Neighborhood movie houses are gone with the wind

Richard G. Carter | 5/10/2012, 3:32 p.m.
"Old houses are so like people, don't you think?"--Lee Marvin, "Gorky Park" (1983) With warm...
Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B

Another favorite was the Roosevelt, which lured us in droves for "Two Hits for Two Bits" on Wednesday and Thursday nights. "The Velt," as we called it, was closest to the Regal in popularity. It's where I was entranced by 1951's fabled "The African Queen," Humphrey Bogart's tour de force with Katharine Hepburn.

Not too far north was the Franklin, close to my residence in the late 1950s. I clearly recall running into a long lost high school buddy enjoying himself immensely there for 1957's great "The Bridge on the River Kwai." In my late teen years, I also loved the classy Egyptian, which featured decor to match its name. It somehow seemed fitting that this is where I took in the late James Dean's bravura work in the sprawling "Giant" (1956).

About six blocks from where I lived were two storied theaters--the Grand and Peerless--a block apart on a mainly white, semi-commercial street on the near East Side. Black and white students of Lincoln High School often gathered there. It was among the few public places that brought us together at night.

How well I recall being seated with white high school chums I only talked to during the day and sharing our feelings for Academy Award-worthy roles by the likes of Anthony Quinn in "Viva Zapata!" (1952), Richard Burton in "The Robe" (1953) and Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte heading an all-Black cast in "Carmen Jones" (1954).

Finally, there was the Colonial, a big, balconied house on a busy business street near a popular department store and many taverns. One of the most memorable neighborhood theaters in my Midwest youth, it attracted many families to its double features. I marveled there at Oscar-nominated Gloria Swanson in 1950's "Sunset Boulevard" and John Huston's gritty "The Asphalt Jungle" the same year.

But best of all, in the mid-to-late 1950s, the Colonial presented doo-wop and original Black R&B on its spacious stage. Among big names I saw perform there were Little Richard, Bo Diddley and the legendary Spaniels of "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight" fame.

Those were the days, my friends. I thought they'd never end. Sadly, end they did, and look at us now. But I'll never forget the sights and sounds of neighborhood movie houses.