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Movie houses were popular here for years

POSTED: September 26, 2010 1:00 a.m.

While there is only one movie house in Gainesville today, there are others in nearby counties, and through modern technology you can capture films through the mail, in stores or off your TV and the Internet.

Hall County didn't wait long to get in on the exciting movies momentum in the early 1900s. One of the first movie houses was the Alkazar just off the Gainesville downtown square. It sat beside The Alamo, operated by Charlie and Jimmy Cinciolo. The late Theodora Hamm Kimbrough wrote in her reminiscences of Hall County about young folks eating melted cheese sandwiches topped with homemade catsup at Mose Clark's place in the Arlington Hotel near the theaters.

The Alkazar offered free ice cream with the purchase of your 5-cent ticket, and the Cinciolos would give you a pack of chewing gum with admission to the Alamo.

Frank Plaginos opened the State Theater on Washington Street across from the Jackson Building in 1924. A fire swept the East Washington block five months later. He rebuilt in the same location, added the Royal on Main Street in 1931 and the Ritz on North Bradford in 1934. The 1936 tornado destroyed the Ritz, but it was rebuilt in 1940. The Royal also suffered damage from the tornado.

People were eager to escape the daily drumbeat of negative news during World War II in the 1940s. They looked for ways to entertain themselves. Movie theaters thrived, but really flourished in the immediate years after the war.

The Royal was the main movie house during the 1950s and showed the major motion pictures coming out at that time. It was located in the space between the Collegiate Grill and what is now Hunt Towers, formerly the Dixie-Hunt Hotel.

The Plaginoses also built the Roxy on what was then Athens Street, now E.E. Butler Parkway. Before desegregation, it was the prime theater for blacks, but they eventually were allowed in a balcony at the Royal before full desegregation occurred.

The late John Thompson later took over the theaters from Paul Plaginos, adding a more modern one in Sherwood Plaza shopping center on South Enota Drive. He also operated Skyview Drive-in Theater on Atlanta Highway and Lake Lanier Drive-in on Thompson Bridge Road opposite what is now Chattahoochee Country Club and the golf course.

Drive-in movies were popular dating destinations during their heyday, whether or not the couple watched the shows. Families with cars full of children, often sleeping through the movies, also enjoyed them. Drive-in restaurants complemented them as people began to afford more cars. Those young people who were fortunate enough to have access to a car would pile a crowd into one of them for stops by the movies, the Collegiate, next-door pool rooms and drive-in eateries such as the Avion, Nicholson's, Doug's, Dairy Mart, the Brazier and other popular cruise stops.

Television and multiplex movie houses led to drive-in movies' downfall, though many film fans continue to enjoy the atmosphere, as well as the concession stand, at today's big-screen indoor theaters.

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Everybody knows it as the "Rotary Tree," that well-shaped holly that graces the triangle at the intersection of E.E. Butler Parkway and Green Street in Gainesville. That's because the Rotary Club lights it every Christmas season. Other organizations also decorate it for special occasions.

But the tree and triangle actually are dedicated to Mary John Dunlap (Mrs. Byron) Mitchell, whose home once stood across the street. A plaque on a rock monument in her honor reads "In Memoriam, Mary John Dunlap Mitchell, 1879-1934.

This park is dedicated by the Gainesville Garden Club."
The Garden Club had maintained the triangle for years before it placed the monument there. Mrs. Mitchell was active in it and promoted beautification projects around town.

The First Baptist Woman's Missionary Union commented on Mrs. Mitchell's life after her death: "Mrs. Mitchell was quiet and unassuming, but her sincere Christ-like and consistent Christian living was an inspiration to those with whom she came in contact ... few knew just how much work she did among those less fortunate .. ever mindful of the poor, so tenderly thoughtful of those who were ill."

She was the sister of Ed Dunlap Sr. and Sam Dunlap Jr., and three other siblings.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

 

 



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