Athens, a two-theater town

Here is another post by Tim from the archives, originally posted on June 11, 2005. The exciting thing is that this year we have a new theater downtown regularly showing movies again.

Athens was a growing town, I guess it always had been. But we knew for sure that it was getting big when we got the Palace Theater built downtown. We now had two theaters. The Georgia Theater was the first theater I remember. We would go to the movies there occasionally. But when they built the Palace, well, we dropped the Georgia Theater like a bad habit. Still and all, we missed the balcony at the Georgia Theater. Innocent kids that we were, we thought the balcony was just a good idea, a nice place to watch the movie from, even if the angle was bad and you ended up missing some of the movie detail because of that. It was only later that I realized that the balcony was put there before integration, that’s where the black folks had to sit. But like I said, we were innocents and didn’t ponder such things. I did later though after my time in the Army as I read more and more about the south during the early twentieth century. The Palace had no balcony. It also had more business and better movies. I think part of that was the air conditioning at the Palace was frigid. We’d come out of there on a summer Saturday afternoon about to freeze. Then the heat and humidity would hit us along with the glare, it was almost disorienting. It’d snap you back to reality though, putting the fantasy world of the picture show behind you quick.

The Palace also had the marketing thing going with the Athens kids. The Saturday afternoon at the movies was wildly popular. A lot of us kids watched the Officer Don Popeye club show on the television station from Atlanta. It was either channel 2, 5 or 11, that was it. I can’t remember what channel it was on, I want to say channel 2, but it was a live, in-studio show with an audience of kids. Popeye cartoons were shown on the show. Well, one Saturday afternoon at the movies, it was announced that Officer Don himself would be at the Palace the very next week. Damn, we were all stoked. It was to be our first encounter with true celebrity! Imagine, Officer Don himself, right there in our picture show! We couldn’t wait, but somehow the next Saturday finally arrived. The place was packed a good 30 minutes before the show started. I was sitting down on the first or second row. I wanted to see it all. I was convinced that Officer Don was going to bring Popeye, Brutus, Olive Oil, Wimpy, and everyone else that I saw every afternoon on the television. What did I know from a cartoon? Imagine my disappointment when Officer Don appeared, by himself, told a few corny jokes, then did a hand stand on a ladder back chair as the grand finale? After he left the stage, we saw some Popeye cartoons, but I was bitterly disappointed that I didn’t get to meet Popeye et al.

Later on, much later on, Athens got a third theater downtown. It was over across from City Hall. It was called the Paris Adult Theater. Times, it seemed, had changed…


Bill King said...

You forgot the Classic Theatre, which was owned by the Georgia Theater Co. and was behind the Georgia in downtown Athens. It originally opened in the late 1960s as, I believe, the largest cinema in Northeast Georgia, but as times changed it was broken up into three smaller theaters. Athens had other movie theaters earlier, including the Strand and the Roxie, but they had been closed or torn down by the time I started going to movies in the late 1950s. But downtown wasn't all there was to Athens movies. When the Beechwood Shopping Center opened in the early '60s, it had a cinema, the nicest in town. "Sound of Music" played there for months. It's now a multiplex and still a great place to catch the latest flicks. Across the road at the Alps Shopping Center, the Mini Cinema opened in the late '60s. At first it specialized in adult films ("Barbarella" played there for months and months) but later broadened. It was tiny, only seating about a hundred. That shopping center was located on the former site of one of Athens' drive-ins. The Alps Drive-in moved off the bypass and the center was built around 1964. There was also the Athens Drive-in out on the Atlanta Highway. Both of them lasted through the 1970s, I think. And downtown the Morton Theatre also was originally a black movie theater and vaudeville hall. It had closed sometime in the 1950s, I think, but I remember sighs for another black cinema somewhere downtown in the early '60s. I think it was called the Harlem.

Unknown said...

It wasn't the Roxie, it was the Ritz on broad st. We also had the Harlem on the Atlanta highway, plus two drive-in theaters, the Athens drive in and the Alps drive-in. For a short time we had another drive in where homewood hills shopping center is now.