Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ghosts of Hattiesburg: Theaters that once showed "Star Wars" and that are now gone but not forgotten ...

Every single theater, drive-in or cinema that I ever saw "Star Wars", its sequels or its prequels in, has been swallowed by the relentless march of time and is no more.  Just as Disney has purchased "Star Wars" from Lucas and is planning on rebooting the franchise so too will the new movies to come be played in theaters that the old movies never saw.  I thought some would find this interesting, those who like to see urban decay and "what ever became of ..." type pics.  Here are some pictures of how the movie houses of my youth are today ...

Cloverleaf Cinema Twin

The Cloverleaf Cinema Twin, where I first saw "Star Wars" in the fall of 1977, had died the slow death of a theater stuck in a mall that had long ago lost most of its businesses and in turn become a rented out office space and business lease facility.  Opened in 1972 as a first run theater by United Artists, the Cloverleaf Cinema Twin was later (crudely) converted to a triple screen by taking space for the third screen from the existing two screens (making the third screen in between the other two).  

By the late 90's, after losing business to the Turtle Creek 9 for years, the Cloverleaf Cinema Triplex gave one last go at it and became a discount movie house charging only a dollar a show.  The Triplex finally shut its doors and turned the projectors off for the last time in 2004 ... just a few years after having shown both the reworked "Special Editions" of "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back", both movies which, in their original format, had played on the same screens way back in 1977 and 1980.  What was interesting is that when the local radio and news announcers told us of the demise of the Cloverleaf Cinema Triplex invariably each and every one of them mentioned that it had been place where they had first seen "Star Wars" back in 1977.

Here is the entrance to the old Cloverleaf Cinema in the old Cloverleaf Mall.  You can see one of the stage door / emergency exits there to the right.  I couldn't get into the mall there to take a pic of the inside as it looked like most of that entrance had been remodeled and may now be an entrance to a business office complex.


The Gulf States Hardy Court Cinema Twin

The Gulf States Hardy Court Cinema Twin in the Hardy Court shopping area on Hardy Street was where "Return of the Jedi" first appeared in 1983.  My friends and I piled into his mom's big Dodge passenger van and we all went to see it.  That was probably the largest group of kids I'd ever gone to see a movie with, there were six of us, if I remember correctly ... ages 12 to 15.   This is the theater where I also saw "Blade Runner", "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", John Carpenter's "The Thing" and Toho's version of "Star Wars" that we all know and love as "Message from Space."  

In college, I had friends who worked at this theater.  Sometime in the late 1990's or early 2000's the theater closed its doors and is now a laser tag arena.  I've played laser tag there a few times with my children, it's kind of creepy and eerie to have a birthday party in the old projection room and be able to look out on the twin screen area knowing that in the past there were rows of seats down there and now there's just futuristic laser tag obstacles splashed with fluorescent paint to fluoresce under the batteries of black lights.

The sign has changed some over the years for Hardy Court but the ad marquee is the same one that used to advertise what movies were playing at the Hardy Court twin cinema oh so long ago.

Here's the entrance to the old Hardy Court Cinema Twin.  You can still see the exterior poster displays where movie posters were displayed showing what was (then) currently playing.

Broadacres Cinema

The Broadacres Cinema, opened in 1975, was originally a twin screen facility.  Two more screens were added in 1980 and two more in the years to come giving it six screens and almost 1200 seats.  This is where I saw "Star Wars" when it returned in the summer of 1979 along with the first trailer / preview for the upcoming sequel "The Empire Strikes Back."  

Almost two decades later, this is where I would see the Special Edition of "The Return of the Jedi".  Owned by O'Neil Theaters, the Broadacres cinema closed its doors in 2006 when it could not compete with the newly opened "The Grand" (the cinema building is still there but it's slowly being turned into a storage facility).

Here's what the Broadacres Cinema looks today ... cracked pavement on the parking lot with grass and weeds growing through the cracks, buckled pavement and even some big car swallowing pot holes.  Work crews are converting this old cinema into ... something.  A sign said that it was going to be a storage facility but that didn't make a lot of sense.  I guess time will tell what it eventually becomes.

Here's another example of how badly this site has been allowed to deteriorate ... this is one of the parking lot lights, grown over now with weeds.  These lights haven't been lit in almost a decade now ...

Here's the back of the cinema, it was considerably grown over a year or so ago.  Some of those are exit doors from the cinema screens.  I guess they cleared up the landscape when they started to recondition the building.

This will give you some sense of how hard it is and was to get to the Broadacres Cinema.  that's the cinema lower left corner with the big parking lot.  It was way off the beaten path.  The big building a little to the right is the old Woolco department store.  In t his area there used to be a gas station, convenience store, Kroger grocery store, Woolco, Broadacres Cinema and a bank.  For a while in the 1970's this area was the main shopping area for residents who lived in North Forrest and the surrounding areas, even when south Hattiesburg seemed to grow in dominance for a while.

At one time it was thought that Hattiesburg would expand towards the north so this was prime real estate.  When Hattiesburg instead exploded to the west this area was left to wither and dry up.  The Woolco went out of business long ago (early 1980's) and is some kind of trucking company now.  The bank is now a Greyhound bus station, the Kroger was bulldozed to the ground long ago and is just a slab to those who remember what used to be there.  A bingo hall was built several years ago but some criminal activity there closed it down and nothing has been there.  They did build a Cracker Barrel restaurant near the old bank and that draws a lot of traffic off of the highway.

There are a lot of other areas here that are important to my teenage years and young adult years ... the Lost Road, the Inn on the Hill, the old Sharky's Shuck and Jive, Krystals, and the loading dock of the old Woolco building but those are all stories found on ... Tales From The Driver's Seat.

The Beverly Drive-In Theater

The Beverly Drive-In theater, first opened in 1948, was long a historical land mark in this area.  It was at the Beverly where I saw the summer re-release of "Star Wars" in 1978.  I remember seeing James Bond's bid for "Star Wars" cash, "Moonraker" when it first came out.  The Beverly Drive-In theater had a sister drive-in a few miles away, the Broadway Drive-In theater.  It was there that I saw the Italian "Star Wars" known as "Star Crash."

The Beverly Drive-In was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In November of 2010, the Beverly Drive-In was completely destroyed in a fire. 

The Broadway Drive In theater was demolished long before the Beverly burned down.  The only way to see where the old Broadway Drive In used to be is to have been old enough to have gone there and still be able to go to that general area.  A look on Google Earth or Google Maps shows the rough outline of the drive in's parking lot.

The Beverly in less than prime condition but before it burned to the ground.  There was a goofy / miniature golf in front of the drive-in, there where the chainlink fence is.  The original owners built their house below the main screen and lived there.  I was lucky enough to talk to one of the owners and visit the interior of the house back in 1990 when I did a college project based on the Beverly.

Here is the Google maps view of the Beverly from a few years ago. 

Just for fun, here's an aerial view of where the old Broadway Drive-In theater used to be, it's the scraped raw spot there in the lower middle.  They've since built a business on it.

Avanti Twin Cinema

The Avanti Twin Cinema was old when I moved to Hattiesburg in 1976.  Hard to get to, facing Hardy Street from a narrow sidewalk and with little or no parking I guess it was intended as a walk-to theater for the college crowd at the University of Southern Mississippi across the street.  "Jaws" played there first run in 1975 but I saw only one movie there as a child that I remember and that was Dino De Laurentis' "King Kong" (the then modern remake).  

Fast forward to 1992.  

I was lucky enough to see "Star Wars" one last time at the old (nay, by then ancient) Avanti twin screen theater across the road from the University of Southern Mississippi.  The theater had been taken over by the college and turned into a student organization run movie house that showed old movies like "Jaws" or "Apocalypse Now" for a meager fee to any active student with an ID.  It was my senior year in college and for one last showing, one showing only, the student body showed "Star Wars" the 1977 original film.  I rode my '84 Honda VF500F Interceptor up there to the 9:00 showing that night.  The theater was packed and I sat, once again, near the rear so that I could see the whole screen.  I mouthed the script silently, I cheered when others cheered.  I boo'ed when others boo'ed and at the end, when the credits rolled, I stood with the others and clapped.

While the theater was emptying, I sat back down and stayed through the credits.  I stayed past the squiggles on the screen until the screen went white and the projector shut off.  It was only then that I got up, walked down the aisle, exited from the side door and stood there where I'd parked my Honda.  I felt sad ... like I'd just said goodbye again, this time forever, to a good friend.  Fifteen years after it had first entered my life and my imagination, "Star Wars" was still a blockbuster movie and I had gotten to see it one last time, in an old theater, in the way that it was meant to be seen.

The Avanti lasted about a decade and a half after that but was used less and less frequently by the student body.  It was torn down in the name of progress to build an intersection and the demolition of that theater took place in June of 2006.

The Avanti Twin Cinema used to stand where those purple trees are now ... demolished in the name of progress. 

United Artists Turtle Creek 9

The Turtle Creek 9 was a huge cinema plex, larger than anything that Hattiesburg had ever been part of before.  Opening in 1994 with the then brand new Turtle Creek Mall the Turtle Creek 9 was where I saw all three of the "Star Wars" prequels as they debuted in 1999, 2002 and 2005.  The Turtle Creek 9 was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in the early fall of 2005, repaired, briefly opened for a year or two and was then shut down for good in 2007.  Currently it is being used as a church.  Yes, a church, in a mall, and the concession stand still works.  

The showcase movie poster panels outside the theater, the panels that used to advertise the movies then currently playing now hold posters advertising for the church.  Turtle Creek Mall, the mall that killed Cloverleaf Mall and was its replacement is now on its last legs ... you can tell a mall is new when it has a toy store, a book store, a music store and an arcade.  You can tell the mall is dying when the arcade, book store and toy store are all just memories and have been replaced by such crowd rousers like the "As seen on TV" store and a premium mattress store. 

Here's the exits from two of the cinema screens.  I've come down that ramp there late at night on many occasions but sadly no longer ...

The main mall entrance leading to the Turtle Creek cinemaplex on the right.  That's another ex-theater exit door there on the right in the corner.

Here are the "Now Showing" movie poster advertisements outside the old theater ... now used for ads by the church to attract new visitors and members.

Not sure what the old ticket booth is used for now, if anything, but the marquee there above the church sign shows inspirational message scrolls.

Looking inside the locking flex-gate you can still see the massive concession stand lit.  The entrance to the cinema screens was at the top there, where the two green lights are, up a small flight of stairs and with screens to your left and right down hallways.

Here's the old theater in its entirety ... main entrance, ticket booth / office and the advertisement posters on the wall.  Hard to believe that this is now a non-denominational church ... in a mall.

Here's the original theater marquee as it stands today.  Dick's Sporting Goods is just behind me in another building that's seen its fair share of companies and owners over the years.

As luck would have it, I had an old photo of the UA Turtle Creek Cinema marquee back when it was the major theater for the area.  I took a picture mainly because someone incorrectly listed a movie as "Laser of Disguise" instead of "Master of Disguise."  I'm glad I remembered this picture as it shows you what the old marquee looked like before it became a church.