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October 3, 2000

The recent formal opening of the Heritage Center theater downtown has spawned a renewed interest in stories about the old movie palaces that once provided entertainment for folks in this area. Remember them?

Tracking down reliable information about the film houses is not easy. They were not licensed so there is no official registry or record of their existence. The best I have been able to do is to talk to many people who have vivid memories of earlier decades and to research the subject in old Perry newspaper files on microfilm at Perry Carnegie Library. It is an interesting task but it has been only fragmentarily successful.

Most people of my age remember the Roxy and the Annex theaters on the east side of the square, the Perry Theater where the Exchange Bank drive-through lanes are now located, and the Chief Drive-In Theater north of town. The heyday for the Roxy and the Annex was in the 1930s; the Perry opened in the early 1940s; and the Chief Drive-In came after the end of World War II. Another theater was in the Masonic Temple, but people who came here for a short time and then moved on operated it. Jack Dempsey, the legendary former heavyweight boxing champion who ruled the ring from 1919 to 1926, barnstormed through here in the 1930s and filled the house at the Masonic auditorium.

Most people know about the old Grand Opera House on the east side of the square. The historic, two-story sand stone building began in the early 1900s as a legitimate theater and road show stopover. When movies began, films were run there, but the Grand eventually was shuttered and the Annex Movie Theater was opened on the ground floor. The Grand Opera House was razed in the 1960s and a valuable part of Perry’s history was reduced to rubble.

In previous columns I have listed several more old theaters that were familiar to Perry residents of another age. All of them have been gone for a long time and despite the wishes of many people, there is little realistic chance that Perry will ever again have a theater devoted to movies. That fact is sad but true.

Are Americans still fascinated by the movies? For affirmation, check the weekly reports on how many millions of dollars are spent at film box offices each week. And you probably notice the regular appearance of gossip and related small talk in the media about new movies, the actors, and actresses and assorted others from filmland. That stuff is not really news. It’s there because you and I are presumed to be interested in an industry that once thrived on glamour, but has now descended to the depths of depravity and immorality – because we buy tickets to see it dramatized on screens at the megaplex.

Bring back the wholesome family movies, and please, give us a place to watch them in Perry.