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A cinematic legacy longing to be rekindled

By Carolina Astrain
April 3, 2013 at 2:05 p.m.
Updated April 2, 2013 at 11:03 p.m.

Movie-goers crowd the Uptown Theater for the world premiere of "To Hell and Back," a war movie that featured real war hero Audie Murphy (his name is misspelled in the marquee). An ad for the premiere in the Advocate boasted that Murphy's real wartime buddy would be at the premiere.

Victoria Cinema Houses OF YORE

Here are a few of the movie theaters from Victoria's past.

• The Uptown, 101 S. Main St.

• The Venus, 214 N. Main St.

• Tejas-Aztec, Highway 295

• El Rancho Theater, 114 Forrest St.

• Victoria Theatre, 206 E. Constitution St.

• Lone Tree Drive-In, 5105 Lone Tree Road

• Gemini Drive-In, N. Navarro St.

• Salem Six, 5912 N. Navarro St.

• Playhouse Cinema 4, 1207 Sam Houston Drive

• The Rita Theatre, 111 W. Constitution St.

• College Theatre, 1326 E. Red River St.

• Cinemark's Cinema IV, at 7002 N.E. Zac Lentz Parkway

SOURCE: Advocate Archives

Although we only have one major cinema screen in town, Victoria has a long history of being a place where great films could be seen.

For those of us with a more sophisticated movie taste, the movies that make the marquee at Cinemark 12 don't always satisfy our cinematic appetites.

Cineastes all over the Crossroads region will be flocking to the Victoria TX Independent Film Festival this weekend trying to get their indie film fill.

As the population grows and art scene develops, one can only dream that one day Victoria's former moving pictures industry is restored.

I often find myself thumbing through Flixster on my iPhone, looking longingly at the movies screening at the River Oaks movie theater or Houston's new Sundance theater downtown.

But why should this cinema fan have to drive so far for just a few hours of relief and satisfaction?

Victoria certainly has the community, a budding general interest and space to create its own indie film theater downtown.

The Victoria College Film Club meets about once a month and screens a movie about every two months.

The Facebook group has 74 members but has five dedicated members who consistently show up to meetings, said college English assistant professor Lisa DeVries.

"I would love to see it grow, but with students' work and studies, high transfer rate etc., it's difficult to retain numbers," wrote DeVries via Facebook.

Our dream indie film location could coordinate with the VC Film Club to create a diverse, eclectic screening program.

Imagine a Woody Allen month, in which a different film of his was shown every Friday for a month.

It could also be a place where patrons could hear live music, sip on some fine Texas wine or pick up an artisan pastry.

Movie theaters are places where people come together, fall in love and reinvent themselves within a few passing hours over popcorn and cola.

Stephanie Guana, 27, of Victoria, said she met her husband at Playhouse Cinema IV, a movie house that showed old movies a few months after their premiere screenings at a reduced price.

"Wish they were still open," Guana wrote. "It was good for people who couldn't afford to watch movies right when they came out."

Another Facebook commenter, Hilda Daugherty Hartling, 64, wrote about her family trips to the Tejas-Aztec Drive-In Theater in the 1950s.

"My parents took us there nearly every Sunday night in the summer," Hartling wrote. "The first 'adult' movie I remember seeing was 'Pillow Talk' at night at the Uptown."

Hurricane Carla blew the Tejas-Aztec to smithereens, wrote Gary Dunham in, "Vanished from Victoria: El Rancho Theater" published in the Victoria Advocate on June 23, 2012.

In 1962, the El Rancho Theater was the place you could go see footage from the Patterson-Liston world heavyweight championships.

Dunham went on to write about the causes of the El Rancho Theater's fiery demise.

"Workmen who were engaged in some sort of air conditioning work, ignited a blaze which brought the cavernous theater to its end," Dunham wrote. "It was a spectacular blaze."

We could name our city's new indie theater after Cleo, a kitten who lost its life in the the 1975 El Rancho fire and whose mother, Tomasita, made Advocate-fame after surviving the raging inferno.

There have been a few moments I've enjoyed a film or two at Cinemark 12, but it'd be nice to have more than one place to see movies in Victoria.

See ya'll at the festival this weekend, and may the spirit of Cleo be with you.

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