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Here some more on the Rex that I wrote in one of my columns and in “Hidden History of Fort Smith:”
Much later, in the postwar heyday of Hollywood and just before the great early expansion of television media, the Rex opened in the 1600 block of Midland Boulevard. Although the building still stands, it has been adapted for use as a cold storage warehouse. The Rex didn’t start its life as an entertainment venue as the Rex, however. Edward Lichty and his brothers Ernest and Selwyn launched it in 1946 as the Pix with the plan of showing movies to an exclusively black audience. Attendance wasn’t robust enough to sustain it.
Jerry Carson worked at the Rex from 1951 to 1953. He said the Lichty brothers changed the name to the Rex because they only had to pay to switch out two letters. Once the name changed, they opened it to a mixed-race audience but one that still was segregated.
Carson said blacks had a separate side entrance and ticket booth and then climbed to a separate balcony where they could sit. Connie Lichty-Smith remembers a glassed-in crying room also built into the balcony of the Rex. That was where her family often watched movies. Admission in the early 1950s was ten cents.
The Rex was a second-run theater and always showed Westerns for Saturday matinees that were filled with children. Buddy Blair remembers seeing movies there, including the original version of The Thing That Came from Outer Space. His parents would drop him off at 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Between the two features, cartoons and serials, he was kept busy until almost 5:30 p.m.
This is the Joie Theatre when it was on Garrison Avenue in Fort Smith. It moved over to a new building constructed for it that was on South Ninth Street between Garrison and Rogers avenues.
Here’s what I wrote about the Joie in my book, “Hidden History of Fort Smith, Arkansas:
A Kentucky native who already was managing theaters in Texas, Hoyt Kirkpatrick came to Fort Smith in 1912 to assist his recently widowed sister in running the Joie, then located on Garrison Avenue. Kirkpatrick kept expanding and improving the theater there until he ran out of room. In October 1921, he solved that problem by moving the Joie to a sparkling new venue on South Ninth Street between Garrison and Rogers Avenues.
In addition to motion picture shows, like the New Theatre, the Joie offered first-class space to vaudeville acts. Its acts were on the Orpheum circuit. Not all the wonders of the Joie were on stage. The Southwest American newspaper at the time describes the lobby and auditorium as having elaborate, decorative woodwork. The lobby floor was covered with a “rich gray carpet from Eads Brothers furniture store” and the lobby walls with mirrors. When viewing a movie or live performance, theatergoers could plant themselves in a seat “padded and upholstered in soft, brown leather.” A $4,500 ventilation system kept the air fresh inside.
Other amenities included a cloakroom with an attendant for patrons to check their coats, bags and other outwear and accessories. The Joie even had a playroom called “Baby Land” for children and a former schoolteacher employed there to watch over them. Mothers were encouraged to leave their young children in the playroom so they could enjoy the theater’s entertainment without the distraction of childcare.
“Danger of fire is practically eliminated in the fireproof building,” the American reported in 1921. Sadly, this would prove inaccurate. In December 1953, the Joie was gutted by fire. A few years later, crews demolished what was left of it.