Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

March 5, 2013

Dalton column: Remembering the joys of the town movie theaters

Bill Dalton
The Andover Townsman

---- — One hundred years ago Andover had two movie theatres. When I was growing up in the middle of the 20th Century we had one. Now, we have none, and it’s been that way for half a century.

In January 1913, the old train station and tin shop owned by the Walsh family, which was sited behind what is now the back portion of the Memorial Hall Library parking lot, was renovated to what eventually came to be called the Andover Playhouse, a place that any Townie over the age of 60 remembers with fondness.

The Andover Townsman, in January 1913, reported that townspeople had been watching with great interest the “...new theat[er] which has been in the progress of construction on Essex Street for the past few weeks.”

Manager Charles Warden announced that the first show would be the next week on Monday or Tuesday, and that the seating capacity would be 500 people. The floors were constructed of maple wood “...on a very pronounced grade, so that everyone in the house would have a good view of the stage. The stage was big enough to handle any vaudeville act now being given.”

The orchestra was five feet below the stage, and on either side of the stage was room for signs that announce not only the present shows but the shows that would soon be coming. The ceiling and walls were steel, with the walls painted in light blue and the baseboards and ceiling white. Mr. Warden said that heating and venting were up-to-date, with large radiators at each end of the stage. Four large ventilators were in the ceiling to keep the theater free of impure air, and there were electric lights throughout.

Film, which was quite flammable, was thrown to the screen by hot projectors, and there had been sensational stories of fires occurring in movie theaters. To contradict this fear, Mr. Warden stated that the “...moving picture machine was in an absolutely fireproof room.... However, in case of fire there are four large exits.”

In the afternoon, admission was 5 cents for women and children and 10 cents for men. For the two evening shows at 6:30 and 8:15, the admission was 5 cents more. The shows often included both vaudeville acts and movies; however, vaudeville in small towns like Andover disappeared during the next five years.

The new manager called it the “Colonial Theatre” because it had two large columns in front. Yet, 13 years later, Sam Resnick, a local lawyer and businessman, bought the theater and renovated it again, probably to put a concession stand in the back. Over time, a hot dog stand was added to the uphill side of the theater, but it was gone by the time I was going to the Saturday Morning Movies as a little kid. Looking at the old photos, I’m guessing the stand lasted until World War II.

The Colonial Theatre was built to compete with the “Wonderland” that was already running movies at 7 Elm St. It was in the Musgrove Building and had been functioning as a vaudeville theater years before moving pictures existed. In January 1913, Wonderland advertised a “five-reel show, including a fourth picture of ‘What Happened To Mary.’” And coming in two weeks was the return of “the favorite soloist, Miss Ida Raymond — always a good clean show.” The ad suggested you “send the children — come yourself.”

For many weeks, ads for the two theaters appeared in the Townsman, sometimes side by side. The Wonderland, which probably had seating all on the same level, didn’t last long after the Colonial Theatre opened. Sam Resnick eventually owned both the Musgrove Building and the Colonial Theatre. He was a good man and treated the kids well, even when we sneaked in through one of the exits.

Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman. His email address is BillDalton@AndoverTownie.com.