli become part of the Fox West Coast Circuit. It was renamed the Fox Van Nuys Theatre, a moniker it held until its closure. Though when Fox was forced to divest itself of theaters by consent decree in 1951, National General took on the Fox West theaters. In March of 1973, the sale of National General to Mann Theaters was announced and became effective in July 1973. Mann would drop the theater at the end of January 1977 with the theater becoming an independent in February 1977. A month into its indy run the Fox Van Nuys becomes a sub-run 99 cent house.
Closed by Regal as a sub-run discount house on August 31, 2000 as the then financially-troubled circuit was looking to get out of lease situations all over the U.S. It kept operating the nearby Holiday 6 as a first-run house, converting it to sub-run discount status in April 2004, and then finally going for a full-price art/indy-centric operation until its closure November 13, 2005.
Closed in 1998.
The timeline is close enough to correct. Just some refinements: General Cinema leased and opted out of the leasing situation. Bluegrass Cinemas of Lexington, KY was the 1993 circuit that came in to operate the theater closing it January 17, 1999 as a sub-run discount house. The greyfield-status / aka dead mall was on life support. That’s when Midwest Movie Works came in and operated it as the third and final operator. MWM closed it with controversy in 2001. Instead of simply blaming the moribund mall, the theater management blamed the African American patrons. The operator apologized and decided not to re-open due to the financial conditions of the mall. The Southtown Mall was then closed – years too late – and then demolished for a nondescript, though better performing shopping strip including a Walmart.
Closed January 20, 2002.
Robb & Rowley Circuit open the New Ritz June 13, 1939 with “Boy Friend.” It replaced the old Ritz that got decimated in a fire in December of 1938. That theater’s spot would be taken by R&R’s Texas Theatre. The second Ritz Theater’s final listed screening is December 22, 1962 with a double feature of “Mothra” in Tohovision and “Brushfire.” The Waco Junior Chamber of Commerce purchased the former Ritz in November of 1964 to build a parking lot. From December 28-31, 1964 the theater is demolished.
The Empire Theater opened in April of 1907 by the Empire Amusement Co. at 115 West Franklin on the south side of the square. It’s remodeled in 1908 and later it’s in the hands of the Waxahachie Amusement Company which also was the operator of the Dixie. In 1927, Robb & Rowley Theatre Circuit takes on the Empire and the Dixie. Whether in the silent age or the sound era, the Dixie is the “A” theater with the Empire the “B” house. Sound pictures are finally added to the Empire on September 12, 1930.
In the 1940s, the theater is generally open just two days a week on Friday and Saturday and toward the very end appears to close down in the summer months bowing to the Ellis Drive-In. The Empire appears to cease operations as a regular movie house following the double-feature on January 13, 1951 of “The Kid Rides Again” and “Let Down Your Aerial.” In 1954, Waxahachie Bank & Trust is remodeling the theater for an expansion project when vandals set back construction work. Infrequent meetings still take place in the auditorium at least through 1959, however.
This entry is for the New Crystal which was at 415 Austin Avenue. Louis Santikos of the still operating Santikos Theatre Circuit started his career with the neighboring Rex in Waco at 405 Austin as his first opening in 1911. Santikos would divest himself of the theater in 1915 concentrating at that time distributing films in Oklahoma and Texas. But he would return to the Waco exhibition market just a couple of doors away to operate the Royal Theatre at this address of 415 Austin Ave.
Meanwhile, a year before Santikos started his movie theater, Julius A. Lemke began running films regularly in Waco starting with the Elmo Theatre in 1910. He took on the Huaco Theatre from Paul Negroponte one block up from the Royal Theatre changing the Huaco to the Crystal Theatre in 1913. To get an advantage, he installed the brightest attraction sign and entryway on the row. Lemke bought the former Royal Theatre property at 415 Austin Avenue and moved establishing his the “new” Crystal Theatre in 1927.
Lemke would then acquire the arch-rival near-neighbor Rex Theatre and steer both the Crystal and Rex into the sound era running them until his death in 1934. After Lemke’s death in 1934, Newman Theatres acquired the Rex Theater operating it for another 21 years until his new Imperial downtown theater was readied. Julius Lemke’s son Carl ran the Crystal until August 21, 1958 when the theatre showed its last films. The theater was dismantled for future retail purposes.
Louis Santikos of the still operating Santikos Theatre Circuit started with the Rex in Waco at 405 Austin as his first opening in 1911. Santikos would divest himself of the theater in 1915 concentrating at that time distributing films in Oklahoma and Texas. The theatre becomes part of the Hulsey-Lynch Theatre Circuit thereafter. On April 10, 1920, the Washington Theatre merged with the Rex with all future Washington bookings added to the slate of Rex films. The Rex would become part of Southern Enterprises Theatre Circuit along with Waco’s Hippodrome and Victory.
The theater is then owned by Waco’s longest-standing movie theater owner in Julius A. Lemke who started the Elmo Theater in 1910 and the Crystal and Fox theaters. He takes the Rex into the sound era. After Lemke’s death in 1934, Newman Theatres acquired the theater while Lemke’s son, Carl, retained the near neighbor Crystal. Newman continues to operate the Rex for another 21 years until his new Imperial downtown theater is readied. The final shows on April 30, 1955 are “Lure of the Wilderness” and John Wayne’s “In Old California.” The theater is retrofitted for the long-standing Waco Barber College which opens in 1957.
Cinema 1 & 2 was opened by ABC Interstate on Christmas Day 1974 at 330 Bowden Drive. To show how the balance of theater-going had changed in Waco, the original Godfather played for months downtown at the Orpheum. Now the “Godfather 2” road show was the grand opening film for the suburban twin screener. Meanwhile, ABC Interstate would close its downtown Waco Theatre on Dec. 15, 1974.
The theatre was run by 40-year Interstate theater veteran Claude C.H. Stewart of Interstate’s 25th St. Theatre and Lake Air D.I. — as well as the deposed Waco. The 12,300 facility had identical 400-seat auditoriums for a total of 800 seats. Resplendent in red — from the wall-to-wall curtains, acoustic wall treatments and high back upholstered lounger chairs — even the leather seats in the waiting areas were red.
This was another of the twin-screen theaters by Interstate that had the turnstiles at the entrance in which patrons had to drop tokens to enter. The theater featured a Century Projector with Xenon lamps. The long-running “Jaws” was such a smash that the theater said it could have sold twice as many tickets per screen on some nights. From 1976 to 1980, the theater was advertised as Cinema Twin. This theater was supposed to become part of the 57-acre Sunset Mall. That delayed project wouldn’t open until 1980 then called the Richland Mall. With ABC-Interstate now in control of Plitt Theatre Circuit, Plitt would launch the Cinema 3 & 4 in Richland Mall at 6001 W. Waco Dr. And the Cinema Twin would return to its original name of Cinema 1 & 2.
Architected by David K. Mesbur opening August 1, 1986 as the Plitt Waco Square Six Cinemas. Cineplex Odeon had taken on the Plitt chain and opted for the Plitt nameplate at opening. Three auditoriums had Dolby Stereo at the launch.
The Gayety Picture Show renamed the Gayety Theatre at 115-117 Bridge was the first African American movie theater in Waco. Sometime in the late 1930s – most likely 1939 – the Gem Theatre opened and was the African American Theatre of choice on the square. But on March 29, 1953, the Gem ceases operation. After storm damaged 115-117 Bridge is repaired in 1953, the former Gayety location comes back to life as the “New” Gem Theatre beginning Dec. 19, 1953 and advertising until January 1962. It’s likely that the theater operated through a ten-year lease until March 1963 without advertising as the theater space is offered for lease in 1964.
Newman Theatres opened the Westview Drive-In in Waco with capacity for 475 cars launching in 1948 with the film, “Emperor’s Waltz.” The theater was said to have been at 731 North Valley Mills at the corner of Sanger; however, looking at Historic Aerials, the present address would be 815 N. Valley Mills where the Taco Bueno was as of the mid-2010s.
Though always in the hands of Mr. Newman, the circuit changed names to the Central Texas Theatres Circuit during the Westview’s ten year operation. The theatre closed just prior to Christmas in 1958 with the double feature of “Dunkirk” and “The Reluctant Debutante” on December 21, 1958. The next ad said closed for season and the final ad the following February said basically thanks for the memories. The theater was at the end of a lease cycle and the land sold to Colias Brothers to become the third location of Waco institution Elite Cafés with this location being the long-running Elite Steak House and other retail operations to be named. The demolition began February 4, 1959 by Wortman & Son of Houston.
Cinemas Southwest Theatre Circuit opened the Diamond Point Theatre on September 27, 1974 with “That’s Entertainment” and “Walking Tall.” The circuit would open the Ivy Square twin three weeks later giving Waco its first twin-screeners and first theater built since 1965. The seating capacity of each Diamond Point screen was identical at 273 in the 6,500 square foot facility. Waco Mayor Oscar DuConge was there for the opening along with Z.F. Cook, head of Cinemas Southwest. The theaters were automated and were originally supposed to have opened under the American Automated Theatres Circuit out of Oklahoma City.
The $35,000 Alpa Theatre opened in 1947 and got its name from a nearly twenty year old restaurant called the Alpha Café which moved from Austin Avenue to the 219 Clifton next to the Alpha Theater. The east-side Alphas served locals in the African American business district and marketed to the nearby Paul Quinn College student population. The area was served by the last-remaining electrified streetcar line upon opening.
The theater closed during what was likely a 20 year lease and was vacant for a period. The Alpha Café became the Alpha Grill which out survived its neighbor with live jazz music until the early 1970s. The theater became a hair products factory in 1976 when the building was renovated and received a slight extension. Its longest period was vacant with stored junk for a lengthy period. Cleaned up in 2015 for potential renovation as children’s theater and community center. It can be listed as renovating.
The Texas Theater launched in 1941. In 1958, with business waining, the Texas successfully tries an influx of art films and adult content. The result is so successful that it comes the Texas Art Theater in November of 1958. In March of 1963, the theater is renamed the Capri Arts Theater trying to become a more legitimate art house. It begins to lean heavily adult and is caught up in a daily raid scenario that takes place late in 1969 and into 1970. When raided in 1974, the theater was known as Capri Studio Adult Artfilm Theatre. The theater simply becomes the Capri Theater lasting as an adult film space until July 1983. In December of 1983, the Capri begins running first-run double feature Spanish language content. In the Fall of 1988, the theater becomes the River Theatre’s space for live plays. And then it becomes the Jubilee Theater.
The Imperial Theatre was new-build facility launched February 4, 1955 with “Young at Heart” at 810 Austin Avenue. While downtown theaters across the nation were being replaced by parking structures, the Imperial bucked the trend by becoming a theater replacing a short-lived parking area. And the results weren’t too good. The $200,000, 6,000 square foot facility would start with 950 seats and would be just 800 seats at closing due to renovations during its operation. It had a curved 42x23' screen.
This was the second Imperial Theatre in Waco as the first was a vaudeville house that would become the very short-lived home of the original Hippodrome in Waco which took over the Imperial space in 1912. (However, the Hippodrome would build a new facility in 1913 where it still was more than 100 years later.)
The “new” Imperial started under the auspices of Newman Theatre Circuit run by Ed and George Newman of Waco’s Orpheum Theatre. The theater wasn’t a home run and Newman ceased operation in 1962. It became the Waco Evangelistic Center early in 1963 before moving. Pre-Cinemark LeRoy and J.C. Mitchell took on the theater reopening on June 14, 1963 with “One Eyed Jacks” and “Sergeants 3.” It closes for a short period and re-opens. But the theater struggles mightily. The Imperial closes in October of 1965 as the Lake Air Cinema is set to become the first new indoor theater to open since the Imperial. The Imperial appears to close October 2, 1965 after “Move Over Darling” and “What a Way to Go.” And if that’s so, what a way to go.
After a period of vacancy, the final life for the Imperial is as its final name as the Roxie Adult Theatre. It joined the Capri and the Art 16 as Waco’s adult theaters. The Roxie theater opened December 11, 1970 and the constant, daily raids at the theater from the outset lead the employees to seek relief in Austin just four weeks after the grand opening and one day after an employee at one of the adult theaters reportedly committed suicide. The Roxie appears to cease operations after just two very turbulent months in February of 1971. The property is listed for sale by October of 1971 and would later be demolished returning to parking lot status.
This theater opened as the Grand Theatre in 1941, The Joy Theatre Cicuit of Louisiana bought the theater and changed it to the Joy Theater in 1948. On May 11, 1953, a tornado hit downtown Waco just after a double-feature had ended. The rain and wind kept patrons inside and reports said that they went under the seats in the auditorium when the twister came through. And everything might have been fine for the Joy though the roof buckled. But when the neighboring R.T. Dennis Building toppled onto the Joy Theatre, it felled its roof and two of the walls partially crumpled. But amazingly none of the patrons was injured in the Joy as there was enough time between the roof buckling and the building toppling to get people out of the theatre building.
However, the attraction sign came away from the facing, the building was a twisted mess, and that the Joy wouldn’t re-open as searchers went through brick by brick looking for survivors. One survivor from the Dennis Building was found alive 14 hours after the tornado hit. E.C. Houck Of the Joy Theatre Circuit had been told to expect the worst but received good news that all patrons escaped safely. However, the Dennis Building had decimated the theater and it wasn’t salvageable. Bulldozers came on May 14, 1953 to finish off the former Grand turned Joy Theatre and by September a parking lot replaced the Joy, the Chris' Cafe and the Dennis and Co. Furniture Store. That makes the last day of operation May 11, 1953 with the double-feature of “The Lusty Men” and “Follow the Leader.”
On December 18, 1920, the Strand to launched in Waco with “Once to Every Woman’.“ Final operator Abe Levy shuttered both the Strand and the Rivoli on August 22, 1955.