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August 13, 2004

Continuing the backward look at a few of the old movie theatres in Perry.

At one time a movie theatre served patrons on the ground floor level of the historic Nicewander building, 615 Delaware, on the north side of the square. My memory of it, including the name, has been almost totally dimmed by the passage of time. The building is now owned and occupied by the Odd Fellows, but it has housed several different kinds of interesting business operations. The J.C. Penney Co. store was there in the 1930s before moving up the street to a location twice as large. Later, Penney's relocated to the east side of the square next door to Foster's Corner Drug. After the Penney store moved from the Nicewander building, Harold Scovill opened a Firestone Tire & Appliance business there. In more recent years it has housed a part of the Triton Insurance Co., the Perry radio station and the Antiques on the Square store owned by Carol Steichen. Some also will remember that Cap Swift had a newsstand and hamburger shop in the front portion of that building for several years during the 1940s.

Small ads in The Perry Daily Journal tell us still more movie theatres that once existed here. Perhaps the first of them was a primitive little shelter known as the Wonderland where the very first filmland offerings were placed on display here in the early 1900s. It was on the northeast corner of the square, approximately where Roy Morris now has his accounting offices. The late Mr. and Mrs. Ivan Kennedy were among a small group of local folk who provided music for shadowy images projected on a screen there.

An ad on the front page of The Perry Republican on October 11, 1911, announced that F.A. Wade was to present B.C. Whitney's piquant musical extravaganza, Isle of Spice, at the Grand. The ad also showed a photo of young ladies in military uniforms with drums and flags. The caption beneath the photo indicated the picture featured "Uncle Sam's Marines with a distinguished cast plus the Challenge Beauty Chorus." Ticket prices ranged from 25 cents to $1.50.

In an October 1914 edition of The Perry Republican, the Gem Movie Theatre and the Grand Opera House were advertising admission prices of five cents and ten cents. The Crescent Theatre opened here later that same year and it also charged five and ten cents. No location was given for the Gem or the Crescent. On March 2, 1916, the Grand Opera House was advertising a 2:30 Friday matinee and another show starting at 7 p.m. The fare was The Buzzard's Shadow, a five-reel military drama. The admission prices still were five and ten cents.

A few more tidbits: On March 5, 1925, the Perry High School student newspaper had a one-column ad for the Temple Theatre listing Thursday, Friday and Saturday showings of The Thief of Bagdad, staring Douglas Fairbanks. By then, ticket prices had gone up to ten cents and 25 cents for matinees, 25 and 50 cents for nightly features. On Saturdays, four showings were offered - at 1, 3:30, 6:30 and 9 p.m.

A 1926 school paper contained an ad for the Lyric Theatre, where Buck Jones was starring in a feature-length Western. Music was provided by the Lyric Orchestra, but the theatre's location was not given. Ticket sales on Tuesdays and Wednesdays benefited the high school orchestra. In 1927, the school paper displayed an ad for the Isis Theatre, but again no location was given. The Roxy, according to a July 22, 1929 ad in The Journal, was playing "the first 100 percent natural color all-talking-singing and dancing production," On With the Show.

On March 26, 1925, The Billings News stated that persons wanting to participate in a Pathe moving picture serial showing the run of 1893 were to bring their horse-drawn vehicles and register at the 101 Ranch, near Marland. I could find no follow-up story telling more about that movie. Those are some of the bits of information assembled in this backward look at Perry's movie theatres through the years. They tell us that motion pictures were a major part of entertainment available locally during the first half of the last century. The old film houses were sanctuaries where residents of this prairie community could find themselves transported to other locales, other eras, and watch the drama, or comedy, or musical, or Western saga, unfold as portrayed by Hollywood's well-stocked stable of glamorous, dashing players. It was a time worth remembering.