Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A gift for the theatrical

A while ago I talked about old theaters in White County. Whenever I drive around in old towns, one of the first things I look for (up there with ghost signs and train stations) are its theaters. Sometimes it's almost masochistic, because while I love to see old theaters, they tend to be in such disrepair that I almost feel wounded.

Sheridan's theater represents what's usually the barest minimum the remnant of a town's theater. The facade has been wiped clean, the windows painted over and the steel art moderne awning is eroded. The ghost of "SCOUNT" is printed on the facade, suggesting this building has been used for more than movies. It at least still is recognizable as a theater, as long as you know generally what theaters looked like. I do suppose it's in better condition than Kensett's poor guy.

This one in Grayville, Illinois has joined a host of other old theaters in becoming a concert venue. Though the whole effect of the building is pretty unassuming, there are a few curious things to be spotted: a mysterious "W" adorning the front of the marquee (probably referring to the theater's original name); a pair of glass-cube windows (present on many 1940s-60s theaters); and two loudspeakers mounted on the top of the marquee for whatever reason.

The gorgeous Malco theater in downtown Hot Springs has been restored and is now the home of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute. Most of Hot Springs' downtown district is pretty nice, but once you hike out of the National Park area, you tend to find some areas that have seen better days.

Just down the street from the Malco is the waning Central theater, which must have had a more elaborate marquee in better times. Older times were better times for most of the street around the Center theater; many of the neighboring buildings are vacant or home to last-legs type institutions like bars and antique stores.

The Melba of downtown Batesville (one of my favorite downtowns in this area) is an art deco theater fairly similar to Searcy's Rialto both in design and function: the Melba still shows movies. Down the street from the Melba is another excellent specimen.

Though I am not certain, the Landers appears to be an older theater, judging by its brick facade. The signage probably came later. As you can tell from the picture, the Fellowship Bible Church (which is gigantic and rich, if you didn't know) have bought out the building. They have since gutted out the inside. I don't think they're going to change the exterior, but even with this the town of Batesville have gotten rather peeved at them. I am mildly peeved as well, but I can think of worse uses for the building. As a bonus, here is an old picture of the Landers, which I found at the Independence County Museum:

Note, of course, the different sign and marquee. I can't decide which I like more, the old art deco rounded letters or the more 1950s-style separated neon ones.

I kinda feel like adding in a bit of bitter old-man-ish talk about how much better old theaters are than new ones, but I'm not an old man yet. I'm still trying to find things that I like about the 21st century, though, so I guess I'll try to be positive. We have air conditioning and multiple screens! Yayy...(I'm bitter).

I'm going on a little road trip this weekend between here and Fort Smith, so I ought to come back with a lot more stuff. That's good news!


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