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Colorado Experience: Cinema on the Plains


[music playing] Americans had never seen
anything like the first films. In those days, we called
it going to the show. It was just the place to be. I remember seeing Gone
With the Wind here. Cowboy movies. The Roy Rogers, the Gene Autrys. Dale Evans. I liked the Doris Day. I liked any of the musicals. I never missed a war movie. The singing ones. South Pacific. Show Boat. All the old John Wayne. John Wayne. The John Waynes. It was the coolest
place in town. This program was funded by
the History Colorado State Historical Fund. Supporting projects
throughout the state to preserve, protect,
and interpret Colorado’s architectural and
archaeological treasures. History Colorado
State Historical Fund. Create the future,
Honor the past. With support from the Denver
Public Library and History Colorado. With additional funding
and support from these fine organizations and
viewers like you. Thank you. [music playing] Movie theaters really
began to flourish in early 20th century
with the invention first of the Kinetoscope by Thomas
Edison in the 1880s and 1890s, and then new kinds
of innovations. Movies by the
19-teens had become something that were a
common public experience. Edison had really
focused on Nickelodeons, on small, one-person screens
where you’d put in a coin and turn the crank and watched
a very utilitarian film of a train pulling into a
station or somebody sneezing, but in time, movie producers
began to tell stories, to hire actors, to have longer
and more complicated plotlines, and by the 19-teens, movie
producers and directors were really inventing
what we think of as the language of cinema,
of intercutting and parallel action and closeups, and
so the 19-teens were really the first golden age of cinema. Colorado in the 19-teens was
transitioning from a mining economy to more of an
agricultural economy, and so these little
towns on the plains really began to flourish. You could go to a town
on a Saturday night, and you could go to a pool hall,
or you could go to an ice cream parlor, or you could go to a
community lecture or a concert, or you could go to the movies. Julesburg is located in
the extreme northeast corner of Colorado. The Hippodrome was built
in 1919 by A.E. Lanning. He had a $10,000 investment
into the building of the new Hippodrome. There were 17 other movie
theaters in the county, but this was the first and
only one built specifically for the movie industry. The movies that were
shown in the early years were your non-talking
movies, your silent movies. Films in the 19-teens
were black and white, although many films
were hand colored. They would actually tint
every frame of the film so that you would actually
see a colored film, and they were quite vivid,
because that coloring wasn’t consistent, so people’s
clothing would sort of pulse with the colors of
the tinting and it created a fantasy landscape. When the show first opened up,
it featured an orchestra pit here in addition to the screen. With the silent films
came the piano player that would gear the music
to the action on the screen. If it was a movie chase scene,
they would increase the tempo, and sometimes they
just winged it. Other times they did have a
score to go along with it. Films began issuing their own
sheet music or musical scores for a musician to play as
part of the film experience. It was cheap. $0.25 for adults
and $0.10 for kids. The dialogue took
place in title cards, which you had to
read off the screen, so films were very literate. For far-flung communities
like Julesburg, this was a moment for everybody
to come together and share an experience. They provided
common language that was unlike anything
that Americans had ever experienced up to that time. The Hippodrome was the happening
place to be at that time. These theaters are
lavish Art Deco buildings with incredibly ornate lobbies,
lobbies that rival opera houses, and uniformed
attendants who check your ticket and show you to your seat. When I was in junior high, I
was an usher at the theater. It was so busy that by the time
all the people start coming in, we’d have to find
seats for them. So we just had a flashlight and
would follow down and show them where they could
sit if they couldn’t find a seat on their own. Originally, the ushers at
the Hippodrome, the ladies wore long gowns, and it was
very classy, very uptown. They treat you like a VIP, and
the movie theaters themselves were so beautiful on the
inside, so ornate on the inside, that even before
the lights went out, you found yourself
in a place of escape. [music playing] Well, movie
producers were always looking for new
innovations, and by 1927, the latest and
greatest innovation was synchronized sound,
the advent of the talkies, and that changed everything
for the film experience. The record player would
start at the same time that the film would start, and
supposedly it would match up, but with the film getting
broken into many pieces and being spliced,
the talkie audio didn’t match the film
that was being shown, and so they had to wait for
another film reel splice to be able to match up the
talkies again with the film. Then next came where they
actually put the audio line right into the film, and that
solved all of those problems. We have one of the
original projectors. There were two of them
so that you did not have an interruption. You ran one reel and
then the next reel would start as soon as
the other reel ended. When it was about time to switch
over to the other canister, there’d be a little
flash of light at the corner of the film. And then it was a
continuous movie. And if you didn’t do
that at the correct time, well, there’d be a skip in this
show, or the film might break, or something. So there would be
times that we’d have to turn the lights
all on, and there’d be a break in the movie. The projection booth was
very tiny and cramped. When you got up
into the balcony, it had a sloping floor. It was just exciting up
there, but it was very noisy. You couldn’t watch the
movie from being in there. It was not conducive for
that kind of entertainment, but it was just
exciting to be up there. The original Hippodrome
projector booth was lined with tin, because
the film at the time was silver nitrate
and was flammable, and so if there was an error
or something like that, and the film would start on
fire, the tin around the room would save the rest
of the building, and there was also a window in
the back of the projector booth where, if the place
really started on fire, he could jump out of, land
on the sidewalk out in front, and save his life. The Grand Theater is located
in Rocky Ford, Colorado. The original theater
burned down in 1934. They tell me, I always
thought I was eight years old, but I guess I was seven years
old when the theater burned, and I remember the
family come to town, because we heard about it,
and I stood across the street and watched what
went on, and we all knew that it was
taking something away that was the center of
attraction in Rocky Ford. The Depression still brought
people to the movies. It was still the social hub. This is where they
got their news. This is where they
got their information. Even during the Depression,
the movie theater lasted, it thrived, and it survived. The theater here
was probably one of the main things people did. Well, it was open
every single day. And back in those
days, they would have a movie on
Thursday, Friday, Saturday would be one movie. Then they would have a different
one for Sunday, Monday. I would usually just
come on Saturday night, but well, if it was
a good enough movie, I would come Sunday night too. It was a hard choice,
especially if it was a couple of
Westerns on a weekend, you had to come both days. You couldn’t miss on a Western. Before the main
attraction, movie theaters often showed one or
two newsreels and maybe a couple of cartoons,
the opening acts. Remember, movies came out
of the idea of vaudeville, where you had several acts
before the main event, and this was one of
the last vestiges of that sense of vaudeville. But you had the newsreel and
it was all current events. Bruno Richard Hauptmann
is found guilty by a country jury of eight men
and four women of kidnapping the Lindbergh baby. Justice Trenchard
sentences Hauptmann to die, and the prisoner, nearly
three years after the crime, goes to the Trenton Death House. We didn’t have TV to
have your nightly news. You had the newsreel. This is where farmers and
ranchers and merchants got their news of the world,
especially World War I, World War II, this is where
they came to get the latest news on the home front. The wreckage of German
planes is strewn along the shallows of
this coast, the hot spot on the Straits of Dover. In repelling the
blitzkrieg of the sky, the Royal Air Force has
shot down Nazi raiders by the hundreds, and they
crash all over the place. And the newsreels were,
because of the war, were very necessary to
communities like ours. We didn’t have the quick
news now that we get off of television and everything,
so they were very important. The newsreels were not
just about the war, but they were about things
happening in the United States, and what I
particularly remember, that it was in black and white. It kept us informed of what
was going on in the world. And they might include
human interest pieces. Having a picnic in style,
and the latest style is noncrushable linen. Crisp and cool for summer. Even the news clips had
a very powerful impact on how people thought
about the world and how they felt
about the world. It gave them something
to think about and to talk about that
probably lasted them well beyond the main picture. And in those days,
they had cartoons, and really cute cartoons. They showed the cartoons before
the featured film and the ones that I remember are
the ones with the pussy cat, the little bird,
the cute little bird. Those were the ones that
I particularly remember, and those were fun. Bank Night was one
of the big deals. Once a week they would
have a big pot of money that could be won, and so that
obviously attracted crowds into the theater. Bank Nights were a big deal. I remember people lined up
to the north of the theater and clear around the senior
citizens waiting to get in. And we would issue a
ticket with a number on it and then when the
movie was over, somebody from the audience
would draw the ticket number out of the tumbler we had and
whoever had that number then received the $100. And I was in there one
night with a friend of mine, and he won $100. In those days, it was
quite a bit of money. She’s the lovingest baby
around Texas, around Texas, around Texas. And the fellas all
know it in Texas. That’s the reason I worry
each day. [yodeling] And of course, you also
saw the first movie stars. Movie stars came
from everywhere. Ken Curtis, he came to town. It was an exciting time for
us, because we watched him on Gunsmoke. He was born and
raised at Las Animas, but yet he was a big
name star in our area. I just remember seeing
him out in the lobby and that he was a handsome man
and an actor from Hollywood. These were local boys that they
were seeing up on the screens, people from their state. They could have
been their neighbors at that point who they were
seeing up there becoming the big stars. My husband named
our oldest daughter Kim because of Kim Novak. He loved a movie that
Kim Novak was in. The second daughter
was named Tammy. I named her because of
Tammy and the Bachelor with Debbie Reynolds. Certainly farmers had to come
into town from time to time to do business. There were a lot
of farm families, and they would mostly
come in on Saturday, so they would do their
shopping, and they’d come get their
supplies and then they would bring their whole family. We had people from Wiley,
Kit Carson, Wild Horse. We had good crowds. Burlington, Kansas, Nebraska. Crowley County, and Fowler, and
Manzanola, Swink, and La Junta. It was a family thing. It was just always busy. When I was younger, my parents
raised and milked cows, and we would bring the
cream in to the train. Then we would go to the show. Coming to the movies was
a great thing for us. And the theater
used to be packed a lot of Saturday nights. We had a line and when
these much advertised movies came out, you still
drew a good crowd. And it was a place for
people to meet people. It was a really social hub. Oh, they’d come
early and socialize. A lot of the younger
ones would come early, and we had footraces out
in front of the theater. Oh, down Main Street,
you have cakewalks. They had the sidewalk marked
off in little squares, and the school band
would come down, and they would play music and
then stop like musical chairs and if you were on the number
they drew out, you won a cake. Saturday matinees. 10:00 in the morning,
you could get your kid in for a nickel or
a quarter, and they can stay there for hours. For a busy parent,
this was a godsend. You dropped your kid
off at the matinee. They were there. You knew where they were. They were in a confined space. We have a very unique room
upstairs called a cry room, and the cry room is
designed for mothers with infants or small toddlers. They can go up and
view the movie. And the sound was in there. Not a whole lot of
people would fit in, but it was a wonderful thing. When the sun is setting
on the prairie, my– As a teenager,
when we had dates, we would double date and
come to the picture show. I had my first date in this
movie when I was 10 years old. That’s the best place
to take your date. We were often sent to go into
the projection booth and spy and if there was any
undesirable activity going on, then we would report
downstairs, and my dad would come upstairs
and handle everything. He had even carted one over
his shoulder from the balcony and hauled them out one night. When he came down
with the flashlight, you’d better be all
quiet because he would make you sit up, and
he didn’t want the feet on the seats or
anything like that. So he took a lot of
care with the theater, but he’d also kept us in line. We had water balloons go
off the balcony one night, and we had a lot
of popcorn stacks that would fly over
and bomb below. And the kids would sit on the
opposite side of the theater and throw those Milk Duds across
the theater at one another. One time, one went almost
through the screen. So that alerted
us that we needed to stop selling Milk Duds
in the concession stand. Movie theaters aren’t just
a spectacle for your ears and for your eyes. They’re a spectacle for
your taste buds as well. You didn’t have too
much in your pocket, but popcorn was a lot
cheaper too. [laughs] The popcorn machine
in our theater is an absolute focal point. I would love to know how many
kettles of corn that popcorn’s popped. Tastes good! Good and salty. And that’s when I want
a Hershey candy bar. Oh, one of them that I enjoyed
was the Boston Baked Beans. Milk Duds. There were two old-time
glass dispensers that were mounted to
one wrought iron base. Jelly beans and peanuts, and
the jelly beans were a penny, and the peanuts were a nickel. This is a place to
go to feast your eyes and also feast your belly. In the 1950s, television
came into play. The television represented a
new kind of threat to movies. You could have
entertainment in your home. So I mean, it made
a big difference. And it eliminated at least
some of the need for people to go out and to pay
for an admission ticket to watch a movie. By the late ’50s,
the movie attendance had definitely been impacted. [singing] Anything wrong? When the Cliff Theater
originally opened, they showed movies
seven days a week. Things have changed. When we got cable,
and we had VHS, and they have hurt our industry. Technology really basically
ruined the experience of the small town theater. It really did. Technology took its toll on the
movie theaters of the plains and in time, they
began to decline, because they felt more and
more like a relic of the past. At one point, our projection
system was getting old. It was not predictable. And we were broken
down for several weeks, and at that point, I think
people realized, gee, I don’t have a place to go. Well, when they were
going to close it down, I went out of town to Yuma
to their theater for a while. I was just so glad
when they got somebody that was going to
keep this one open, because I didn’t want to miss
all the movies coming out in this theater. When the theater closed,
businesses close, they come and go sometimes
but when the theater closed, boy, we almost lost our soul
or the heart of the community. My first husband and I moved
to Rocky Ford from California and drove down Main
Street, and I said, good, there’s a movie
theater, and then my neighbors told me that it was closed. A year later, I heard they were
going to start refurbishing it. When I first came
to volunteer, there was peeling paint all over. Water stains on the tapestry. Holes in the screen. We cleaned it up and
had a new screen put in. So everything was done
with one thing in mind and that is to be as close
to the 1930s as we could. It was all done by a
group of volunteers that came here every
Wednesday night for months to work on this theater. And we started showing
pictures in 1991. [music playing] When you live in a small
town, it’s really important. That’s your social life
and your entertainment. In 1996, when the doors were
supposedly closed forever, our community roared. I had no idea at
that time that I would spend the next almost
20 years working diligently to make sure that the
place did stay open. We worked our tails off. We invited the school kids to
come down and help clean it up, and they were troopers. They scraped gum off
the bottom of the seats. They worked really,
really hard, and do you know that those kids,
till they graduated, were our best patrons. When we started this epic
adventure of renovation and rehabilitation, one
of the easiest decisions was to go back to
the original colors. We chose these colors
to show homage and show history and a legacy
to the 1919 Hippodrome. In 2003, I had a
group of kids that were sophomores at the
time that were a class that was challenging, and
they were complaining, they were whining about
there’s nothing to do. We don’t even have a
theater, and I said, well, the way I see it, you
can do two things. You can whine about it
or you can whine about it and then do something about it. And little did we
know what that was going to cost us in years in
time and volunteer efforts. So we would come down
and we would clean. It was so dusty. It was so bad, and we
noticed that the murals were deteriorating, and
it was very sad because we all grew
up with those murals, and so we wanted
to preserve those. There was leaking going on
the wall here to the south. It was crumbling. The stucco was coming off. You could see brick. It was bubbling. It was scary, and we knew that
the roof was not doing well, and so we vacuumed,
and we scrubbed, and we did what we could. In 2006, this class was going to
graduate, and they had a plan, and they presented the
plan to the community. They asked people to sign up if
they’re interested in helping, , and they went to the town
after that and they went to the commissioners, and
they got everybody to agree. I don’t know how,
but they all agreed. By April, we formed a nonprofit,
the Crow-Luther Cultural Events Center and after
that, away we went. Preserving the murals, and the
tile, and the popcorn machine, and really anything
else that we could, those stories are
what tie us together from generation to
generation, in fact, and when you share those,
it’s just interesting. It doesn’t matter
how old you are or how disconnected
you might be. When you can share
some kind of a story, you can just see people
sucked back in together. Movie theaters on
the plains don’t have very large audiences. They have a very small pool of
people who are going to come and any time there’s a
new technological change, it’s very difficult for small
movie theaters to keep up. The most exciting
thing now was when we were faced with losing
the theater because of converting to digital. If we wanted to stay open, we
would have to go to digital, because that’s the only thing
that was going to be available. Films as they were
would be no more. We had to change. We had to update. We had to become more
modern to survive. Go digital or go dark. Convert or close and after
being in business since 1919, there was no way we were going
to let this movie theater not go digital. And we didn’t know
where we’re going to come up with around
$100,000 to get digital, and we were able to raise the
money in about three months, and it was pretty much
raised here in the community. The history is all
through this theater. Well, everybody likes to feel
connected to something, and one of the first things that someone
that went to high school here, they’ve gone on, have other
jobs, but they come back. They want to go to the theater. It’s the memories of the people. There’s something
about your hometown that just when
you talk about it, you almost cry and it’s just
that those happy memories you want them to remain,
and we are blessed, because they’re made of brick. And with every community,
what is absolutely necessary is a sense of place. [music playing] I still come to the
Plains Theater today. When I’m in Eads, why, I
hardly ever miss a movie. I’m here every Saturday night. I hate it when I have to go
out of town for something. I’m not here on Saturday night. If we’re in town on the weekend,
we’re usually at the movies. Usually we don’t even
care what’s showing. We just go to the
movies, because it’s $5 to get in for adults,
and the popcorn’s a dollar. It has become a place to
come again to meet, to greet, to enjoy your friends. All this connection with most
of the older people in town, and we’re trying to get
that with the younger people by some of the movies we
have to keep them coming, so that they’ll pass it
on down to their kids when they get older. Well, it’s just
part of our history. And I think anything we
can hold onto helps us. It’s tradition and
we love tradition. So it’s important that
my grandkids have this, and they will have it. Television isolates and
cinema brings us together. I have a big screen
TV, and I have like 100 and some channels. It’s hard to watch all
the shows on there. So you come down here and you
watch one movie that you really like, and you put it away in
your memory for the future. And that’s what we hope
the younger people will do. They’ll remember
all these movies they saw when they were
growing up like I do, and bring them back, tell
their kids about them, their grandkids. So that’s whey we need to
keep the theater around. [music playing]

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