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Monday, August 31, 2015

Kerrville Entertainment a Century Ago

Over the past few weeks, I've been sharing parts of a history of Kerrville written by Anna Belle Council Roland, the aunt of a friend of mine, Lanza Teague. Ms. Roland wrote an 84 page paper, by hand, which contains some stories about our community's history I've never seen before. It's been quite fun reading the paper.
This week, I thought I'd focus on recreational and entertainment options available to early Kerrville residents.
"The community was not without its recreational facilities," writes Ms. Roland. "Parsons Hall, located in the 600 block of Water Street, had been remodeled in 1886, and the second story was for many years the meeting and recreational hall of Kerrville. Here all forms of entertainment were held, as well as dances."
Parsons Hall was built and named for Dr. George Parsons, a medical doctor who came to Kerrville around 1875 seeking health -- he was a victim of tuberculosis. Although he was a veteran of the Union Army, he was soon such a vital part of the community he was elected mayor.
"At a later time," Ms. Roland writes, "Pampell's Hall or Opera House became the entertainment center. It was here that the first picture shows were held. The stairway was on the outside and tickets were bought at the bottom of the stairs. The seats were wooden folding chairs, and it was not uncommon for some youngsters to become so excited during some episode, as in 'The Perils of Pauline,' that he squirmed too near the edge of the chair and it crashed to the floor. One of the largest crowds to gather there to see a picture was for the sowing of 'The Birth of the Nation.'"
Ms. Roland then proceeds to solve a little mystery that's been puzzling me for several years. On the 1916 set of early Kerrville maps prepared by the Sanborn-Perris company, I found an unusual item in the middle of the 200 block of what is now called Sidney Baker Street, roughly across the street from the current Kerrville City Hall, there is a small area marked "Open Air Theatre." It appears to be a fenced area with a small frame building in one corner.
"About 1913 there was an airdome in the middle of the block on Sidney Baker, about where the hospital parking lot is now located. Admission was 5 cents."
I had to look up 'airdome;' it turns out that was a name for an open-air movie theater. Back before air-conditioning, such a theater may have been the most comfortable way to watch a movie.
"For a brief time a picture show was located in the old Mercantile Building at the corner of Main and Earl Garrett.
"Next came the Dixie Theatre in the 800 block of Water Street. It was a big tin building, at first, with only a gravel floor; the screen was located at the front of the building, and the seats were crude benches. Some improvements were made, but in spite of its crudity, it operated until the late 1930s."
I have heard from people who remember the Dixie Theatre, which stood about where Rivers Edge Gallery stands today, near the intersection of Water and Washington streets. Their main memory of the place: tucking their feet underneath themselves, so the popcorn-eating mice wouldn't bother their shoes.
Later, in the 1920s, the Arcadia Theater was built; later still, in the mid-1930s, the Rialto Theater was built.
The Rialto once stood on property now owned by my family: the parking lot between our printing company and Grape Juice next door. (This also happened to be the site of Parsons Hall.)
If you look at the western wall of Grape Juice, you can still see the outline of the stairway to the balcony of the old Rialto Theater, and, about midway along that wall, up high, the risers of the old balcony.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who went to many movies at the Arcadia Theater. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 29, 2015.

1 comment:

  1. Joe, It is interesting to me that no one seems to mention the old "Rio" theater that was after but very near the location of the old "Dixie." In the mid to late thirties my brother and I nearly always spent Saturday afternoon in the Rio (for 10 cents admission) watching a cowboy show, serial, short comedy (like Harold Lloyd), cartoon and newsreel. We'd share a five cent bag of popcorn. Jack Stevens

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