Article Contributed by
Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist
The Roosevelt Theater, beloved movie house of children who lived in or near the Lost Neighborhood and beyond in the late 1930s and 1940s, became a staple of childhood Saturday and Sunday afternoon entertainment. Matinees featured Westerns starring Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger, and Hopalong Cassidy as well as cliffhanger serials based on the adventures of Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon, to name a few. The theater was located at 31 S. Main Street, sandwiched in between Montagna’s Bar and Grill and Johnny’s Lunch.
The Roosevelt, or “Roosie” as it was sometimes called, was a single-screen theater built in the Art Deco mode. When it opened in 1926, it had approximately 400 seats at lobby and balcony levels and was fitted with a Link theater organ, which undoubtedly provided background music for silent films. The Roosevelt, a part of the Shea’s chain of movie houses originally known as Shea’s Roosevelt Theater, was a “second cousin” to the larger and more luxurious Shea’s Theater on East Second Street, now home to Jamestown’s Lucille Ball Little Theater.
In its early history, the Roosevelt often featured imported Swedish and Italian movies, appealing to Jamestown’s two major European immigrant groups. Many of the Swedish films shown there featured Edvard Pearson, who was related to Henning Pearson, owner of the Nordic Service Station on Second Street and later the Kimball Stand Restaurant.
But by far, Jamestonians remember the Roosevelt as a “B” film movie theater known for its Westerns, where Republic Pictures and Monogram Pictures found a real home, and for its serials, those suspense-filled adventures that had kids coming back for more each week to see how the cliffhanger tease at the end of each episode would be resolved. One of my Derby Street neighbors, Herb Hennas, worked at the Roosevelt as an usher and a projectionist during the summers when he was a college student. In his recollections, Herb thought that somehow Milk Duds tied in with the Dick Tracy serials: if you bought “X” number of boxes of Milk Duds, you would get to see the last episode for free. What an incentive to fill Saturday and Sunday matinee seats!
When the theater was renamed the Park Theater in the early 1950s, I remember attending evening performances of reruns of A films with my parents. One that I recall most vividly was “The Great Caruso” that my father loved because he admired the popular Italian tenor/movie star Mario Lanza so much.
My other recollections of the old theater, whether the Roosevelt or Park, was the long incline of the lobby whose walls were filled with large, colorful teaser and character movie posters advertising upcoming films. The ticket booth was manned by a young woman who also did double-duty at the concession stand, often running back and forth between the two stations to fill ticket orders or popcorn boxes! Freshly popped corn that spilled over from the hanging metal kettle, generously salted and scooped into cardboard boxes, and an array of five cent candy—anything from Jujubes and Juicy Fruits to Hershey and Clark bars—were irresistible. And you couldn’t beat the price. It was often the best quarter a parent ever spent!
To most of us, the Roosevelt was never just a building, but a movie house with a long and varied history of films that appealed to many of Jamestown’s residents. It enjoyed a life of more than a quarter of a century, until it fell to the wrecking ball, along with other memorable landmarks in old Brooklyn Square.
To read more of Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist’s creative and informative contributions to the Jamestown Gazette, please go to www.jamestowngazette.com.