Our generations today cannot imagine how big an impact movie theaters had in small towns from the 1930s to the 1960s. With their flashing, multi-colored, glittering lights and huge screens, movie theaters brought a few hours of stardom straight from glamorous Hollywood to our towns for pennies. And, somehow, boxes of buttered movie popcorn tasted better than any homemade treat.
Before the era when television exploded into homes in the mid-1950s, many people went to the “show” two or three times a week, often at a 35-cent or 50-cent admission price. Families attended together, and young couples sat in the balcony for more privacy on “dates.” In most towns, theaters were the first business to be air-conditioned, bringing relief during sweltering summers.
Fenton ultimately had three theaters, while Linden and Holly had one each. All offered thrills and excitement for local folks, with big-name stars appearing in shoot-‘em-up westerns, war movies, comedies, horror flicks and romantic shows. Each showing included a newsreel, color cartoon and coming attractions to lure patrons back again and again.
Here’s where local folks went for entertainment before everybody stayed home to watch TV:
The Rowena Theater opened in 1913 with 200 seats on S. LeRoy Street in downtown Fenton. Six years later, it moved a few doors away to 115 N. LeRoy, with 450 seats, according to cinematreasures.org. It was named for the daughter of original owner Marcus Peck, and operated until 1977, the website says.
Admission to the Silver Drive-In cost just 70 cents when it opened in 1955 at 3315 W. Silver Lake Rd. With space for 400 cars, it operated until 1986 as the only local drive-in theater. The Silver Lake Arbor Apartments are now located on that site.
Near the corner of Broad and Bridge streets, the Linden Theatre at 122 S. Bridge opened in 1946. With seats for 316 patrons, the Linden Theatre featured a soundproofed “cry room” for parents with infants. It closed barely 11 years later, in 1957, another victim of TV’s growing influence. The building has had multiple uses since then.
The Holly Theater had 340 seats, at 104 N. Saginaw St. It was once known as the Liberty and operated from at least 1941 to 1959, according to the waterwinterwonderland.com website. It is now home to the Detroit Model Railroad Club.
Most recently, local movie fans remember the multi-screen Fenton Cinema on N. Alloy Drive. It opened in 1985 with two screens, and expanded to eight before closing in 2008. The building was demolished in 2013.
Opinions offered in this column are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Tri-County Times or its staff. Email Mark Rummel at firstname.lastname@example.org.