Monday, March 01, 2010

Moving Pictures

Tiger Drive-in, late 1960's? above, from American Drive-in

Ticket Booth, Paramount Theater, circa 1970's

When I was a tad, movies, viewed in theaters, were still a big deal. Not as big as they had been in the heyday of the late 1940's -- the glass-and-wooden box television was arriving in homes in the early 1950's and a lot of the neighborhood theaters were beginning to close their doors -- but there were still quite a few left in Baton Rouge, a city that had a population of maybe 135,000 in the late 1950's.

Offhand, I can recite the names of ten walk-in, and four drive-in theaters in the city of my youth: The Paramount, Hart, Gordon, Ogden, Rex, Dalton, Varsity, Regina, Ann, Lincoln. Later, the Broadmoor. And the drive-ins: The Tiger, Airline, Florida, Rebel. (In the pre-integration days, the Ann and Lincoln were black theaters.) The Tiger was only a few blocks from my house in Brookstown, and featured a neon-outlined Tiger on the back, and had people living in it. I always thought that was so cool, that the back wall of your home was a movie screen.

Like old boxers, some of the movie houses stayed in the ring too long. They wound up showing kung-fu movies or porno, and nearly all of them gave up even those shadows by the 1980's.

A shame, really. The Paramount was a grand, baroque, faux-Greek-revival palace, had a huge pipe organ, and was replete with sculptures, a fresco-style ceiling with Ruben-esque nudes (later painted over to preserve decency), and loges, with huge balconies, built in 1919, and used for live performances during vaudeville, as well as movies.

The Hart, built just before WWII, had airplanes on the walls, in an art deco motif. (And, I discovered as a teenager, there was a secret passage between the Hart and the Paramount! Just as there was an underground passageway between the two largest hotels downtown, across the street from each other, but sharing one kitchen. One was the Heidelberg, the other the ... King? Capitol House?)

Movies were often family experiences -- pile into the car and off to the drive-in, park, light the Pic mosquito coil, go fetch food from the concession building, including in the pre-McDonald's days, burgers, fries, or chilidogs. Some of the drive-ins had outside benches, if you didn't want to sit in your car; some of them had playgrounds, for intermission, and one had a miniature steam train that offered rides.

Or families would go on a Sunday afternoon to one of the big theaters downtown, places that seated 800-1100 patrons big, single-screen venues ...

Most of these are long-gone, razed to build parking structures or shopping centers.

I came across a site that offers names and brief histories of old theaters, and checked the Louisiana listings. Jogged my memory on a couple, and noticed they missed a couple, but it's a great resource.

Gotta love the web. So much out there upon which you can waste your time ...


EvMick said...

Totally cool.

I looked up my home town in the panhandle of texas. Eureka! The two walkin theaters I remember are listed PLUS one that I don't remember ever seeing.

A real neat WAY-BACK website.


steve-vh said...

yep, they had the drivein we went to listed, the Starlight on Bluestar highway.
One of my earliest childhood memories is driving there, stopping at the airport to watch the small planes take off just over the road and then getting to lay on the rear package tray of the Oldsmobile to watch the movie (yes, I was that small). It was still open when I was in HS so that was great fun back then.

Dojo Rat said...

And I just watched "The Last Picture Show" on tv this weekend...