Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sitting in the darkness, popcorn on your knee… let’s go to the Opera House, wait & see

  The Opera House, 1981

Friday morning at work, I got this brief email from my sister Shawn: 

"While you enjoyed ‘Tokyo Sonata’ and Disgrace, I finally got to see a movie too. Flipper, with Elijah Wood and Paul 'Crocodile Dundee' Hogan." 

I knew she had read my latest movie reviews and I figured where this was going, then I noted the subject line of Shawn’s message:  "But I love being a mom". 

I had a good chuckle over that, but sympathized for her too.  Ever since my 5 year old niece Sophia came along, Shawn's movie watching has pretty much been limited to the films with Tinkerbell welcoming you to the show. 

(I can still remember our first Disney experience--the summer of 1966, when Grandma Morris carted the two of us to the Opera House to see 'Mary Poppins'.  Shawn, who was not quite 3, wouldn't stop crying once the lights went down.  I was not quite 5 and just remember feeling bewildered at the giant screen and the booming voices.)   Of course we shared many happier movie experiences after that, and those memories could fill a book--or a very long blog, at least. 

The more I thought about this, and all the movies seen, the more I realized that my favorite movie memories always came from our hometown's small theater, the Opera House.

Opera House, 1889


The Opera House, 1889.  For fifty years it hosted theatrical, vaudeville and opera troupes, as well as lectures from famed orators, including William Jennings Bryan, known for his involvement in the 1925 Scopes trial.  

In 1939, the Opera House was remodeled & movies became its main attraction


The Opera House closed its doors in 1986, but several years later was bought & reopened as the Waynesburg Theatre.  While it thankfully retains most of it's original charm, I'll always remember it best as it was in that photo at the top, with that tall red electronic sign (which was removed over 20 years ago, hard to believe.)  Unike today's cineplexes, it could only show one movie, but contained a wonderful art-deco interior, with Italian frescos that framed the screen and large velvet drapes that slowly parted as the lights dimmed. 

For a small-town kid growing up in the 1970s, it was always such a grand experience. 

Interior, before the remodel

This was the interior 'back in the day'; note the balcony, which for years had a sign at the stairwell, 'Restricted to Couples Only'! 

I had a variety of experiences there, depending on who I was with.  In 1971, Shawn & I were allowed to go (by ourselves, for the first time) to see 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks', and I can still remember our mutual gasps over the special effects. 

Around 1974, 'Gone With the Wind' was re-released and my Grandma Morris invited me to see it with her.  I balked at the idea of going to "an old peoples movie" but later sat there spellbound, as Atlanta burned in front of us. 

And thanks to my older brother Duke, I was treated to early 70’s cinematic masterpieces like 'Escape from the Planet of the Apes' (where I burst out crying when Cornelius & Zira were shot), 'The Towering Inferno', 'The Poseidon Adventure' & 'Soylent Green'.  

Opera House ticket booth

Children 50 Adults 75 cents--those days are long gone but the ticket booth remains


I'm sure everyone has special memories devoted to particular films, and I certainly have too many to list here.  If I had to pick my favorite ones though, they were always with family--and nothing quite says love like a sister sitting through 'Star Trek III' so her brother wouldn't have to go alone!  

Well, it seems fitting that my last movie there was my most memorable one.  It was November 2001 & I was staying with my mom for Thanksgiving.  The day before, we'd been shopping in town and were given free tickets to that night's movie. 

When we returned that night for the show, we noted with dismay that 'Harry Potter' was playing.  We shrugged & went inside.  Halfway thru the film I turned to her and said "What do you think of this movie?"  Mom whispered "You first".  I said "Well..."  Mom said "Oh thank Jesus, let's get out of here!"  We tiptoed out of there, laughing and shushing each other all the way.

      Music: Opening score to "Bedknobs & Broomsticks"


  1. Saw Star Wars there in 1977! I also remember my older sister going there circa 1982 to see the Iron City Houserockers!

  2. Thanks for sharing Chip, I actually remember when Star Wars opened there, one of the few times I saw a line of people waiting to get in! FYI, was just looking at your blogpage--its nice to see people appreciating their roots. :)

  3. I was there many times obviously, but there are only two movies that I remember..."Coal Miner's Daughter" with Grandma Barnhart and "Dirty Dancing" with you and Shawnee...OH! ...and some movie about dancers with John Travolta in it that I saw with Mommy and Daddy. Why those three times stick out, I just don't know...but "Dirty Dancing" with you and Shawnee was the best. I'm serious.

  4. Thank you for the nice feedback, Court--well, MY favorite memory of us at the Opera House will always be when you dragged Shawn & myself there to see Michael J Fox in "Back to the Future", something I didn't want to see but wound up being one of my all-time favorite movies! :)


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