West Mississippi Avenue and N. Monroe Street,
West Mississippi Avenue and N. Monroe Street,Ruston, LA 71270
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The Tech Theater dates back to at least 1943, possibly opening in late-1941 or 1942.
Contributed by Lost Memory
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Recent comments (view all 7 comments)
The earliest mention of the Tech Theatre I can find in Boxoffice is from the February 14, 1942, issue. The house was being operated by C.M. Butterfield.
In early 1941, there are a few issues of Boxoffice that mention a new theater being built in Ruston by John Caldwell. None of the items give the name of the new theater, and John Caldwell is not mentioned in connection with Ruston in any later issues of Boxoffice. Theaters operating in Ruston before Caldwell’s project were the Dixie and the Varsity, so his new house was neither of those. I can’t find any items about an opening of Caldwell’s theater, though, nor anything about it being sold to Charles Butterfield or anyone else.
Caldwell’s new theater was only supposed to have 450 seats according to Boxoffice, but it still seems the most likely candidate to have been the Tech. Another possibility is that the Varsity was renamed the Tech, as I can’t find any mentions of the Varsity being in operation from the period after the Tech opened. I can’t find anything about a fourth walk-in theater in Ruston, either, though there was a drive-in opened by Charles Butterfield in 1950.
The Tech Theatre in the photo is clearly in a building dating from well before 1941, so if it was indeed John Caldwell’s project of that year then he must have converted an existing structure.
Google Maps has no street view of Mississippi Avenue, but Microsoft’s mapping site (recently renamed Bing Maps) has a bird’s eye view, and I can’t see any building resembling the Tech along that street. My guess is that it occupied what is now a parking lot at the northeast corner of Mississippi and Monroe Street (there’s still some diagonal parking along Monroe, just as in the photo.) Maybe somebody familiar with Ruston can confirm that as the location. If it was, the Tech has been demolished.
I finally found the Varsity mentioned in Boxoffice in 1950. I lost track of an item that I had thought indicated a pre-1941 opening for the Varsity, but I now think I might have misread it anyway.
As the seating capacity listed for the Varsity is the same as the capacity Boxoffice gave for Caldwell’s project, it does seem most likely that Caldwell’s theater became the Varsity. For years it was operated by Dixie Theatres, which also operated the Dixie, while the Tech was independently operated by Charles Butterfield.
It looks like the Tech and the Varsity might have opened at about the same time. An article about Ed Edwards, a long-time theater manager in Ruston, was published in the January 24, 1966, issue of Boxoffice, and it said that the Tech Theatre had opened in March, 1941— but then it undermines its credibility by saying that the Ruston Drive-In opened later the same year. Multiple items in earlier issue of Boxoffice indicate that the drive-in was opened in 1950.
Ruston Daily Herald, April 13, 1943)
Theatre Managers Doing All Possible To Get Rid Of Rats
Call For Cooperation From Owners Of Other Business Places
Ruston theatre managers said today they were doing everything possible to rid their shows of rats and hoped within a very short time to have them eliminated from the premises as nearly as possible. C. J. Hubley said he had fought rats every day since he had been in Ruston but he could not rid the town of them by himself and called upon the city for more cooperation.
Mr. Hubley further said the Dixie Theatre Company had spent well over one thousand dollars during the past year for poison, traps and remodeling to prevent them from entering the building. He now catches from one to fifteen each day and has done everything from filling the House with cats to shooting them, but he can’t keep them out as long as other stores in the city do nothing to stop them from breeding and living on the premises.
An interesting thing about rats in the theatre is that none are ever caught before show time, but after the theatre is closed at the last show. They seem to come in or roam about only when people are inside eating and dropping particles of food on the floor.
Professional rat exterminators have rat-proofed the building and he said he would offer a reward to anyone finding where they can enter the theatre.
Both the Dixie and Varsity Theatres are being given a thorough cleaning and extermination campaign to rid the building of all vermin and Mr. Hubley has asked all owners and tenants of buildings near the theatres to cooperate in an effort to kill or drive them from the city.
Mr. Butterfield, of Tech Theatre, says he has not found any sign of rats in his theatre and has asked for another inspection from WAAC officers. However, he constantly has poison and traps scattered about his theatre to make certain none will enter or stay in the building.
He plans to keep a few cats as a further precaution, he said.
Joe Vogel (comment July 9, 2009 last paragraph) is correct about the location. A community theater group used the building for stage plays for several years before it was demolished.
I was raised in Ruston but except for short visits have long been gone from there. But I well remember the theaters from 1945 up until 1958. The Tech was on Mississippi Avenue, directly across from Ruston Hardware. The west side of the Tech was up against a ditch with separated the theater from the side-track of the Rock Island Railroad. There was a dirt road to the west of that ditch, followed by the Rock Island freight building and the main RI track, followed by a RI side track. That side track, once across Mississippi Ave went past the Daily leader building and curved westward to connect with the Illinois Central tracks. The Tech was a small brick building, with great air-conditioning. There was a balcony, reserved for Blacks. There was a lighted clock in the left front of the theater, with some jeweler’s name on it. The Varsity was owned, if I recall right, by the Dixie, just a few doors south of the Dixie. The Varsity closed after a fire, sometimes in the ‘40s. Later it was remodeled and opened as the State Theater. The first movie they showed was John Wayne’s Red River. We disliked the state because they only had the movie and a commercial or two, never any cartoon, short, or newsreel. And as I recall they only showed movies three or four days a week, never on weekends. The Tech, like the Dixie, always showed a complete program, including double-features on Friday and Saturday. Long after I left town, my sister told me the Tech closed and reopened showing Porn movies before it finally closed for good and was torn down.
Here are some further remarks about the location of the Tech Theater. There is a Google type picture on-line showing the corner of West Mississippi Ave and Monroe St. That photo shows where the Tech was. The nearest brick building on the NE corner appears to be the old shoe shop. On the west side of it there was a laundry and dry cleaners. There was a dirt alley between the two. To the west of the cleaners was the Tech Theater, which would have been in what is now a parking lot. To the west of the theater there was a large drainage ditch, with a Rock Island spur line on the other side of the ditch. The old Rock Island freight house is now the Community Trust Bank. Between the spur line and the freight house was gravel street and parking. The ditch flowed into a large pipe which came out next to the old Ruston Daily Leader plant, a pipe we boys went through on a couple occasions. The entire area is totally different than it was in the 1940s and 1950s.
One final comment: The photo you have posted of W Mississippi and Homer St has nothing to do with the Tech. It is several blocks from the Tech site. (It also looks nothing like the section of town I remember, except for that one small house. Mississippi Avenue west of the railroad used to be covered with pretty wooden and brick houses.) (By the way, we lived at 301 W Alabama, just one block north of the freight house, with two tracks between us. So I had plenty of chances to know the Tech Theater, as well as the Dixie.)