Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Surviving Sister

No, you’re not seeing a ghost—but instead, the sister theater of the original Capri at 42nd and University, alive and well in Lake City!

After the Iowa Theater in Lake City burned down on New Year's Eve 1958, the town pled with Bob Fridley to help them get a new venue open: they would build it if he would operate it. And so, Fridley took “the best parts of the Capri and the Varsity” and built a new theater that is for the most part a spitting image of the original Capri. Construction was completed circa 1964. Fridley dubbed it "Iowa's Most Beautiful Theater".

Fridley eventually donated the theater to the town in 2003, where it has run as a non-profit ever since. Admission is a mere 2 dollars, with equally reasonable concessions.

If you miss the original Capri, or just feel the need for a great neighborhood movie experience, trek on out to Lake City. (Next time I’m in Iowa, I’m going!) Find out what's showing now at The Lake City Capri Theatre.

These photos were graciously provided by Terry Watters, who is president of the Capri.

Movies at the Park

Though not exactly a Lost Cinema, Riverview Park dovetails into our story not only as a venue owned by Abe Frankle, but also as a place that, on occasion, did exhibit movies—as seen in this newspaper ad.

It’s important to note that about two-thirds of the way down is an instruction as to what streetcars to take to get to the park—Riverview, and indeed a number of the early theaters, were located at trolley stops to take advantage of patron traffic as riders got on and off the line.

This clipping is courtesy of Bill Kooker, of the Kooker family that last owned Riverview as an operating park. Bill is also the webmaster of Fading Memories of Riverview Park.

100% Non-sectarian Family Entertainment!

This ad from 1955 offers up a peculiar blend of programming for family drive-in customers: the story of Christ, advertised here with an illustration of the crucified savior and a promise of “glorious color”, which extends itself to…two color cartoons! (If we could only know what cartoons would fit this particular bill…) And with 53—count ‘em—53 New Testament tableaux to get through, it’s a good thing the S.E. 14th is offering up its special “Speed Lane Snack Bar Service” so you won’t miss a thing!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The original Lincoln

Here is a rare shot of the Center Street neighborhood theater "The Lincoln", in a nightclub incarnation shortly after its run as a movie house. This is not to be confused with the Lincoln on S.W. 9th Street, that later became the Holiday Theater under the auspices of Bob Fridley.

This venue played all-Black features and shorts for its largely Black local population; the Lincoln was part of the vibrant Center Street neighborhood culture that flourished in the early-to-mid 20th century--hopefully you were lucky enough to catch the exhibit on this at the Iowa State Historical Society in the summer of 2006.

The photo on the right is the same location today, as part of a hospital property.

These photos are courtesy of Lost Cinemas reader Big Tommy.

The Genuine Article

Here is the original "Lost Cinemas" article I wrote that was originally published in Tim Fay's wonderful "Wapsipinicon Almanac", which he prints the old-fashioned way using an ancient German press. If you've never seen the magazine, please ask your independent bookseller to get you a copy. It's gorgeous; as I'm fond of saying, even the ads are beautiful.

The article itself is serving as a loose blueprint for the film, though as you'll notice, a few more cinemas (notably all the drive-ins) are now lost, thus dating the story a bit.

Click on the pictures to make it all readable. Enjoy!

Film and Frolics at the Majestic

This ad from the Daily News proves that, even as early as 1921, both movies and vaudeville lived side-by-side at the Majestic, which is generally thought of as a live venue in historical records.

Fatty at the Palace

What could be more appealing than Fatty Arbuckle in The Garage? (Don't answer that, Virginia...) Here we have a nice circus-y logo for the Palace, and the rather odd billing of a two-year-old Fatty short above Farnum's 50-minute long western "feature".

The Strand, 1921

Here we see a nice marquee-style logo for the Strand (formerly the Unique and the Nickeldom), for the Clara Kimball Young feature "Hush".

"Sky Pilot" at the Des Moines, 1921

This ad is notable for the illustrated view of the Des Moines' facade, and for the four-times-daily appearance of the Harmony Four.

Remember, Kids, I'll See YOU On The Patio!

Such was the call of Cappy the Clown in the customized Capitol Drive-In black-and-white trailer (much of which will be included in the Lost Cines video).

My cousin Joe sent me these two great pics of the drive-in--the screen, after it was adapted for widescreen use, and the aforementioned patio, at which patrons could sit outside the snack bar and enjoy the show in the open air. (If Cletus the Slack-jawed Yokel had been there, he might've exclaimed "Hot dang! No more sittin' in the dirt at the drive-in!") And here also, Cappy the Clown dispensed gifts and prizes to the kids.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Come See The Paramount Fall Down

In October 1979, after the illustrious Paramount Theater had tried a short-lived second run as a dinner theatre ("Theatre Fabulous"), the decision came to raze the structure. Its sibling showcase, the Des Moines, had already been demolished 10 years earlier. Both places hosted the gigantic world premiere of "State Fair" in 1945, but the excitement had long since ebbed for the two giants of Grand Avenue.

Jerry Tormey has generously shared his SLR sequence of the Paramount's destruction, shown here in three excerpts. (I am busily sewing together all 23 pictures in After Effects to create a motion version.) Thanks, Jerry, for these amazing pictures.

Large crowds came downtown to witness the Paramount's final show--if you look closely at the first photo, you can see a line of spectators along the top of the building to the east, like all the surrounding buildings that afternoon. They all heeded the last call ever to be seen on the Paramount's ageing marquee: "COME SEE THE PARAMOUNT FALL DOWN".

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Legitimate Question

The very elongated group photo above is supposedly the Princess Theatre of Des Moines, circa 1920. It was part of a collection of photos of a Fordson industry exposition held at the Fairgrounds around 1923, which was definitely in Des Moines, but...the Princess photo just doesn't look or feel like what we know of the actual Princess Theatre built on 4th street in the summer of 1909. The color postcard shown is from the theatre's opening play, "Clothes", and as you can see, the fa├žade is nothing like that in the grayscale photo. At first, I thought maybe that Princess was still a work in progress, but there are too many differences to make that possible. Additionally, the year is way off.

So: this isn't our Princess. But more interestingly: whose Princess is it? Judging by the lack of buildings in the area, it's likely somewhere in a small town near Des Moines. But I have no idea where. Anybody got a good guess?

And another "legitimate" question: why do I bother discussing a legit theatre here in the world of Lost Cinemas? Because the Princess was begun by the entrepreneurial duo that jump-started the whole phenomenon in Des Moines: Kip Elbert and Jack Getchell, who began with the Mulberry street arcade, leading up to the opening of the Nickeldome on Locust Street in 1905. And it was their success with the Nickeldome that led to a long and successful career with the Princess.

(The Princess sat where Capitol Square is now.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

El Cid = El-Son

Way back in '61, the movie "El Cid" opened at the Capri Theatre at 42nd and University in a 70mm Todd AO presentation. To stir up interest, owner Bob Fridley--ever the showman--hired "well-known insurance man" Chet Elson to ride through town on horseback, wearing a real suit of armor borrowed from the Salisbury House. His mission: to invite then-governor Norman Erbe, as well as the mayor and the rest of the local government, to the premiere showing.

"Des Moines' favorite policeman" Tony Mihailovich delivered a mock violation ticket to Elson for allegedly parking his horse illegally. The Tribune and all the local news stations covered Elson's ride to glory.

Once again, this blog entry comes courtesy of the BoxOffice Magazine collection of John McElwee, used with his kind permission. Be sure to visit his beautiful website at Greenbriar Movie Theatre.

'Register' Recognition!

As many of you have probably noticed, the "Lost Cinemas" film project and blog were recently the topic of an article in the Des Moines Register, thanks to the journalistic efforts of Erin Crawford. Not only was it a real pleasure to speak with Erin on this admittedly obscure topic, but the coverage has brought in a deluge of wonderful emails from people who have pictures and stories to contribute. You'll be seeing them here soon.

For you out-of-towners who don't have access to the print version, here's a link to the Register's online edition where you can check out the article here. (I don't know how long this will be up before being archived, so check it out now! If you want a version you can print out on your own printer, this link will do the trick.)

Once again, huge thanks to Erin, the Register staff, and all the Lost Cinemas readers who help add even more fun to the mix. Cheers!

Hits, Runs, and an "Airer"

In 1962, the Pioneer Drive-In staff pitched a promotion for the upcoming baseball movie "Safe at Home", with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris: 5000 local Little Leaguers would sell tickets to the show ($1 per adult, 35 cents per kid) and each receive a percentage of the sale plus an autographed 8x10 from the stars of the film. A tandem promotion involved kids sending postcards to Bill Riley, who would draw winning cards on his TV show--the winners received baseballs autographed by Yankee ballplayers. The feature film itself premiered on June 6 that year.
Left to right: Chester Ruby, Saydel Little League; Ray Webb, manager of the Pioneer Drive-In; Joe Jacobs and his wife, of the local Columbia office; and owner Richard Davis.
Above: May 12, 1962 opening of the "Safe At Home" promotion, at Grandview Little League Ballpark. Note the makeshift ticket boxoffice at the back. At that time, the Pioneer was owned by Richard Davis, and managed by Ray Webb. (And that term "airer"? Just a slightly more modern version of the industry name for a drive-in--they also had been called "ozoners", perhaps a holdover from the days of pre-drive-in open-air theaters such as the Ozone on East 6th and the Airdome on the site of the Hotel Fort Des Moines.)

These photos come from the now-defunct BoxOffice magazine, this particular issue from the collection of John McElwee, used with his kind permission. Check out his own amazing movie site at Greenbriar Movie Theatre.

Any little leaguers out in our readership who took part?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Capri Tel-Op Slide

From my collection of 1960s TV slides, here's one from my own neighborhood: the beloved Capri, formerly the Uptown, located on University across from the Safeway plaza at 42nd street.

When I talked to Bob Fridley last year, he told me that he had visited the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood around the time that he purchased the Uptown, and was so impressed with the sound system there that he had a duplicate of it installed at the Capri!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Reader (And His Dad) Remember

A Lost Cinemas reader named Max writes in with this story:

"I must tell you how I found your site. I was having dinner with my father who is 78 and in a care facility in Des Moines. Midway through the meal he looked over to the table of folks in the corner of the room and said, 'You see those people? They're going to Red's BBQ.'

"I said, 'What dad? What and where is Red's BBQ?' (I'm 51 and a lifelong Des Moines resident and do not remember Red's.)
'It's by the theater,' he replied.

"After much more questioning about exactly where and when it was he was placing this Red's restaurant, I had to stop because he just couldn't put an answer together. So, when I got home I went online and Googled until I found your marvelous blog!"

Max--though I never have met him in person--lived in my neighborhood near the Capri, took the bus to the Galaxy, and witnessed the implosion of the Paramount in 1979.

Great to hear from you, Max! Thanks for the good words, and I hope to hear more reminiscences from you soon.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Jolson Tune for the Des Moines

Somehow this song of the south became "successfully introduced" in faraway Polk County Iowa by the Des Moines Theatre's resident organist L. Carlos Meier, pictured here on the cover. The copyright date shown in 1922--a full six years before another Jolson vehicle, the first synch-sound talkie "The Jazz Singer", made its local premiere here at this same theatre.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

'State Fair' Returns to Grand Avenue

Check out the Des Moines and Paramount theaters as they begin their long, slow slide into oblivion: it's 1962, and on the Des Moines' marquee is--once again--"State Fair", though alas this is the 1962 remake, which doesn't even take place in Iowa. (Somehow "All I Owe Texas" just doesn't have a good meter to it for singing!) No crowds or amusements filling the streets this time--just typical afternoon traffic.

And next door at the Paramount: "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"!

These slide scans are courtesy of Tom over at; go check out his great collection of Des Moines-area trolleybus photos and promo folders here--great stuff!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Orpheum, as seen from the Hubbell Building

This is, of course, the Orpheum at 210-8th, in the lower-left-hand corner of the picture--not the RKO version later found up that same street at the number 410. 1918 is the date of this postcard view; one wonders what the view might look like today outside that same window, from one of the Hubbell apartments?

Friday, February 02, 2007

"State Fair" Footage News

After much tracking, I finally found out last week that the Fox Movietone News reel (containing the story of the world premiere of "State Fair" at the Des Moines and Paramount in 1945) is still actually owned by: Fox News! The best part of this news, however, is that Fox still holds all the outtakes from this reel, which I am ordering now. Being as only one minute of footage made it to the finished reel, I can only imagine what's contained in the remaining film. More news on this as I get it; you'll be sure to see the best of this in the finished "Lost Cinemas" documentary!

Berchel Sheet Music

When playing piano at home was still the order of the day, sheet music was the preferred mode of music to buy. It often served a double purpose, as in this case, to promote a venue or event in which the song, the writer, or a popular performer of the piece, was featured. With "Bonnie Mary", the songwriter's own company performed the song at the Berchel Theatre, as per the advertising on the front page.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

"The Preacher" Hangs On East Locust!

Okay, it's really John Carradine in a bit part as a street bum in the Crown International film "The Hostage"--among many other appearances, you'll probably remember him as the preacher from "The Grapes of Wrath". But here he is, near the beginning of the film, crossing the street on East Locust, as if he had just left a matinee at the Amuzu and decided to wander over to the bar.

And, okay, he wouldn't have been coming from the Amuzu, since this was 1967 and the Amuzu had been closed for 14 years already. But I can dream, can't I?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

BBQ In The Ground, 1939

Back in the 1930's, when the Roosevelt Theatre was new, the plan was for the theatre to be fully integrated into a whole complex along 42nd street--conceptual renderings from the time originally showed an apartment complex attached to the theatre, though this apparently never happened. A shopping center just across Rollins took on its namesake (which it retains today), and down below the theatre structure itself was a restaurant: Red's Barbeque. The theatre itself is now of course the Des Moines Community Playhouse, and Red's eventually became Theater in the Ground.