Thursday, March 01, 2007

Pre Youtube Washington

Every time I go to the movies these days, I find myself paralyzed in front of the concessions. My feeble brain refuses take in the current exchange of money for a drink or popcorn ratio. Five dollars or more ? They can’t be serious. And that yellow stuff that goes on the popcorn? Seriously.
What is that?

I’m not old enough to remember the whole cartoon and news reel bit, and maybe the movie going experience has technically improved since I was a kid, but back in the days of the palaces, it was definitely worth the price of admission which my dad and mom remember as being around 15 cents.

 In 1925 when my mother, Bebe Calvert was eight and her little brother Roger was four, they would walk to the Tivoli at 14th and Park Road every Sunday and spend the whole afternoon in the theater.
( Talk about "free range" kids.)

Her favorites were the Westerns because she “loved watching all those horses run around.” She says Tom Mix was popular, but personally she didn’t think he was all that cute.

She also has a hazy memory of walking with her dad walked from Mozart Place to the Ambassador Theater on 18th and Columbia Road to see Al Jolson in the first "talkie"in 1928.

Dad remembers the three theaters near him on H Street in Northeast: The Princess, The Apollo and The Empire. They were smaller, plainer theaters, but he could walk there and see Charlie Chaplain, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton movies. He remembers the piano player. And like Mom, he also was into the Westerns and all those horses.

The Apollo from Library of Congress
When Bebe moved to the Broadmoor Apartments in Cleveland Park, she hit the jack pot getting free passes to the Avalon on Connecticut Avenue. Bebe and little brother Roger would take a lunch, get on the streetcar and spend the whole day, especially in the summer when theaters were one of the few places in town with air conditioning.

Meanwhile George had moved uptown as well- to Macomb Street in Cleveland Park. To help pay for his "new" car, a Model T, he was charging his sister Catherine and her friends, Rose Papadeis, and Julia Kekenes, a quarter each to drive them downtown to the Earle on 13th Street. (now known as the Warner Theater)

The bigger venues had  live vaudeville show before the movie and charged a whopping 35 cents.

 Mom remembers seeing Cab Calloway at the Capitol which was around the corner from the Earle near 14th and F Street. Much later, when the Capitol closed, Dad’s buddy, Blackie Auger bought some of the theater's furnishings for his restaurant Blackie's House of Beef.

All in all, both Mom and Dad say the film that made the biggest impression on them was "Gone With the Wind." At that point,  they were married with two children, and it was a lot  harder for them to get out to see a film, but they still managed (even if the kids did try to make grilled cheese sandwiches in an upright toaster while they were out) It was worth it. The year was 1939- an awfully good year for the movies.

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