Tuesday, November 18, 1997

Old theater experiences occupy special place in memory

Published in the Columbia Missourian

Old theaters just won't die. Memories of one-screen movie houses stay around forever, it seems, in our minds and hearts.

Smiley Herrin was a ticket taker in the 1930s at the Hall Theater at 100 S. Ninth St. That job and playing with the university band paid his way through college.

Going to the movies now different, he said.

Sometimes he doesn't even see a ticket taker in the theater. "A lot of them aren't around anymore," he said.

Herrin remembers two specific differences between the Hall and cinemas today: segregation and a lack of air conditioning.

Thirty seats up next to the projection booth were the only place black moviegoers were allowed to sit, Herrin said.

The air-conditioning system was hand-built to add comfort to the theater, which was constructed without one. Homer Woods, the theater's manager, set up the system. Large fans blew air over ice and out into the theater through vents beside the orchestra pit.

"It was a home-made outfit but it worked pretty good," Herrin said.

The theater had three shows a day, Herrin said. There was a matinee and two showings at night. Eventually the theater added a show at midnight on Saturdays.

Herrin's favorite film from those days was a Nelson Eddy and Jeannette McDonald film in the mid-1920s.

Highlights from Columbia's theater history:
1915: Construction on the Hall Theater began. It opened at 100 S. Ninth St. the following year.

From 1971 to 1978, it was used by the University Singers. In 1993, developer Max Gillard moved his Bermuda Gold jewelry store to the site. The following year, the Saint Louis Bread Co. opened in the same location.

1921: The future Uptown Theater - then called The Cozy - opened at 1010 E. Broadway. It was closed in 1986 to make room for office space.

1926: The Varsity Theater opened at 17 N. Ninth St. After closing in 1978, in 1988 it was open for five and a half months as the Comic Book Club. In 1990, the Blue Note moved to the site from its original location on Business Loop 70 East.

1928: The Missouri Theatre opened with the future Bob Hope on stage beside the future Radio City Rockettes. In 1978, the theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1988, it opened as the home of the Missouri Symphony Society.

1966: The Cinema Theater opened as the most modern theater in Columbia.

1967: The Forum Theater opened as a single-screen theater. In 1992, it was expanded to include eight screens.

1972: The Campus Twin opened at 1102 E. Broadway. In 1994, the theater began showing specialty and art films. A permit was granted for the construction of the Jerry Lewis Theater. The following year, Lewis withdrew his association with the theater. It was renamed the Biscayne III. Under new management in 1976, the theater focused on family movies. In 1992 the emphasis changed again, as it opened as a cut-rate theater.

1985: Construction began on the Mall 4 Theatres, which opened late in the year.