By Roy Roberts
Karl Schewe was so good to Beardstown, and he donated much for his home town. After his donation to the Park District Community Center I approached him with another idea, saying it was a shame that people had to go out of town to see a movie. He agreed and had me go to a friend of his who was an architect in Canton.
That architect made a plan for a $300,000 theater/auditorium, speculating on getting the job if the building would be a reality.
The building would have been owned by the Park District and would be located about where the new Clinic is located now. There would be a large auditorium, much needed by the high school at that time. It could be used for band concerts, school drama and other events.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday it would be a theater, concession stand and all. The Park District proceeds from the movies would pay for the maintenance of the building and used for other recreation projects. This was a few years before there was any thought of demolishing the old high school and building a new high school with its fine auditorium. After Karl died, Mrs. Schewe was not interested and that ended that idea.
Yes, I think the movies will come back. It might be a while, but then it was quite a while when the first movie came to Beardstown. It was 1903 when the first picture show came to our town. It was in a small frame building that was at the approach of the old wagon bridge, at the foot of State Street. It only lasted a short time. Apparently the fad of watching the first silent movies didn’t excite many of the citizens yet.
The first real movie theater came four years later, in 1907. It was in an old brick building at 106 Main Street. It had 124 folding chairs for the customers and the program consisted of a one-reel film and one illustrated song. This theater didn’t last long though, because the projector kept catching on fire, which wasn’t too unusual at the new theaters around the country.
The equipment was improved, or better equipment was purchased, and in 1908 Mr. C. L. Quaintence opened the “Theatorium.” It had a three piece orchestra and the owner would sing the illustrated song at each performance.
It looked like a good new business and later in that same year Mr. John Peters opened a theater on Second Street and it was called “Dreamland.” Mr. Quaintence, owner of the “Thetorium” not liking the competition, bought the Dreamland Theater from Mr. Peters.
The theatre business was booming everywhere by this time even though they were seeing the moving pictures that had no sound. It looked like a fast way to make a dollar, and two other local businessmen, Mr. M. H. Harris and Mr. L. W. Goodell became interested and pooled their money to build a new brick theater on State Street between Third Street and Fourth Street. They called it the “GEM” Theater. It cost five cents to see the one reel movie and there was such an interest that they had to have five showings on the opening night to accommodate everyone, and there were 1,580 paid admissions that evening.
The Gem Theater was so successful with its five cent admissions that Mr. Goodell bought out his partner Harris. Having heard and read that the movies would eventually have sound, Mr. Harris built the large ”Princess Theater” around the corner on Fourth Street. The very next year, in 1912, after being competitors, the two owners consolidated again. Goodell named Harris as the manager of both theaters.
They were still showing the silent movies and they needed money, so in 1914, they formed the Beardstown Amusement Co. and sold stock to Mr. R. H. Garm, and Mr. R. B. Glenn. The Amusement Co. was able to purchase an $11,000 organ for the Princess Theater. They found that during the silent movies it was more entertaining to have music, and the organ player had instructions to play appropriate music, depending upon the scene. Before the main movie reel, the words of songs would be printed on the screen. It would picture a bouncing ball hitting each word to help the audience follow the words as they would sing-along.
By 1921 the business was so good that a balcony was built in the theater increasing the capacity from 600 to 800.
The sound came to the movies in 1927. The theater was sold to the Pirtle family from Jerseyville. They hired Mr. Loren Stanley as manager and Leo Boylan as the organist, a job he had for 15 years. I can’t remember going to the silent movies but I do remember the organ player who would play the old songs.
After Mr. Stanley, Paul Woods became the theater manager. It was 1939, when the Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind
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was made and color films became popular.
During the depression years there were all kinds of gimmicks to attract people to the theater, they gave away dishes, had double features, and in Beardstown, Tuesday night would be bank night and both theaters would be packed to see whose name would be drawn for $75, $85, $95, $100 or more. You had to be there to win.
The deteriorated Princess Theater still stands, but it couldn’t serve as a theater now. People used to walk to the theater. Today there wouldn’t be enough parking spaces for the number of cars of the movie goers.----