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The Rivoli opened Thanksgiving Day 1929 in a converted retail space and ran just over 25 years shutting down August 22, 1955 as operator Abe Levy shuttered both the Strand and the Rivoli. In May of 1958, the building was demolished.
The Orpheum officially took over for the Cozy Theatre on August 2, 1915 though had been running under the moniker earlier in the summer. The Cozy Theatre had moved into the space that was formerly the original Hippodrome on March 31, 1913. The Cozy had been operating at 604 Austin only since January of 1912 but when the Hippodrome moved in June of 1912 to the former Imperial, the Cozy went from Cozy sized to larger. (The Hippodrome would construct a new builld theater launching in 1913 and surviving past its 100th anniversary.) The Orpheum Theater’s incredible run is to 1978. In 1983, the theater was demolished.
The Melrose Theatre in south Waco held its grand opening on September 24, 1946 launching with the film, “Bad Bascomb.” Working on a ten-year lease, the theater closed in July of 1956. W.S. (Bill) McLemore re-opened the theater October 3, 1957 with the film “Bernadine.” The theater appears to go dark at the end of May 1958 as there are no further advertisements or bookings.
The Fox Theatre was located on Waco’s Square at 105 South Street. However, in 1926 owner J.A. Lemke expanded the Fox and its seating into the Rosenberg Building at 103 South Street. The theater survived a screen fire, a projection room fire, and the massive tornado of May 11, 1953 that caused death and destruction while destroying some of the 100 block of South Street. Somehow the Fox was spared as the twister opened only a major hole in the Fox’s roof.
As then-owner W.R. Phillips was repairing the roof, burglars went in during off-hours through the roof’s hole and stole the change from both the peanut vending machine and the penny scale. Undaunted, the Fox continued past its third decade of operation. The Fox tried Spanish language films on weekdays in the late 1950s, exploitation films on weekends, and appears to have finally thrown in the towel following the Feb. 28, 1959 screenings of “The Curse of Frankenstein” and “Johnny Trouble.” No further bookings or ads are carried. Likely an end-of-lease situation and probably a 35-year run though could be longer for the Fox. It was used later for other non-cinematric purposes into the early 1960s. After the Fox’s demolition, it became home to a parking lot; but the former theater’s location is now the Waco Chamber of Commerce constructed in 2008.
Final showing was July 4, 1982. Owner Plitt Theatres had considered making the theater a dollar house but reconsidered.
The Lake Air Mall opened theatre-less on March 16, 1961. But three years later, the mall would rectify that was General Cinema leased what would become an outparcel building behind the mall for a single screen theater. The Cinema at Lake Air Center missed its May 30, 1965 opening by five months but finally made it November 9, 1965 opening with “The Cincinnati Kid.” The theater had 822 with a 50x22 screen.
Guest’s Corner at Fifth St. NE and Tudor was Paris' African American business center and entertainment night spot from WWI and through the late 1950s. And the Alhambra Theatre on East Tudor was there from the beginning. Showing movies, hosting graduations, and live shows were all a part of the Alhambra which dated back to at least 1916. The theater closed down briefly in the early 1930s before re-opening and remodeled. The theater reportedly moves within Tudor Street newly listed on December 13, 1945 at 542 E. Tudor with the grand opening film, “Gunning for Revenge.” Some of the equipment was said to have been brought over from the old theater. The new Alhambra was operated by Imogene and Terry Griffis. The final operator takes on the old Main Theatre in 1960 operating it as the Parisian Theatre, a popular run theater and closing it in 1961 after rebranding it January 5, 1961 as another African American theater. The Alhambra continued but the final date is not verified.
Former Grand Theatre and Interstate engineer W.F. Shorthose was ready to open his new, independent 400-seat North Star Theatre Thursday, March 13, 1941. The 25' x 100' building would have all seating on the floor at open. Announced along with the unrelated Rex Theatre by Texas Consolidated Theatres Circuit, Shorthose was planning to compete with Interstate’s Dixie theatre. But in terms of optics, Texas Consolidated obviously wasn’t too happy that its new Rex just two weeks from its grand opening was across the street from the North Star. And almost magically, the day prior to the March 13th launch with the North Star ready to open, plans were abruptly postponed. Less than two weeks later Claude Musselman of Texas Consolidated Theatre said that they had taken on Shorthose’s theater including all of its contents and lease. The Rex opened without the North Star in its space. Texas Consolidated said a future date for the North Star would be forthcoming. Had you been able to buy tickets in advance for that grand opening, you would have been wise to put them in a safe place.
Not surprisingly, Texas Consolidated wasn’t in too big a hurry to open the North Star. As the opening was further delayed, Texas Consolidated’s portfolio was more clearly in Interstate Theatre Circuit Control. America entered World War II and the North Star stayed curiously ready to open yet completely unused. Nearly two years after the initial postponement of the grand opening, Interstate announced it would open the North Star, though a mere two days a week — just Fridays and Saturdays. And on January 30, 1943 the North Star finally launched with “Sherlock Homes and the Voice of Terror” — and no longer targeted as an African American theater. The wait must not have been worth it. On January 5, 1946, the theater just shy of its third anniversary is shut down following the showing of “Atlantic Flight” and its contents removed. It is quite conceivable that the Shorthose lease was a short term of just five years and Interstate packed up and left.
In early April of 1946, the North Star’s space was remodeled for Lloyd Robinson’s Home Furnishings Shop moving from elsewhere in downtown. The North Star faded without ever having much of a chance to be destination for Paris residents.
Architected by Pettigrew & Worley
The theater launched independently in 1973. In August of 1979, Cineplex begins advertising the theater as Cineplex Theatres Cinema I & II. Trans-Texas acquired the theater in March of 1988 closing it down to remodel and hire a new staff. J.C. Mitchell’s group had a grand re-opening on April 8, 1988 with “Beetlejuice” and “Johnny Be Good.”
Just one year later, some Trans-Texas properties become Cinemarks including Paris' Cinema I & II in March of 1989. In 1996, Cinemark announced a new-build multiscreen theater. Cinemark closed the Cinema I & II on May 22, 1997 with “Anaconda” and “Father’s Day.” The chain said the Cinema I & II would remain open despite its newly-built Movies 8’s grand opening the next day elsewhere in the city. No further ads or bookings appear, however.
Let me know if I’m off base here but the Queen Theatre in the photo above is at 1148 E. Elizabeth. The first Queen Theatre was opened by Paco Betancourt in 1917. Bentacourt and Ed Brady then opened the “new” Queen Theater and the Queen Theater Building at 1146-1150 E. Elizabeth housing retail stores on either side of the theater’s entrance with the ticket booth and lobby housed at 1148. The building’s owner decades later said that the Queen took an existing foundation and building core that was from the 1880s to construct/ retrofit the “new” Queen.
The theater is overtaken by Publix which closed the Queen for remodeling in July of 1929. It re-launches Christmas of 1929 hoping to become the third theater to add sound. (Many references including Wikipedia say that Bentancourt’s Queen introduced talkies to the Rio Grande Valley but it was certainly not the first or even second to regularly show talkies in Brownsville and not even among the first four in the RGV to do so regularly.) The theater re-opens on Christmas showing “a better class of silent films.” Probably with audiences dissatisfied, the theater announces a new system with both disc and sound on film that will be in place during March of 1930. That’s when the former Betancourt’s Queen Theater became home to talkies.
When Publix goes into receivership, Interstate is the next owner of the Queen taking on Publix' portfolio of Texas cinemas. They operate the Queen until closing it on December 31, 1960. A classified ad in December says that the lease has expired on the Queen Theatre Building and that it can be occupied as of January 1, 1961 indicating end of life for the Queen. No further listings or bookings appear for the location.
Finally, as to the theater being a Spanish language theater, I’ve looked at hundreds of bookings and the theater can’t be categorized as a Spanish language theater due to more than 95% of its bookings and live shows being in English. So other than the location of the theater, the programming of the theater as English and not Spanish, the claims about the theater being a pioneer of talkies, and when the theater stopped advertising (seems unbroken until the end of 1960 and with Interstate from Publix forward), I agree with everything else.
One of the most important theaters of Texas was Teatro Victoria running more than 45 years opening November 25, 1946 as a Spanish language theater specializing in Mexican cinema. Air conditioned at the start, the theater was such a success that at the end of February, owner Ramon Ruenes would remove the stage adding 200 seats. Knowing that his audience wouldn’t necessarily read the local newspaper, Ruenes spent many hours in a van with a megaphone announcing the double-features. The Ruenes ran a number of theaters in the Rig Grande Valley including the Ruenes Drive-In in Brownsville. The theater shuttered in 1993 but the low-priced theater entertained generations of people in the area. Its Manley popcorn machine found a new home with the Brownsville Historic Association and the building still stands and — as of the 2010s — still had its projectors.
The Fiesta Drive-In, a Hispanic theater/English hybrid, was ready to launch on May 27, 1954 with the films, “Baile mi Rey” and “Copper Canyon.” The first film was in Spanish and the nightcap was in English. The 550-spot lot was augmented by a 200-seat area for walk-ups and those who just didn’t want to be in their cars. Texas Drive-In specialists Ezell and Associates Circuit who also owned the Star Drive-In in Brownsville were in charge. The theater would join the Stanley Warner Theatre Circuit and would go all Spanish-language. In February 1965, Ramon Runes Jr. On March 4, 1965, within his circuit the theatre became the Auto Cine Ruenes. Celebrating its 20th Anniversary and 31st overall, the Ruenes was the only Brownsville Drive-In remaining in 1985 and would be torn down prior to reaching its 25th Anniversary.
Underwood and Ezell (U&E) Circuit began the Victory Theatre in November of 1941. By June of 1948, U&E decided to close the Texas Theatre a block away and just a month later it would close the Victory. U&E had 15 drive-in theaters at that point and decided to concentrate on o-zoners. Hiram Parks of Lubbock took on the Victory for a brief period before selling it in 1950 to the Colorado Theatre Circuit run by the Benefiel family. In 1965, the circuit sold its last remaining property in the Victory to D.H. Laughler. The theater became the Tex-Art Theatre becoming an adult theater. Sold to George Kimble in 1971, Kimble changed the format to all G-rated family and repertory film hoping that’s what downtown preferred. It wasn’t so in 1973, the theater became the Victory Adult Theatre. The theater is charged with obscenity counts in December of 1973 and appears to either stop advertising or close. The theater was shuttered in 1976 set to be demolished for a project that failed to materialize.
The Leon Theatre launched June 29, 1942 after a freight delay caused a postponement of the scheduled June 26, 1942 launch. The Leon Brothers built the theater and had double-wide seats for “love birds and large persons.” Opening there was “The Bride Came C.O.D.” On July 21, 1942, the Leons would take on the Star Theatre and then they would take over the Rex for a modest portfolio in Amarillo and adding to their Texas holdings. A retail location for a jeweler, the Leons did a ten-year lease and the theater was remodeled back to retail usage.
The $13-million Western Plaza Shopping Mall was announced in 1965 and General Cinema signed on the provide the theater there in summer of 1966. The theater was set to open almost 20 years to the date of the last Amarillo constructed indoor theater, the Esquire. Though the entire project fell behind by a year, the 1,000 seat General Cinema Western Plaza was an exciting addition to the area with the traditional art gallery and smoking loge. At the mall, the anchors of Montgomery Ward’s and the cinema’s neighbor Woolco had made it to the August 1967 target date and the other 21 of the other 23 businesses worked hard to meet the February 29, 1968 grand opening target date. GCC missed both dates but four weeks after the Mall’s grand opening, March 26, 1968, the Western Plaza Cinema was open with a film that played well throughout Texas in “The Graduate.”
As classes went back into session in 1973, General Cinema shut down to deliver twins at the Western Plaza. The theater re-launched on October 24, 1973 after a two month hiatus as the General Cinema Western Plaza I & II opening with “Visions of Eight” and “The Day of the Jackal.” The theater was now fully automated and had a slightly remodeled lobby area. The theater was likely on a 25-year lease and decided against a re-up as the mall was in flux with Woolco leaving, Sakowitz coming and going, J.J. Wilson coming and being replaced by Service Merchandise. A twin-screener just couldn’t compete in a multiplex world. In 2007, the whole complex was finally razed and replaced by Western Crossing, a $40 million mall.
Interstate Theatres went on a building and spending spree in the late 1940s building theaters outside of downtown throughout Texas. In 1947, alone, Houston had the River Oaks, Dallas got the Forest, Inwood and Circle theaters. And for Amarillo, it would get its last indoor theater built for more than 20 years with the Esquire Theatre. You couldn’t miss the Esquire. It had a 38-foot sign with 1,500 feet of neon tubing and an attraction board that told you what was playing. Opening was the 40 cent admissioned, “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now” on October 27, 1947. Mayor Lawrence Hagy was there to get things going. Audiences were struck by the fabulous murals by Eugene Gilboe which were a doff of the cowboy hat to the Palo Duro Canyon area.
Nicknamed “the friendly theater,” by Jack King of Interstate Theatre, the only circuit to operate the theater, the idea may have been to be a nice neighborhood theater. But at 1,000 seats and with audiences ready, the theater at 18th and South Washington within two years was hosting road shows that Interstate might have considered for the Paramount. Road Show releases including those of “Hamlet,” “The Bible,” “The Sound of Music” (18 weeks), “The Royal Ballet,” “South Pacific,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “Cheyenne Autumn,” “The Song of Norway,” “Patton,” “Tora, Tora, Tora,” “Oliver,” “The Sand Pebbles,” “Gone With the Wind (1968 Road Show), “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Grand Prix,” “A Man for All Seasons,” “The Great Race,” and “The Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” made the Esquire a destination theater for decades.
Though the theater would close just shy of its 35th Anniversary reaching the end of a lease cycle, the quickly-demolished theater was a destination theater in the single-screen era and survived gracefully into the twin and multiplex eras.
On May 13, 1948, the Palo Duro Drive-In Theatre became the second drive-in theater in Amarillo. Its original mural of the Palo Duro Canyon was ready to go just in time for the first movie which was “California.“ The 400-car drive-in proved so successful that it was expanded in 1952 to 553 cars. Operated by Charles Weisenberg, Harold Wilson and Johnny Fagan, it would become a Wesienberg Theatre Circuit holding exclusively for much of its existence.
In 1953, the theater was expanded to accommodate CinemaScope. On a 20-year lease, the drive-in closed November 26, 1967 with a triple feature of “El Dorado,” “Your Cheatin' Heart,” and “The Rounders.” There was no coming back for the 21st year as the drive-in’s demolition took place less than two weeks after its last show. Original owner Johnny Fagan had come back in 1966 and 1967 to steer the Palo Duro to its closure as manager.
The Skyway Drive-In opened October 27, 1950. Days before, the aviation-centric drive-in advertised $100 for a parachute jumper to deliver the first film to the drive-in. The first film was “Sierra.” Midway through August of 1961, the Skyway converted to Spanish language films. On February 22, 1964, the Skyway played its final two features with “Aladino y la Lámpara Maravillosa” and “No soy monedita de oro.” It was the first of the Weisenburg Drive-Ins in Amarillo to close leaving the Trail, Palo Duro, Tascosa and Twin in the portfolio.
Amarillo’s third drive-in theater built in 1949 from the same folks who brought you the Trail (1948) and competing with the Palo Duro (1948). The theater got in trouble with locals in 1973 for playing an X-rated feature and an R-rated feature with objectionable content. The Sunset owners had to sign a promise along with a $2,000 letter of credit with the city that they would only show G or PG rated movies. The city had threatened to pass an ordinance that would have stated as such. The final showing at the Sunset appears to be November 7, 1976 with the 28-year old drive-in closing with the double feature of “Posse” and “Lifeguard.” No further advertisements or bookings are listed for the drive-in.
Launched with “The Lion and the Horse” in 1952 to become Amarillo’s fifth drive-in theater behind the Trail (‘48), Palo Duro (‘48), Sunset ('49), Skyway ('50), and Twin ('52). It would be followed by the long-running Tascosa ('53) which survived into the 21st Century.
Amarillo’s fourth drive-in behind the Trail (‘48), Palo Duro ('48), and Sunset ('49).
The Texas Theatre opened January 17, 1933 on a 15-year lease showing “Red Dust” as its opening feature. The theater was next door to the former Olympic Theater, the first Amarillo theater to show films though burning down in 1919. The Texas Theater began as a 500-seat theater in a 30' by 140' space. Ben Golding started the theater. Underwood and Ezell Circuit took on the operation of the Texas and the Victory in 1945. It closed January 5, 1948 with “The Trouble with Women” as the theater reached the end of its lease. The building was repurposed for retail purposes.
The Mission Theatre launched on July 19, 1913 for R.C. Conn. D, F & R Enterprises — Dr. E.J. Dye, H.S. Ford, and Ross D. Rogers took on the theater in 1914 and ran the road show version of “Birth of a Nation.” Later, under new operator Raleigh Dent of Dent Theatres Circuit, Amarillo would get to hear the movies as Vitaphone entered into the mix. The Jazz Singer was an early but not the first Vitaphone heard in Amarillo. “Ham and Eggs at the Front” was that first talkie in Amarillo playing on March 17, 1928.
The theater would be subsumed by Publix which transitioned from Publix-Dent to Publix and would become Paramount Publix. It went into receivership in 1933 and the Mission would become part of the Interstate Circuit which took on much of the Paramount Publix and RKO southern theaters.And then the theater became the Capitol opening August 27, 1937 appropriately enough with “New Faces of 1937.” In 1952, Trans-Texas became the final owner of the Capitol. Unfortunately, just two years into the circuit’s run, the Capitol burned down and was no more in December of 1954. Demolished in 1955, the lime mortar constructed brick building’s bricks were re-used to build two new Amarillo homes.
The Rialto opened in July 1926. It had a major remodeling in 1942. And it had its last screenings on January 2, 1960 with “Dreamland Capers” and “Battle of the Teasers” as it went as as a downtrodden adult-centric theater (reports said the theater closed Thursday, Dec. 31, 1959 but there appear to have been showings of this double-feature on Jan. 1-2, 1960). The equipment was removed almost immediately by the city of Higgins, Texas which took the equipment, contents, and even the Rialto signage. The owner of the Rialto was its neighbor, the Army and Navy Store, which enlarged its store into the former Rialto with work beginning also in January of 1960.