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Coming of age in Victorias theaters

By MANUEL DELOSSANTOS - MDELOSSANTOS@VICAD.COM
Aug. 9, 2008 at 3:09 a.m.


Memories are usually triggered by an event that makes you recall certain times in your life.

While planning for reporter Allison Miles’ story, an interesting discussion ensued.

With the discussion came my memories of yesteryear’s theaters, of which most of my co-workers were unaware, and some of my personal escapades.

My first recollection of “going to the movies” in the 1960’s was while living in Kamey in Calhoun County. As youngsters, we were brought to Victoria proper once a week, usually Saturday afternoon, for groceries and other necessities. Sundays were reserved for church, visiting relatives and, if lucky, the movies.

Most movie trips were to the Victoria Theatre on Constitution Street that was especially set up for Mexican or Spanish-speaking movies.

Sometimes, we would come to Wednesday Family Night when an English movie was presented along with the regularly scheduled Spanish-speaking film and, of course, a cartoon movie. The admission was $1.50 per family, 50 or 75 cents for individuals or, for some, free. All one had to do was stay near a family and walk in with them. I recall how from the ticket booth to the entrance, a family could grow by two or three more members while waiting for the doors to open.

As we got older, we came into town with older cousins. We made it a point to have the driver drop us off at least one block away from the theater. This was to avoid being seen by those we wanted to impress – possible girlfriends or boyfriends. We did not want to be seen piled in the car or truck and have people realize that we were darker from picking cotton and not the swimming pool.

It was even worse during pecan picking season because green pecans tend to stain your hands. The big joke was to be found out, as the “piscador” (picker) name would forever be associated to you.

The other theater that catered to the Spanish-speaking public was the Lone Tree Drive-In where admission every Tuesday night was $1 per carload. Again, trips with cousins to the drive-in became a matter of how many cousins and friends could fit in one car. Then there were those who made their entrance through holes in the sheet metal fence.

At the Lone Tree Drive-In, not only could you see the movies, but also most young people were able to sit outside in the sitting area and socialize. There, many of us were indoctrinated to totally different lifestyles of the city boys and girls. There, too, were always the obvious – lots of popcorn and soda, dates with the then love of your life and, yes, manly civil disputes for the same girls.

The Lone Tree many years later became an X-rated drive-in. And even though the age limit was 18 and huge lights were set up to make it hard to see, many teenagers would travel the back roads and the newly constructed Loop 175 to view the movies on the giant screen. No sound, but at that age who cared?

Other theaters included the Uptown Theater, where First Victoria Bank makes its home, with its Saturday midnight movies. Again, a late night hangout for everyone old enough to be out – there were no curfews back then.

I remember two different entrances, the smaller one led to some stairs. Many years later I found out it was for the African-American population that was not allowed into the general public area.

There was also the El Rancho, where One O’Connor Plaza now stands. This was the summer movie hangout for most students. The price of admission, on special days, was empty Coca-Cola product pop bottles.

At the Gemini Drive-In, which had two screens and was located where the Drug Emporium building is, Saturday specials included all night movies for $5 per car. This is where I learned the valuable lesson of not smoking and losing the first love of my life.

Finally, there was the Venus Theater that stood between what is now the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts and The Children’s Discovery Museum. I don’t remember much, but this was smaller and it had some kind of summer promotions. The most dramatic recollection about the Venus was it burning down and was never rebuilt.

Yes, there were many theaters before the Playhouse – and many memories.

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