The invention of moving pictures changed the world. Today, movies are shown in every possible format imaginable. But more than a century ago, most films had to be viewed through a small lens and were made to move by being run through a projector. The first official group viewing of a film was recorded as far back as 1894, when a man named Charles Frances Jenkins showed a short film of someone dancing to a group of reporters, family members, and friends. He called the invention a Phantoscope and later sold it to Thomas Edison, who renamed it the Vitascope. Once Edison was able to get his hands on it, films were more widely shown in New York City. In New Orleans, a storefront theater opened up called Vitascope Hall. This is widely believed to be the very first official movie theater.” (www.theaterseatstore.com/history-of-american-movies)
As we celebrate the holiday season, many of us will go to the movies and see the latest films from Hollywood. As a boy, I can remember going to the movies, just about every Saturday – to the matinee. It was a kind of ritual for me – it didn’t come without consequences though. You might ask why? Well, if you ever had younger brothers and/or sisters this may jog your memory. You see, I had to drag along my younger brother and sister – (talk about cramping my style!) There it was – the down side to be the oldest sibling. And, of course that put an “uncool” strain on me – “for the chance of meeting a pretty young lady.” So it goes growing up and going to the Saturday matinee. Portsmouth had its share of Movie Theatres and entertained thousands over the years. See if any of the Theatres I listed, rings a bell for you and those “good old days.”
The LaRoy Theater in Portsmouth (Gallia St.) was a joint venture of two local businessmen – Simon Labold and Thomas Conroy. Thus, the LaRoy Theater opened January 11, 1926 with “high-class vaudeville” and silent films. In the summer of 1928 it was taken over by the Schine Circuit Inc. By 1941 it was operated by Warner Bros. Circuit Management Corp. The theater was the entertainment showplace of the region until it closed in 1973 for a street-widening program. The final film was “Gone with the Wind.”
The Lyric Theatre opened – September 3, 1925 as Law’s Hollywood Theatre. It was renamed the Lyric Theatre in 1927. In 1928 it was taken over by the Schine Circuit Inc. By 1941 it was operated by Warner Bros. Circuit Management Corp. There were two houses in Portsmouth called the Lyric Theatre. The first one was a building with an arched entrance, and was located in the 400 block of Chilicothe Street. The newer Lyric Theatre, at 820 Gallia Street, was designed by the local architectural firm DeVoss & Donaldson. The Hollywood Theatre is advertised in The Portsmouth Daily Times through 1926, and is mentioned in January, 1927, but the September 8, 1927, issue of the paper has a reference to the Lyric Theatre Building on Gallia Square, as the Hollywood/Lyric on Gallia Square and the original Lyric was not, the name of the theater possibly changed in 1927. In 1928, the Schine circuit took over operation of the Lyric Theatre, along with the La Roy and Columbia Theatre.
George L. Law launched the Eastland Theatre on February 2, 1920 with the film, “The Valley of Tomorrow”. The theatre converted to sound later in the decade. The building was still standing into the 21st Century.
The Garden Theatre was opened November 20, 1925 featuring Scioto County native Roy Rogers early in his career. Wesley P. Ridenour was the architect. It later became a movie theater continuing in business until 1950’s or 60’s. After the theater closed the building was occupied by a sign making company and ultimately demolished for construction of Kroger’s supermarket.
As I remember the immortal words of Humphrey Bogart “Play it, Sam. Play “As Time Goes By.” (Casablanca, 1942)
Movies to me are timeless – and made for all to enjoy and to remember through all the present and future.
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: [email protected]