Dollar Theatres

By Peter McManus

I was recently reminded of one of those things that the next generation has never experienced: dollar theatres.

They were huge, elegant movie theatres, built in the depression. When first built they were the only places you could go to see a movie. By the time I was a teenager, they played second fiddle to multiplexes, where as many a six first-run movies would be shown simultaneously. The big old theatres were relegated to charging a dollar per person for movies that had already run in the multiplexes.

A few I remember were the Lansdowne, the Yeadon, the Waverly and the Brookline. The price made them attractive to low-income teenagers such as myself. But the problem was that you had to scour the movie listings for a good movie that neither you nor your date had already seen. What a triumph when such a nugget was found!

The dollar theatres offered a commonplace experience that would be unique today. A gigantic movie screen, shrouded by an equally gigantic curtain. A piano or organ, sometimes with live music. Sculpted support beams on the walls and ceilings. A balcony. (Although by my high school days the balcony was generally off-limits.)

These dinosaurs slipped away unnoticed by me sometime while I was away at college. Upon emerging from that cocoon I was disappointed to find that I had to pay full price to see movies. Now I realize that VCRs are the heirs to the dollar theatres. Today even some of the multiplexes have themselves been replaced by better multiplexes, another sign of our societyís quickening pace.

Donít get me wrong. Given the choice between one of those ancient relics and the local 30-plex, I would choose the well-padded stadium seats with the digital surround sound and $4.00 popcorn. Besides, I would worry that one of those sculpted support beams might collapse on me. Iím not so much trying to be nostalgic as I am fascinated by one of those shared experiences that one generation takes for granted and another generation knows nothing about.


Unpublished work © 2002 Peter McManus