Not too long ago I was back in my hometown of Shamokin, Pennsylvania. While running some errands for my mother I found myself sitting at a red light at the edge of downtown. My eyes took in the view and settled on a parking lot where the Victoria Theater had once occupied. I sighed, as I always do.
Whenever I look at that spot I still see the old movie palace right where it had stood
since 1917. I fell in love with films at that theater. Its towering ceiling, ornate with art deco majesty, the textured heavy golden curtains that parted as the previews began, and the florescent clock that softly marked the minutes until the show began all remain vivid in my mind.
My grandmother would take me see the latest Disney fare. My dad took me to see “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” “King Kong” and “A Bridge Too Far.” I sat between my parents and nearly peed my pants laughing at Peter Sellers in “The Pink Panther Strikes Again.”
As the 1970s came to an end, the first multiplex arrived. It wasn’t in Shamokin, but the 30 minute drive to the newly constructed mall was worth it just to see the latest release. You see, movies took weeks and months to reach the Victoria in Shamokin. The mall screen was small and the ceiling was made up of acoustic tiles, but your feet didn’t stick to the floor the way they always did at the “Vickie.”
Once a new release finally made it to Shamokin I would stop in and see it again. The silver screen was 40 feet wide and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Empire Strikes Back” looked much more impressive than at the mall! It was the IMAX of my youth.
I left Shamokin in 1981 to join the US Army. The theater’s attendance fell as the cost of repairs and maintenance went up, I suppose. Near the end it was used as a haunted house during the Halloween season. Finally, the heavy gold curtains closed for the last time and the florescent clock was unplugged. The art deco ceiling began to fracture and leak. The west wall collapsed one morning and the building had to be demolished in 1999. From its 1917 opening with vaudeville shows and silent movies to the classic golden age of movies and the gritty cinema of the 1970s, the Victoria Theater beckoned movie lovers in Shamokin, Pennsylvania. I count myself as one its lucky patrons.
When I made my first movie, “Daybreak,” I took great pains to make sure that the grand old movie palace was seen in the background of one of the scenes. That was about a year before the end of the Victoria Theater. It was my tribute to the place where I fell in love with cinema.
The reverie ends. The traffic light turns green and I head home, my errands completed. I still see the theater exactly as it once stood. I always will. It haunts still me, I guess.
I’m just saying…