Movie theaters were in area during WWII, Great DepressionMovie theaters were in area during WWII, Great Depression

By Mike GoodsonBy Mike Goodson

The days of the Great Depression were hard for people living in the Gadsden and Etowah County area. Money was scarce, and there was little extra for entertaining.

Several great promoters in Etowah County, however, did find a way to keep the larger movie houses open and turn a small profit. 

The theaters that continued to grow during this time period were the Gadsden and Princess in downtown Gadsden, the Ritz in Alabama City and the Liberty in Attalla. The addition of air conditioning and concession stands helped to entice customers to escape life for a while.

On Aug. 16, 1920, an article appeared in a local newspaper reporting that a new movie theater was to open that day on North 6th Street in downtown Gadsden. This new business enterprise was prepared to offer competition to the existing establishments with the innovative idea of discount admission. 

The managers of the Strand, Belle, Lyric and the Gadsden theatres were anxiously awaiting the opening of this new theater and the anticipated impact on their businesses.

Sam Bacon managed the Queen Theatre, and the price of admission was advertised as 10 cents for children and 20 cents for adults. The building had been renovated and was billed as “Gadsden’s Prettiest Theatre.” 

To bring patrons in, Bacon offered free admission on opening day. Three features were “Trailed By Three,” “Across The Line” and a comedy.

Gadsden’s beautiful Princess Theatre was originally known as the Imperial Theatre when it opened on Nov. 24, 1920. The first movie shown was “The Right to Love,” which starred Mae Murray and David Powell. A capacity crowd filled the 730 seats on opening night. The Imperial was the first real challenge to the Gadsden Theatre for the entertainment dollar in Etowah County.

In July 1926, the theater changed hands and closed while an extensive facelift took place, a project that transformed the Imperial into the Princess. A balcony was added, as well as a large vaudeville stage. The interior of the house was redecorated. 

The Princess opened on Sept. 11, 1926, with the featured movie being “The Phantom Bullet,” starring Hoot Gibson. Balloons were released on the morning of the grand opening, each with a free ticket attached.

The Princess was so popular that another renovation would take place in 1937. The Princess reopened on June 17, 1937 to a huge crowd in the totally rebuilt auditorium. A capacity crowd of 1,500 viewed the opening night’s feature, “Woman Chases Man.” 

The Princess was the final word in moving picture shows houses. It had the latest equipment and was as comfortable as money could make it. The venue was air conditioned with an 80-ton ice machine and heated with the most modern units available.

The Princess would be the site of Etowah County’s first showing of “Gone With The Wind.” On April 3, 1940, the movie made its debut in Etowah County and was shown April 3 through April 6 in Gadsden’s beautiful new Princess Theatre. 

Reserved seating was necessary for each showing. There were two matinees each day, with tickets costing 77 cents, and a nightly feature with tickets costing $1.12.

On June 16, 1928, the Capitol Theatre opened its doors for the first time, with the first feature being Ken Maynard in “The Gray Vulture.” The Capitol was Gadsden’s newest and most modern theater and one of the finest movie theatres in north Alabama. The Capitol opened its doors to a packed house and was sold out until midnight.

The Capitol was the newest theater in the large chain owned by the Crescent Amusement Company of Nashville, Tenn.

The Capitol was a beautiful theater and modernly equipped. In fact, it was the finest theater in comfort and convenience. Every feature was the work of an experienced artist. The cooling system was perfect, and every patron could expect the utmost comfort in winter and summer.

One of Attalla’s most popular movie houses was the Liberty Theatre. The Liberty was a smaller theater that could seat between 400-500 patrons in its mid-sized auditorium. The Liberty used many great promotions during the days of the depression to bring people into the theater. 

The Liberty always had a promotion going to keep its doors open, including money give-a-way promotions and the finest features and short subjects. 

The theater was popular with the soldiers from Camp Siebert during the days of World War II. This popular movie house was closed following both the war and the construction of Attalla’s beautiful Etowah Theatre.

Other popular theaters in Etowah County during the 1930s and WWII included Gadsden’s Gadsden Theatre and East Gadsden’s Dixie Theatre. The Gem Theater was located on North Sixth Street and catered to the African-American community. 

Next week we will see the coming of the modern theaters as well as the area’s first drive-ins. 

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