By Frances Lowery Garner
You could say the Ritz theatre on Commerce Street, the main street Greenville, Alabama, divides uptown and downtown Greenville.
Although it has been a landmark since opening in December 1935, movies are no longer shown on the big screen that once showed “Gone with The Wind” and other great classics.
With the influx of television, video rentals, and the hottest movies coming to Montgomery first, only a forty five minute drive from Greenville, management was forced to close the theatre in the mid 1970’s.
The once luxurious movie house originally done in the décor of the 1930’s with beautiful multi-colored carpet ordered especially from Belgium, now lay abandoned, and in very poor repair.
The Ritz was to remain in this state for the next ten years.
In 1982, a former drama teacher from Greenville High School began to spearhead a project to restore this historic landmark.
“Miss” Bobbie Gamble led a group of interested patrons to organize the Greenville Arts Council, and they persuaded the city to purchase the old theatre.
They began to gradually restore and interest began to grow as they began having functions there, although the seats were held together with duct tape.
Pieces of carpet were donated, and many volunteers worked in a labor of love, which led to a major restoration in 1990.
A new paint job was completed, new lighting, seats, and the old marquee was restored complete with the neon lights.
Since that time, it has hosted many events including high school graduations, plays, community cantatas, Junior Miss pageants, gospel singings, and various other entertainment sponsored by the Greenville Arts Council.
My first movie experience was in this beautiful theatre, known as the “picture show” in the early 1940’s.
The management of the Ritz thought it would be a nice gesture to show all the boys’ pictures serving in the Armed Forces from Butler County during World War II.
Since my four older brothers were all in service for our country, we were privileged to go to town.
As a six year old, I entered the theatre for the first time and sat in awe, smelling the freshly popped corn, wondering what the EXIT signs meant and why someone would walk up and down the aisle with a flashlight.
However, the greatest thrill was to see the pictures of my big brothers in uniform on the big screen smiling down at me.
I cannot remember the movie that followed as I was preoccupied watching the lights, adjusting the new-fangled seat, and listening to the occasion laughter and whispers around me.
Coming out of the theatre, we stopped at the candy machine in the lobby, which resemble the slot machines of today.
You would put a nickel and make your selection but the favorites we enjoy today were missing.
All the Milky Ways and other good chocolate bars were sent to our deserving soldiers overseas.
To give the customer the incentive to buy candy, the machine was set to give out some type of chocolate about every tenth nickel.
So one had to eat a lot of peppermints, stage planks (Ike and Mikes), to get the chocolate bar.
One never knew when he would hit the jackpot.
(to be cont.)