In March 2020, when everything changed and contact with other people — especially crowds — became unsafe, we stopped going to movie theaters. As people became more confident in 2021, thanks to the Covid vaccine, some began going to theaters again — we didn’t. We weren’t alone: the theater business is very bad, and I think one of the big multiplex theaters in our town has gone out of business. Further, many new films are being released for one or another type of streaming viewers much earlier than they used to be.
A few years ago, I wrote about my childhood movie memories, and I thought that would be a timely repeat today, for the end of the year and maybe the end of an era.
When we wanted to see a movie, we had to go to a movie theater. We could only choose from a few movies that were playing at the time.
There were two theaters near our house. They were named "The Varsity" and "The Tivoli." Some kids went to see a movie program every Saturday afternoon. Sometimes kids had birthday parties at the movie theater. Even Evelyn once had a movie birthday party, so this was a custom that lasted a long time.
The inside of the neighborhood movie theaters was pretty plain. The lobby had a big faded carpet, and a few glass cases of very expensive snacks. There was a big popcorn machine that tossed the popcorn around, and a soft-drink dispenser, but it wasn't fancy at all. Some kids liked popcorn, but my favorite snack at the movies was Junior Mints.
Downtown theaters showed new movies. These theaters were very, very fancy. The outsides sometimes had spotlights playing on the front. The marquee, which gave the name of the movie was also very impressive. To get to these theaters you had to take a long car ride or bus ride, so we hardly ever went to them.
Inside, the downtown theaters were like palaces. They had glass chandeliers and plush velvet seats. The lobbies where you entered had enormous staircases to go up to the balcony of the theater.
The railings were painted gold. The theater that I remember best had a small fish pond at the bottom of the stairs. Lenny reminded me that it was called "The Ambassador." It was alredy an old theater when I was a little girl. The two old postcards show the Ambassador.
Aunt Sadie took me, my cousin Marcia, Elaine, and other children to that theater to see Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland
when it was a new movie. There were big cardboard cutouts of the characters standing in the lobby, but it was the fish pond in the lobby that impressed me the most. Besides candy and popcorn, they sold toys and things to do with the movie. Aunt Sadie bought us each a record of some of the songs from Alice
. Instead of being black, these records were bright yellow, and we played them often after we came home.
Some of the palace-like movie theaters were restored and returned to use a number of years ago, and I don’t know what’s happening to them in these new and difficult times.
Blog post © 2006, 2021 mae sander.