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Cudmore: Amsterdam’s downtown movie theaters

Cudmore: Amsterdam’s downtown movie theaters

Downtown Amsterdam featured movies and shows for many years.

There were several opera houses in operation in the late 1800s that offered plays, concerts and even political speeches.

In the early 1900s silent motion pictures were projected onto small screens in downtown storefronts. Admission cost 5 cents and these simple theaters were called nickelodeons.

Amsterdam historian Hugh Donlon said a nickelodeon on Market Street called the Theatorium was in operation in 1907 and more followed.

The Shaffer Opera House was a full-size theater built on East Main Street across from St. Mary’s Church in 1909,  It was renamed the Lyceum six years later.

Showing both movies and vaudeville, the facility was renamed the Strand. Vaudeville was a mix of specialized stage acts including dancers, singers, comedians and even roller skaters.

My father recalled he could watch a movie and four or five vaudeville acts at one of Amsterdam’s theaters for 25 cents in the 1920s.

In 1949 the Strand was remodeled by the Gloversville-based Schine Chain Theatres and renamed the Mohawk. Mayor Burtiss E. Deal cut the ribbon for the Mohawk’s opening attraction, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” starring Frank Sinatra. The Fort Johnson Drum Corps played. Tony the performing horse was on hand and there was a motorcade featuring the Amsterdam Rugmakers baseball team.

The city’s premiere theater was the 1,400-seat Rialto, built by entrepreneur Edward C. Klapp at Market and Grove streets in 1917. In 1933, the Rialto also became one of the Schine facilities and was known for live stage performances by the likes of Jack Benny and Burns and Allen.

Donlon wrote that Amsterdam boxer “Sailor” Barron directed the Rialto usher corps, “Barron’s ring expertise enabled him to administer fistic anesthesia to potential troublemakers so quietly that there was no awareness of the operation by most patrons.” Bothersome customers were removed to an alleyway outside the building.

There were other movie theaters. The Regent, located on the east side of Market Street, opened in 1914. The Schine chain remodeled the Regent in 1946, promising that everything was new but the name. The opening attraction for the rebuilt facility was “Weekend at the Waldorf” starring Ginger Rogers, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon and Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra.

The Orpheum on the west side of Market Street was known in the 1930s and 1940s for double feature Sunday matinees, usually a Western and a B-thriller. There were no bathrooms in the Orpheum and Mary Reilly, whose father was Orpheum operator Tom Shelly, said the Regent across the street made its bathrooms available to Orpheum patrons.

The last traditional movie theater constructed in downtown Amsterdam opened in 1949, Brant Corporation’s Tryon on East Main Street. The Tryon was built on the site of the McGibbon block, which had been leveled by a spectacular fire in 1943. The theater had sliding seats.

“Champion,” Amsterdam native Kirk Douglas’ breakthrough boxing movie, was the opening attraction. The line to see “Champion” extended onto Church Street, according to local history fan Sam Vomero.

The Tryon, Rialto, Mohawk, Regent and Orpheum are long gone, having succumbed to multiplex theater competition and downtown urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s.

For many years there was a multi-screen theater at the Amsterdam downtown mall. The mall theaters closed and a Route 30 strip mall was remodeled to create the 10-screen Emerald Cinemas.

Last month owners Joseph Tesiero and Bruce Wendell closed Emerald Cinemas. They continue to operate the nine-screen Johnstown Movieplex in the Johnstown Mall.

Tesiero told The Daily Gazette, “There’s not enough movie-goers to support 19 screens between Fulton and Montgomery counties.”

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]

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