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The Metro Theatre was billed as Abielene’s first suburban theater. The south side suburban got off to a very rocky start and didn’t appear to be a theater which would be operational for more than thirty years. But it did just that. The theater was built by James H. Griffin and all 526 seats of the quonset hut styled theater were on the main floor. A brick front held the attraction sign, lobby, ticket area and the projection booth. Just prior to opening, Griffin sells out to I.B. Adelman’s circuit which consisted of the Adelman Theater in Houston, the forthcoming theater in Dallas, and a Fort Worth theater. Adelman launches the theater on October 17, 1946 with the film, “Ding Dong Williams.”
A year later, Adelman Circuit has had enough of the Metro and sells to Tom Griffing. Griffing would close the Metro less than six months later April 3, 1949. Its future was uncertain. But on Nov. 11, 1949 the theater would re-launch, find its audience, in part, by marketing and drawing crowds from nearby McMurry College. It featured “popular” priced runs of films such as “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben Hur.” These elements helped the Metro make it past its thirtieth anniversary as a successful suburban.
After a soft launch on September 29-30, 1938 of “Wake Up and Live,” the theatre’s gala grand opening was Oct. 1 with Mack Brown’s, “Guns in the Dark.” Nearly ten years later, the theater closed briefly to redecorate and had a grand re-opening on August 15, 1948. To accommodate widescreen, the theater was updated including its “wall to wall screen” on Nov. 28, 1954. Negative publicity hits on Nov. 27, 1959 when it’s revealed that African American patrons have no rest rooms afforded to them.
The city is experiencing a major, coordinated plan to bring urban renewal to downtown in the form of a shopping mall in early 1960. Downtown Abilene Markets, Inc. is acquiring property to build the center. The Texas Theatre’s last showings are February 22, 1960 with “Hound Dog Man” and “The Quiet Gun.” It’s revealed that the Texas Theatre property has been acquired by the Downtown Abilene Markets from the Alexander estate on July 30, 1960. The property is one of the first targeted for demolition in 1960 as the renewal plan commences but doesn’t occur until 1962 according to reports.
On October 13, 1922 the Palace Theatre opened in a three-year old building, converting the City Drug Store into a long-lasting theatre space. The entire building was renamed the Palace Theatre Building and the first film was “Too Much Business.” Two Motiongraph projectors also played a Harold Lloyd comedy short on opening night. H.T. Hodge of the first Gem Theatre in Abilene was in charge.
The theater switches to a Spanish Language theater. Bookings appear to end after the September 18, 1965 showings of “Buenos Dias Acapolco” and “Santo Contra el rey del Crimen.” The theater was targeted for demolition in November of 1969 and appears to have been demolished in January of 1970.
Grand Opening as twin-screener was July 6, 1973.On April 30, 1976, the third auditorium addition resulted in the Cinema I-II-III. And then the fourth rounded it out as a four-plex.
The Rex Theatre was a silent era theater opening in 1914 at 151 Chestnut that replaced a saddle and tack store. On March 15, 1933, new operators changed the theater to the Gem Theatre specializing in westerns. Under its new name of the Star Theater, the theater is remodeled by a new owner in May of 1941. A fire at the Star Theater on January 21, 1943 destroyed the interior but left the building intact.
Despite war shortages, the building owners were able to get the supplies needed to rebuild. On June 27, 1943 the “New” Star Theater re-opened. On October 12, 1949, the theater re-opened by the same operators as the Texas and Linda. With its new moniker as the State Theatre, its final name, it had a free preview open house with the Marx Brothers' “A Night at the Opera.” The theater switched to Spanish language films on March 7, 1953 and would drop to just two day a week operation beginning at the end of March 1953. Closing date is not certain.
Abilene’s ninth theater in operation in 1941 was the Grand Theater. It was a hybrid African American theater five days a week and turned into Teatro Grand two nights a week — Sunday and Wednesday (and sometimes more depending on the film) to play Spanish language films. The theater opened May 1, 1941 with a 26-piece high school band adding to the festivities. The Grand suffered an inordinate number of fires — eight minor blazes in less than eight years of operation.
That said, it donated money to African American college funds and screened rare African American films such as the Spencer Williams/Dallas-shot “Blood of Jesus” — just one of many “race” films that played here. It also participated in Juneteenth Emancipation Day festivities with special screenings which also had an exhibition semi-pro baseball game. But the theater would close after just six years of operation when its owner, Mrs. George Likins, noted that Camp Barkeley closed down while African Americans and Hispanics could get regular admittance in other theaters. and was auctioned off on April 6, 1948.
The 6,300 twin movie theater The Movies: Brookhollow was an automated theatre by the American Automated Theatres Circuit out of Oklahoma City and operated by Walt Mergenhagen, a first-time theater owner. It was at 3112 S. 27th Street and launched January 24, 1975 with “The Sting” and “One Little Indian” for $1. Abilene Mayor J.C. Hunter Jr. was among the dignitaries there for the opening. The Movies had two identical 273-seat auditoria and cost $210,000 to build. J.J. Aguilar & Associates of Fort Worth built the theater. The flatbed 35mm projectors projected the show automatically, taped music played between shoes, and both lighting and curtains were controlled as well.
The building still stands and was a Fuji Japanese Steak House until 2013.
The operators of the Tower Drive-In, O.M. Kirkeby and R.A. Erickson, decided to build a second drive-in in Abilene in 1951. The proposed name of their $100,000 ozoner was the Cedar Gap Drive-In. But by grand opening on February 5, 1952 the 350-car facility’s name was named after its neighborhood of Crescent Heights as the Crescent Drive-In launching with “Thunderhead: Son of Flicka.” With the Crescent opening, the operators closed the Tower briefly for some repairs.
New operator Katherine Jacobs and Duane Gates ran into some issues with the theater. Improvements made in 1960 were under scrutiny from the land owner. Further scrutiny came when the Crescent started showing adult films and in December of 1961 had its film, “Not Tonight, Henry” impounded by local police. That led to a censorship hearing in January 1962 that went to trial in March with the charges dropped with the film finally returned — albeit very late — to the Dallas Art Film Exchange. After returning to more family-friendly fare, the theater returned to adult films in 1968 rebranding the the theater as Crescent Arts Theater. On November 3, 1968, the Tower and Crescent were sold to Video Independent Theatres Circuit (VIT) which already owned the Key City Drive-In and a month later would also acquire the Town & Country.
In 1969, VIT switched the Crescent Arts back to the Crescent Drive-In Theater showing Spanish language films. It operated the Crescent until just after its 25th Anniversary closing on May 29, 1977. Likely a lease expiration, the Crescent closed as a Spanish-language drive-in with una doble función of “El misterio de la perla negra” and “Mil millones para una rubia.” The theater would quickly be demolido.
Billed as the “World’s Finest Drive-In” with the “World’s Largest Screen” in the city known as “the Key City” was Abilene’s Key City Super Drive-In Theatre operated by Maurice S. Cole. Its grand opening was October 8, 1952 launching with the film, “At Sword’s Point.” What made the $117,000 facility super was that it could accommodate 600 cars but also had two heated/cooled 150-seat enclosed viewing areas. The asbestos shingled screen tower stood 62 feet by 75 feet with its viewable screen at 60 feet wide and 50 foot high.
Cole built his first drive-in in Wichita Falls in 1945 followed by Corsicana and Fort Worth. In the Key City’s first year, it suffered a major lawsuit over an injury on its playground and Cole also ended up selling the theater to Mr. and Mrs. E.L. Williamson of All States Theatres Circuit. The Williamsons suffered a break-in in which the thief took three dollars in 1953, their first full year of operation.
The theater was rocked by a small tornado in 1962 causing minor damage and more extensive damage in a 1968 storm that toppled the attraction sign and damaged the tower. Within five years, the theater had reported 600 stolen speakers and suffered a break-in in which the robber took all of the hot dogs and hot dog buns though nothing else. Video Independent Theatres (VIT) Circuit of Oklahoma took on the the drive-in in its tenth year. Good news came for the Circuit when 15 years after the thief took the three dollars back in 1953, he or she returned the $3 with a note of apology in 1968.
And that may have been the impetus needed for the Key City Drive-In to become home to “Budget Vue,” a pricing policy that was just 49 cents per carload which the theater tried for six months in 1968. In November of 1968, Video Independent picked up the Tower Twin and the Crescent Drive-Ins. And then in December VIT picked up the Town & Country Twin Drive-In and that was simply one too many. VIT would abruptly close the Key City on a Friday night with another fine 49 cent carload double-feature of “The Magnificent 7” and “The Great Escape.”
The December 6, 1968 closing is the last mention of the Key Drive-In until the valuation of the property was challenged in 1971 and mentioned as the site of the “old drive-in.” No bookings or listings appear after the December 6, 1968 double feature.
Located just a half mile from McMurry College was the Abilene’s first drive-in theater, the Skyline Drive-In launching April 1, 1947. Two veterans, Carroll Jones (656th Tank Destroyer Battalion) and Chuck L. Williams (Army Air Force) opened the Skyline at 3300 S. 14th Abilene 79605. On the the 46' high tower with its 30x40' screen was John Wayne’s “Tall in the Saddle.” At its opening, the drive-in had one central speaker system and could hold 400 cars. Closing November 23, 1947 for the winter season, the theater rethought the central sound system.
When it opened for season two, it had new ownership of George and Ruth Likins on May 10, 1948, it had two-way speakers which allowed you to either listen to the movie or to talk to the concession stand to order food. The Theater would be knowns as the South 14th Street Elmwood-Skyline Drive-In and switched to year-round operation with 400 watt in-car heaters from 1948 to 1953. In 1953, the theater name was trimmed to the Elmwood Skyline Drive-in. The Likins would also build a new wide-screen red brick tower to keep the theater vibrant in a highly-competitive market. Ruth Likins would sell the property for $225,000 showing her last film on Feburary 14, 1965. Advertisements counted down to the final day’s showing of “Yellowstone Kelly” and “Wind Across the Everglades.”
The Elmwood Skyline would be raised in January of 1966 for the Bank of Commerce Building which as of the mid-2010s was still standing.
The Elite Theatre opened as a 728-seat house at 2314 N. Main St. in 1913. Albert G. Skidmore took over the struggling theater and added a balcony to bring the seating to 900. New management took on the theater early in 1924 where it became the Rialto Theatre. The theater’s new moniker came on Feb. 2, 1924 with the film, “Where the North Begins.” In 1925, a triumvirate of new owners took on the Rialto. And in 1927, the Strand Amusement Company Circuit which already had four Bridgeport theaters took on the Rialto. This ownership change lender stability to the Rialto and remodels that included the advent of sound, and a 1950s makeover.
Holding the theater for just over thirty years, the Rialto founds its audience. But when the Strand Circuit discontinued operations on May 31, 1958, the portfolio of Bridgeport Theaters was in flux. Fortunately, the veteran general manager of the company Morris Jacobsen took on both the Strand and the Rialto though initially passing up the Strand Circuit’s Hippodrome and American — though reopening the American six months later — with the Colonial, Mayfair, Park City and Astor already shuttered. Refurbishing the theater with its final count of 750 seats, it looked as if the Elite/Rialto would make it to its 50th Anniversary.
But in its 48th year of service, however, it ended badly. Just as the first 12 people reached their seats from the double feature of “The Facts of Life” and “Five Guns to Tombstone,” a fire caused by faulty wiring decimated the theater. Reportedly, a young girl was the first to report the fire to the concession stand and a patron was first to phone the fire in but giving the wrong address. As the operators of the theater tried to douse the flames instead of reporting the correct address, valuable time slipped away to prevent a major fire. The result was a spectacular blaze felling the roof and after discussing the situation with structural engineers with some hope of salvaging the property, it was curtains for the Rialto. Fortunately, everyone survived the fire that day but Feb. 25, 1961 was the Rialto’s final day of operation. The building was raised later that year and a modern store and apartment building was put in its place.
This twin-screener closed at the end of the 1982 season. It was sold for $600,000 and became part of an industrial park area by the city.
On the East Side of Fayetteville’s square, W.F. Sonneman purchased the Baum building in 1925 to raze it in favor of a new movie theater. The Palace Theatre opened in October of 1926 and showed its last movie operating on weekends only at the end closing with “The Counterfeit Killer” and “The Ballad of Josie” on November 24, 1968. But the Ozark Opry then Arkansas Country Opry — which had started playingive music on weekdays in 1966 — continued to use the theater until its final performance on May 17, 1974 which ends the Palace Theatre’s run shy of fifty years.
Herman A. Scharhag (not Scharbag) of Kansas City is the architect.
Urban renewal projects were the death of many classic movie palaces in the 1960s and early 1970s. But the Landing 4 Theaters is actually an urban renewal addition to the cinematic world. It dates back to an August 1, 1972 agreement to revitalize downtown and this theater just a bowling ball’s throw from the former Orpheum would be a new-build, fully automated twin screen cinema. The project was part of the Ramada Inn Hotel project when automated theaters were sometimes built inside or adjacent to hotels. However, the project foundered until October 6, 1974 when Samuel Cohen contracted to build the theater. But, again, there was no action.
By the end of 1975, the city issued an ultimatum either to see action on the theater – which could either now be a 2-screen or a 4-screen operation — or else face a $50,000 non-performance penalty. Working with architectural plans of Herman A. Scharhag of Kansas City, the theaters looked to become reality. Though the deadline was Dec. 31, 1976 which came and went, the developers got an extension avoiding the penalty as the project was steaming toward completion.
Crown Cinema Corporation and Stan Durwood would be the operation and the circuit had a first-night party on February 15, 1977 to inaugurate the very-delayed Landing 4. Crown also operated the Skylark Drive-In and the nearby Hollywood Theatre which it would close a week prior to the opening of the Landing. Durwood would also turn over the keys to the Hollywood which he would donate to the city for live theatrical performances. The Landing 4 launched Feb. 16, 1977 with “The Pink Panther Strikes Again,” “The Enforcer,” “The Shaggy D.A.” and “The Sentinel.” As the theater approached its 40th anniversary now under independent operation, it had made the transition to digital projection in hopes of remaining viable into the near future.
The original Orpheum Theater opened at 326/8 Delaware on March 4, 1907 and time for the ill-fated New Orpheum to commence operation in downtown Leavenworth. George V. Hankins bought two buildings and fused the existing buildings to squeeze out the Orpheum with its 30' deep stage for vaudeville. 1,000 people could sit downstairs and 300 African Americans could sit in the balcony. It was supposedly the stop between Kansas City and Topeka’s Orpheum. Lee Cohn was the initial manager. But his euphoria would be fairly short-lived, however, as the Orpheum changed hands by month’s end with Orpheum Amusement Company, itself, interceding. The jinxed theater would suffer a major fire in an apparent gas leak that decimated the building on January 17, 1909. Doors blown out, attraction sign barely hanging with ropes, the Orpheum Amusement both sued for insurance funds and decided to sell its Leavenworth location in a dispersal sale.
M.B. Shanberg was the new operator and converted the eyesore into a long-running house. He would rely on the Sullivan-Considinc circuit for vaudeville and – recognizing the history of the town – had a 27x24' theater curtain depicting Fort Leavenworth in 1865. The theater opened on February 20, 1910. On July 15, 1912, Carl F. Mensing of the Casino Theatre took on the Orpheum. A neat freak, Mensing had a crew of “White Wings” who ensured cleanliness of the theater and, to clean trash from the Leavenworth streets, offered free admission to any child bringing in 25 discarded cans.
Mensing’s switch to motion pictures in February 1913 drew big crowds and he would change the name of his People’s Theatre to the Lyceum to have multiple motion picture theaters. With people coming for the motion pictures, Mensing hired Gerald Baker at the Orpheum to play the newly-installed Moller organ in January of 1919 to enhance presentations. And the Orpheum made headlines on Feb. 24, 1924 by packing audiences for — reportedly — the first Kansas showing of “Birth of a Nation.” Censors had banned the film from playing in Kansas back in 1915 and the Orpheum did it up right with a special orchestra playing the original score.
In 1930, the Dubinsky Brothers would take over Mensing’s theater holdings including the Orpheum and Lyceum likely on a ten-year leasing arrangement. The Dubinsky’s got on the wrong side of the Kansas State Attorney by having “Bank Nights” popular in many theaters across the U.S. Kansas had barred all bank nights and sent the Dubinsky Brothers a cease and desist ending the policy in February of 1937.
The Durwood Circuit would be the final operator of both the Orpheum and Lyceum taking on both theaters in 1940. Under Durwood’s watch, the last refurbishing of the Orpheum was in 1951. But the theater’s business was non-existent and the theater closed shortly after its update. When the theater closed, the First National Bank bought the theatre building and announced that the 57-year old indoor theater would become a drive-in… bank. H.A. Taylor announced the razing of the Orpheum on April 16, 1954.
The rustic and western-themed Fort Drive-In opened July 10, 1949 with “The Time, the Place and the Girl.” The tribute to Fort Leavenworth was eye-opening for locals and tourists, alike. Four twenty-foot creosoted wood poles and two wood posts under the center supported the Fort’s entry way sign. The drive-in could handle 375 vehicles but hit a high-water mark on its 5th Anniversary as it celebrated “Nickel Night.” The price was right as 550 cars jammed the Fort. The drive-in was operated by Beverly “Bev” Miller who also operated the Bev Theater in downtown Leavenworth. The Bev generally was open in the cool months and the Fort was open in the warm months.
On September 28, 1952, Bev sublet the theater to new operator Jack Campbell though she retained the ownership of the drive-in for a lengthy time. Her wild animal pavilion didn’t go too well for the theater. Bosco, the Fort’s the 300-pound Bear, escaped forcing the drive-in to take out ads imploring residents not to shoot the bear. Bev ended up taking the remainder of the animals to the St. Joseph Zoo. Bosco was missing nearly a month before being found and ended up at the Cowtown Drive-In in St. Joseph. The Fort would simply host occasional “circus” nights in which wild animals were brought in for a show or two. In March of 1963, the cresoted wood poles supporting the entry sign were no match for a powerful storm which toppled the signpost.
Beginning as the Unique Theatre on June 12, 1904, the Delaware Street theater was said to be drawing good crowds early on but then failed to make its nut and the vaudeville house closed abruptly on July 20, 1904. Lawsuits ensued. On Sept. 11, 1904, J.H. Dempsey re-opened the theater as People’s Theatre. Starting with vaudeville shows targeting females and children, People’s would largely stay with vaudeville under Maurice J. Cunningham’s direction. With Eddie DeNoyer taking over in 1912, the theater was known as “New People’s Theatre. DeNoyer goes into immediate financial issues with the theater and it goes into foreclosure.
C.F. Mensing Amusement Company of the Air-Dome, took on the People’s Theatre to convert from vaudeville to a heavier mix of moving pictures along with selected vaudeville acts. The company decided to have a name change contest in 1913. To Mr. Mensing’s credit, the vast majority of entries used Mensing’s name either by itself or as a moniker such as Mensing’s Grand. But Mensing rejected all of the and chose Lyceum as the winner. The theatre bowed on September 20, 1913 and a week later had the first Edison talking picture. One of the vaudeville acts to hit the stage there came from the Dubinisky Brothers stock company. The Dubinsky’s would take on the theater along with the Orpheum in 1930 advertising them as the Dubinsky Lyceum and the Dubinsky Orpheum. In 1935, they spent thousands upgrading the Lyceum. The long-running Lutheran Church Service would begin, however, in 1939.
The theater’s final operator was Durwood Theatre Circuit taking over both the Lyceum and the Orpheum. Again, for advertising purposes, the circuit would call the theater Durwood’s Lyceum. It would only open for the cold weather months as Durwood opted to split duties with its Skylark Drive-In which was only opened during the warm weather months. Durwood steered both the Lyceum and the Orpheum to their closures with the Orpheum coming first and the Lyceum second in the 1950s.
The 25-year old Austin Drive-In was in the portfolio at its final years of the Video Independent Theatre (VIT) Circuit. It ceased operations of the Austin on October 12, 1971 and many of the employees reported for work at the Austin’s replacement, VIT’s new 82nd Street Twin Drive-In which opened on October 13, 1971 with a free showing of “"With Six You Get Eggroll.” The theatre then had its official Grand Opening the next night with “Tora, Tora, Tora.” The $200,000 twin had two 40'x100' screens.
Opened May 14, 1946 as Austin’s Drive-In Theatre with “Meet Me In St. Louis.” Closed October 12, 1971 as the Austin Drive-In Theatre with “The Dirty Dozen” and “Shaft.” Not a bad way to go! The next night, many of the Austin employees would shift to the 82nd St. Twin Drive-In that was built to replace the 25-year old Austin. The Austin was very likely at the end of a lease cycle.
Ted Horton of Lawton architected the $500,000 theater, Lawton’s first since 1947, to be operated by the Tanscontinental Theatres Circuit. It was designed as a road show house with continental seating for 600, 70mm projection capability, and a 22x50' screen. “Funny Girl” opened the single screener on October 24, 1969.
The Kiva opened with “The Circus Queen Murder” on June 30, 1933 as part of the Westland Theatre Circuit in a repurposed former retail store. The American Indian atmospheric architecture was intriguing and had a western flavor though sometimes falling over into kitsch including the wagon wheel chandelier and totem poles outside the theater as well as an Indian chief’s head in the logo of the theater’s advertisement and coming attraction boxes. The alliterative “Kiva: Kool and Komfortable” was a tagline. The Theater likely had a 20-year lease closing 20 years after its open on March 29, 1953 with the films, “Raiders of Sunset Pass” and “Cattle Town.” The theater returned to retail on July 9, 1953 as a Lee Jewelry store that would become a Zales operating for the next 23 years.
The Hillside Mall launched with its first store on Nov. 11, 1969 but theatre-less. The 420-seat Hillside Theater was added to the shopping center with “The Ra Expeditions” on February 23, 1972. The theater was built for the Midwest Shopping Center Theatre Circuit. The theater had a 15x34' screen and was located at the Hillside Mall between Woolco and next door to Furr’s Cafeteria and would be joined by a gym as its neighbor. The Savard family of the Greeley Drive-In would take on the theater soon after the theater’s grand opening and had a huge hits with films including 1972’s “The Godfather” and with “Jaws” in 1975. On February 23, 1977, Cooper-Highland took on the Hillside.
On July 4, 1977 and a sign of the times, the Hillside reported a streaker running through the theater. The Hillside Mall 250,000 square foot facility was too small to ever become a mall and the space was given a minor tweak and when expanded in 1980 was often referred to the Hillside Shopping Center interchangeably with the Hillside Mall. The theater would leave well before the name change to University Square in 2000 which corresponded with neighboring University of Northern Colorado.
The 425-space Greeley Drive-In launched August 14, 1948 by Rudolph W. Meyer. In 1953, Westland Theatres took on the Greeley. By 1956 Emmett and Ethel Savard were the owners of the theater and the operation was under the creative Cactus Jack. The theater adopted a rural-theme which included Rooster Catch Night when roosters were turned loose in the lot and you could keep any you caught. The concession area was called the Chuck House and the box office was called the Ticket Chute. Drive-up church services and car washes were offered during the run of the veteran ozoner.
On June 15, 1956, the original screen was knocked over in a wind storm. The screen was replaced by an improved 105' CinemaScope capable widescreen. capacity increased to 600 cars. The theater’s biggest success came with 1970’s “Airport” which played for a month as did “The Godfather.” The theater lasted into the home video era of the 1980s before being replaced by a Wal-Mart store.
Announced in February of 1977, this $170,000 theater was constructed at the right time. On June 29th, 1977, Cooper-Highland opened its new theater, the Greeley Mall Cinema 1 & 2 inside of the four year old mall. They hit a home run out of the chute with “Star Wars” as one of the opening films. And the theater was open during the mall’s halcyon days. However, the mall would fade and need a major rehab in 2004 with the cinema and many tenants — including three of five anchors — having long-since departed. Cinemark would open in the former Montgomery Ward’s spot with a 12-screen theater and multiple attempts were made to keep the mall competitive as of the mid-2010s including the filling another one of the vacant anchor spots.