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Life Arts    H4'ed 2/22/11

Vintage Cinema: Fond Glimpses of Classic Beauties

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Auditorium Neon (det., Augusta Theatre) c. Fred Lassman
Auditorium Neon (det., Augusta Theatre) c. Fred Lassman
(Image by Fred Lassman)
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In 1889, George Eastman set the stage for the golden age of America's picture palaces when he registered his patent for perforated celluloid film.

Soon after, a nickel could buy dreams of adventure and love in the shrines that had been built to the sacred silver screen.

Moviegoers were mesmerized by the magic of neon and murals even before the lights dimmed, and some of these grand "one-screen-wonder" cinema houses are still showing films today.

Augusta Theatre (exterior detail) c. Fred Lassman
Augusta Theatre (exterior detail) c. Fred Lassman
(Image by Fred Lassman)
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Art Deco Grandeur

The Augusta Theatre (Augusta, Kansas) opened on June 19, 1935, amidst telegrams of support and congratulations from the big names in the industry, including Louis Mayer, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Joan Crawford. A two-story art deco building in the center of downtown, it was the first theatre in the U.S. to use neon illumination entirely throughout the interior.

Augusta Theatre South Mural (det.) c. Fred Lassman
Augusta Theatre South Mural (det.) c. Fred Lassman
(Image by Fred Lassman)
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Now called the Augusta Historic Theatre, it is currently a movie house and a community arts center operated by the Augusta Arts Council.

According to the Council, "Of the estimated 5,000 theatres built in the United States prior to 1940, more than 75 percent have either been demolished or adapted for reuse to an extent that precludes their future use as theatres."

Escape to the Movies

Colley Theater moviegoers in the 1930's. (Note the nuns!)
Colley Theater moviegoers in the 1930's. (Note the nuns!)
(Image by Tench Phillips)
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"A battered economy may leave many palace theaters struggling, but it's worth noting that even in the poorest days of the Great Depression, 60 to 80 million Americans continued going to movies regularly," according to

Bach to the Future

Hilo Palace Theatre
Hilo Palace Theatre
(Image by
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Opening in 1925, The Hilo Palace was owned and operated by the nephew of the last royal governor of the island of Hawai"i. The theatre has been refurbished, and now offers movies, live concerts and a wide variety of performances.

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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)

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