The ‘movie palace’

Folks dressed up to see a movie, back in the cinema heyday. In the early 1920s,”moving pictures” had moved from Nickelodeon projectors (a nickel per view) to the giant screen.  A pipe organ, or an orchestra, accompanied the showings.
      Yet the experience began the moment movie patrons crossed the theatre threshold. Many theatres of the day were designed  in classic European style, with high ceilings, grand pillars and winding staircases. The foyer displayed opulent sculptures and portraits. Staff wore uniforms, complete with gloves.
      Patrons were prompted to linger before and after the shows. 

Lights, music, curtains!
     “I don’t sell tickets to movies” said Marcus Loew. “I sell tickets to theatres.” Mr. Loew was among movie palace innovators who were noted for being “show people.”
      Such original innovators were inspired to build “movie palaces” that welcomed the high brow, low brow and medium brow folks.  For a reasonaably priced ticket, the rich rubbed elbows with the upper, middle, and lower classes.
     They all dressed for the occasion, and they sat among plush velvet seats that faced the grand screen.
      The theatre organist played fanfare. And when the show was to begin, the lights dimmed.

“The opening curtain was part of the drama of the show,” says Colin Egan, Director of Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre.
      First the outer curtain, or “guillotine curtain” opened vertically, Mr. Egan said. Next, the ‘traveler curtain,’ one that drew from the middle, opened.
     Back then, theatre shows included live shows and movies, he said. They started with live performances from the likes of Burns and Allen, and Bob Hope.
     First the outer curtain, or “guillotine curtain” opened vertically, Mr. Egan said. Next, the ‘traveler curtain,’ one that drew from the middle, opened.
     “These were performers folks heard on the radio,” says Mr. Egan, “And here they were live.”
      Between the live shows and the movies, patrons went to the lobby, oft entertained by a live orchestra while they waited for the next show to start.
     Movie palaces were designed to draw patrons into a sense of European royalty, or into exotic surroundings. “The experience gave people a sense of glamor and excitement,” Mr. Egan says. “It was the place to take your family, or take your favorite date.”
‘Movie Palaces’ today
      The Movie Palaces heyday lasted from the 1920s to 1940s. As the movie-going experience changed, many of them were forced to close and were torn down.
     Some of those classic movie palaces survived, after major restorations. Many have converted to concert or live theatre venues. Yet some, like the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, New Jersey, continue to show movies.
     Loewe’s Jersey has been restored to 90% its original condition, and still presents movies on its 50-ft. wide by 25-ft. tall screen. Theatre shows might include a performance on the grand organ, just like the heyday.
     The movie palaces that have survived offer patrons a unique experience, just like they did back in their golden day. The experince could never be the same as during that bygone era, yet folks may get a taste of it, while they enjoy the surrounding opulence and history.
Do you know of a classic movie palace in your area?

Get a taste of Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre, including its history, special events, and current presentations here.  initially published in Romantic’s spring 2011. Photos courtesy of Loew’s Landmark Jersey Theatre ***

Leave a Reply