I arrived in Lubbock in the fall of 1970. One of the first things I did was buy a newspaper and search out the movie ads, at which point I was astonished to find an old Italian western double feature booked at a theater called the State, located on Texas Avenue.
That would become my first movie experience in Lubbock.
Weeks would pass before I found the Winchester on 50th Street, by far Lubbock’s most impressive modern theater.
For many years, the Lindsey Theater at 1019 Main St., was the showplace of Lubbock's movie industry.
As years passed by, it struck me that Lubbock always seemed to be home to a striking number of movie screens for a city its size. Even now, there remain 39 indoor screens, and an additional three drive-in screens, in three structures.
Local theater history is sketchy, but historian Leonard Graves said Lubbock’s first movie theater, the Orpheum, opened in 1909. It lasted only one year, he said, but more theaters would follow by the 1920s and ’30s, with most in the downtown area.
The Lindsey, even after its balcony was closed for safety/insurance reasons, remained a favorite, in part because I could just leave The Avalanche-Journal and walk a couple of blocks south in time to catch a matinee. It was easy to imagine what this large theater was like in the days of movie palaces.
Tech’s Southwest Collections has photographs of the Lindsey’s 1940 grand opening with Tyrone Power on the big screen in “The Mark of Zorro.”
The Lindsey later hosted the regional premiere of John Wayne’s “Red River” in 1948.
I recall visiting with a Lindsey manager during my college days. He showed me a photograph of a line of people winding around a literal city block, waiting their turn to buy movie tickets. The movie was “Walking Tall,” the film about a sheriff (Buford Pusser) who decided to say little and carry an awfully big stick.
Above, moviegoers congregate outside the Llanos Theater, 1419 Ave. G.
Also at the Southwest Collections is a photo taken in 1940 of the Midway Theater, its marquee revealing that the movie being shown is Charlie Chaplin in “The Great Dictator.”
Lubbockites lineup to buy movie tickets at the Midway Theater, 1805 Broadway. The Midway had several names over the years.
A large amount of information about Lubbock theaters can be found at an Internet Web site called CinemaTreasures.com.
D.S. Newton, one of those who wrote to the Web site, said, “At one point, Lubbock had 22 walk-ins and six drive-ins.”
R.A. “Skeet” Noret, 86, still owns the Showplace 6 and continues to operate his regional theater chain out of an office on 82nd Street in Lubbock.
Noret’s original Showplace 4 was the first “multiplex” ever constructed in Lubbock.
“If you had gone into farming full time,” Noret said, “I doubt that you ever would have been able to buy a movie theater. But I bought a movie theater and, from the profits I made, I was able to buy a large number of farms over the years.”
Some of those farms also sprouted oil wells.
In his 1986 book called “Lubbock From Town to City,” Graves wrote that drive-ins also arrived in Lubbock in force, beginning with the Five Point Drive-In in 1947. He wrote, “And at one point, in 1960, there were eight of them (drive-in theaters).”
Following World War II, churches attempted to have an effect on movie theaters.
In his 1962 volume, “A History of Lubbock,” Graves reported what happened when director Robert Rosselini’s “Stromboli,” starring Ingrid Bergman, opened in Lubbock in 1950.
The Rev. J. Ralph Grant, pastor of First Baptist Church, said Graves, “presented a resolution to the Ministerial Association asking that the film be banned in Lubbock.
“If this was not done voluntarily, he said, an injunctuion would be sought against theater owners.”
Not even a quarter of a century later, Lubbock police raided a sold out Mann Fox Fourplex in 1973, forcing patrons to exit the theater and carrying away the film “Last Tango in Paris.”
Still, Lubbock has continued to support the movies, with newer theaters providing better seating, better lighting and better sound systems.
The Tinseltown 17 is expected to have one fully digital auditorium within the next two months. Both local Cinemark multiplexes are being prepared for the fast-approaching Hollywood love affair with 3-D.
That said, many miss those old days, being able to see “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II” at the Winchester, and standing in line at the Cinema West for such big screen features as “Jaws” and “Little Big Man.”
Can you imagaine roadshow engagements in Lubbock of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “The Blue Max” and “Doctor Zhivago,” all in 70-millimeter heaven at the Winchester?
Today’s multiplexes cannot come close to imitating that.
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Click here for a list of Lubbock's movie theatres past and present
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