Palace Theatre marks 110th year in showbiz

Canadian’s Palace Theatre celebrated its 110th anniversary—and the first anniversary of proprietors Ray Weeks and Natalie Pino—with an open house on March 23.

Weeks said about 30-40 visitors showed up on a busy Saturday to help them celebrate, and enjoyed slices of Batter Up owner Alice Bentley’s beautifully-decorated cake, bags of hot, buttered popcorn, and music from the 1920s to the 1960s playing in the lobby.

In preparation for the event, Weeks and Pino compiled notes on the theatre’s history, and its evolution from The Pastime in the early 1900s, to the art deco-styled, state-of-the-art equipped Palace Theatre of today. With their help, we took a trip down memory lane, as well, to offer this admittedly-condensed chronicle of its 110 years as an anchor business on Canadian’s Main Street.

An ad published in The Record in 1909 announcing the opening of The Pastime

The theatre began its run in March 1909 under the name, The Pastime. The opening made front-page news in The Canadian Record, which announced “a new picture show business” in the Humphrey building, under the ownership of Messrs, Frame, and Martin, who were congratulated for “the tasty arrangement of the place.”

The writer described a large room, seated with opera chairs and carpeted aisles, “making it not only convenient and modern, but comfortable as well.” Readers were also reassured that “All pictures shown by this amusement company come direct from the National Board of Censorship, composed of the highest moral standard people of our country.”

In June 1916, the newspaper reported The Pastime had been closed for repairs, and urged patrons, who missed the nightly amusement, to “possess their souls with patience and confine their pleasure to dominoes, rook and solitaire for a couple of weeks.” Its reopening as The Queen Theatre, and the welcome news that Saturday matinees would now be offered, was hailed in The Record as “unmistakable evidence that our city is becoming metropolitan.”

The original owners promised the building was “as near fireproof as can be had in Canadian,” with the projector in a fireproof enclosure, and the pictures shown from non-combustible film.

The first fire to strike the theatre, in February 1930, was relatively minor. An explosion in the projection booth during the evening’s second showing caused no injuries, which the newspaper report deemed “little short of a miracle.”

“The persons in the theatre filed out without confusion,” readers were informed. “Walter Worley, who was operating the picture machine, fainted and fell outside the booth. He was dragged from the dangerous position by his brother, Earl, the manager of the theatre.”

Unfortunately, The Queen had just been redecorated by the owner, with new carpet laid a few hours earlier, and talking equipment “of the very latest type” installed. Then-owner J.F. Cole estimated the damage at $1,500, and credited quick work by the Canadian Volunteer Fire Department with saving it.

In October 1931, the theatre was totally destroyed by a fire of undetermined origin, that threatened an entire block in the heart of the downtown business district. The “fire boys worked valiantly” to contain the fire, The Record reported. “Three lines of hose played constantly on the blaze for nearly two hours before the fire seemed to be under control.”

The theatre and the building that housed both it and the Palace Barber Shop were considered a total loss, with damage estimates near the $25,000 mark. Property owner J.F. Cole Sr., promised he would erect a modern building as soon as possible, and the newly named Palace Theatre reopened in February 1932.

Rebuilt from the ground up, and under the management of Earl Worley, the new Palace Theatre’s featured Spanish-style ornamental architecture, and offered “many novel features,” The Record reported—among them, a costly projection screen “which is the very last word in projection service.” The screen was covered with millions of little glass pebbles, “creating a beautiful, soft brilliancy.” The talking equipment produced “marvelous clarity and naturalism.”

The report offered an interesting testimony to the important role a theatre plays in the social life of any community, noting, “It will be remembered that during the World War, the United States Government exempted from service all theatre operators, producers, and those connected with the making of pictures.”

Following another fire that gutted the building in November 1957, The Palace rebounded again—remodeled with new acoustic ceiling and wall panels, and a remodeled stage and screen, and furnished with new seats and carpeting.

Palace Theatre owners Ruth Ann and Salem Abraham in 2010

The Abrahams hired San Antonio architect Killis Almond to design both exterior and interior in vintage 1940s style, including a new neon-lit marquee and sign, but with state-of-the-art THX-approved sound and digital projection. The new, new, new Palace Theatre—under the management of Rob Talley—was reopened to rave reviews on Friday, Oct. 16, 1998, with a showing of Armageddon that put the sound system to the ultimate test. It succeeded.

The latest iteration of the Palace Theatre is the result of a complete renovation by owners Salem and Ruth Ann Abraham. The makeover began in the summer of 1997, and continued into the fall of 1998, culminating in its October grand opening.

Ray Weeks and Natalie Pino with son Atticus

Weeks and Pino took over as proprietors in 2018, realizing Ray’s childhood dream. Their son, Atticus—the prince of Main Street—now regularly welcomes moviegoers wearing a variety of superhero costumes, except when he revives his most arresting performance as a policeman.

Izzie Maloy

Pino, who owns Peanut Photos, produced vintage pictures of the Palace Theatre staff that were displayed for this occasion (as in photo of Izzy Maloy above), in frames from the 1920s that had originally held head shots of actors in many of the early movies shown here. “Back in the day,” said Weeks, “theatre operators had to hand-paint their own posters. Since not everyone had that skill, the studios would send out headshots of the actors and actresses.”

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