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Sunday booze ban wasn’t only blue law

POSTED: November 13, 2011 1:00 a.m.

The mostly overwhelming vote around the state for package sales of alcoholic beverages on Sunday shows how far we have come, or, from the perspective of opponents, how far we have retreated on blue law issues.

Before World War II, movie theaters weren't allowed to operate on Sundays. In Gainesville, city officials relaxed that rule to give military personnel stationed here a place for entertainment on their off days.

When the war ended, and the naval air auxiliary base at the Gainesville airport closed, the ban against Sunday movies resumed. It wasn't until 1952 that theater owners mounted a serious campaign to allow them to show movies on Sundays again. It was up to the city commission, as it was called then, to decide the matter.

The Plaginos family owned the movies in Gainesville, the Royal, Ritz, State and Roxy. Paul Plaginos led the effort to end the Sunday prohibition. In a public meeting called by the city commission, prominent ministers such as the Rev. Bill Gardner of First Methodist, the Rev. Franklin Owen of First Baptist, the Rev. James McRay of Central Baptist and the Rev. Ralph Crosby of Chicopee Baptist spoke against Sunday movies. They were joined by numerous members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and other groups.

The city commission postponed a decision, but just a few weeks later voted to allow Sunday movies, requiring at least one educational and one religious movie per month. Theaters could operate only between 1 and 6 p.m. Sundays. Plaginos debuted his Sunday movies with "David and Bathsheba" starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward at the Ritz and Royal.

Meanwhile, at nights the Skyview Drive-In on Atlanta Highway was showing "Across the Wide Missouri" starring Clark Gable.

The city commission had its hands full in early 1952. George Ashford had retired as mayor after 12 years, A.D. Wright became mayor, and Ray Knickerbocker had just been elected. Bert Fulford was city manager.

Hot on the agenda besides Sunday movies was annexation of property north and west of the existing city limits. The area proposed generally went out Riverside Drive to the American Legion home, formerly the site of a country club and golf course, and also adjacent to a Georgia Power camp for employees. Also proposed for annexation was the area now known as Lakeshore Heights adjacent to Lakeshore Mall. The old golf course at the end of Wood's Mill Road also was included.

A group called the Greater Gainesville Improvement Program led the annexation effort. A heated campaign ensued with some property owners in the proposed annexation area wanting to come into the city limits for fire protection, improved police protection and other advantages. Prominent lawyers Joe Telford and Emory Robinson spoke forcefully for annexation, as well as property owner and lawyer Pinckney Whelchel.

Others were against annexation because they feared higher taxes and didn't want to come under control of the city. Some were afraid they wouldn't be able to keep their hogs and chickens in their backyards. The whole area to be annexed would include 1,700 acres.

In an unheard-of 97 percent turnout, voters defeated annexation by 18 votes, 363-345. It was the second defeat of such a proposal in six years. That despite the fact that the city limits hadn't been changed since 1870.

Eventually, all that area and more came into the city. Recent efforts to annex "islands" surrounded by in-city property haven't been so successful.

Commissioners at that time also had to lobby Congress for funds to complete Buford Dam. Congress had $3 million in the budget for the dam, but that wasn't enough to continue construction. In fact, progress on the dam halted temporarily until more money became available.

The early 1950s also was when low-rent housing projects were booming in Gainesville. The Gainesville Housing Authority named 80-unit Green Hunter Homes on Athens Street, now E.E. Butler Parkway, in memory of the Rev. Green Hunter, a longtime resident and minister who founded more than 50 churches, including Cross Plain, Timber Ridge and St. John's Baptist. He also organized the first black school in Hall County in 1911. Green Hunter Homes now are sometimes called Atlanta Street apartments.

Melrose Homes on Davis Street, 120 units, also had just been completed.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.



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