Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sharing Memories: The Tower Theater and the Dirt Roads

The Tower Theater Complex in 1985
Courtesy of www.americanclassicimages.com

Although theTower Theater in Klamath Falls was built in 1939, my earliest memories of going to this theater probably took place in the early 1940s. I seem to remember a stucco courtyard, to the right of the entrance, that intrigued me.  I so wanted to go into that courtyard  -- but now I question whether there was that wonderful mysterious courtyard.  However,  I do remember sitting in our car,  outside the theater, mother would  fidget and complain,  "Come on, Harold, we are going to miss the beginning of the movie."  My dad and I would be listening to the end of the "Lone Ranger" on the radio.  His focus was on the radio and the last of the episode's daring-do of the masked man and his stalwart companion, Tonto.  Off-handed he remarked, "Ruth, we can just sit through the intermission and then watch the beginning we missed."  And we would sit in the car and listen to the very end of the the "Lone Ranger" and his adventures.

This concept never seemed to satisfy mother, but was our standard mode of going to the movies.  However,  the hey-day of movies with lines of movie goers snaking around the block ended our days of sitting through the intermission to see the "missed" beginning.  Seats were a precious commodity and not to be wasted on the late-comers.

A few years later, mother or one of my aunts would drop my sister, cousins and me off at the movies for the Kiddee Matinee, and later, the regular matinee showing..  The Tower, the closest theater to our farm home --14 miles or so from home --  was the theater of choice for westerns,  musicals, and drama. However,  the following story is one of my  most vivid memories of the Tower Theater.


“Please, please, Daddy, can I go to the movie tonight. I'll be careful and drive real slow.”

“You're only fourteen, you know, so you have to be extra careful. No driving on the highway and come right home after the movie,” my dad replied gruffly. I knew that even though his voice sounded harsh, he was secretly pleased that I could drive to town – like he and his brothers did when they were my age. The house rule for my driving was that I could go anyplace I wanted as long as I had permission and I didn't drive on the highway, or blacktop, in those days).

“Thank you, Daddy.” I gave him a hug and planted a big kiss on his cheek.

I ran to the phone and called my cousin, Nancy.

“Nancy, I can take the car to the movies tonight, but I don't have enough money for you and Marilyn. Do you have any money?”

“No, but we have a lot of pop bottles. Marilyn and I can gather up enough to cover our tickets and maybe some popcorn,” replied Nancy. I heard her yell over her shoulder to her younger sister Marilyn to start gathering the bottles.

“I'll pick you two up about a quarter after six.”

Nancy hemmed and hawed and finally sputtered, “How will we get to the theater?”

I just laughed and said, “Pick you up at a quarter til.”

1950 was the year, summer before I turned 15, and the long sunny days meant that we would arrive at the theater way before the sunset. That summer I had been increasing the radius of my travels via the dirt roads. Dirt roads meant freedom to me. At first it was just to Mac's Store, which was just five miles away on the highway, but for my back road jaunt it was closer to a ten mile trip. Then from Mac's Store, I started venturing the twelve mile circuitous trek to Midland where my cousins lived. My cousins and I had talked about this day.

“Nancy, we could go to the Tower Theater. I can drive clear up to South Sixth Street on the dirt road.”

“Yeah, but the theater is on the other side – across South Sixth Street,” she grumbled.

We were quiet for a while. Then I had an idea.

“We could drive through the Shell station and park in the big space on the other side of it.”

“But, Joannie, how would we drive through the station?”

“We'll just drive up like we are going to fill the car up with gas, and then drive on through to the other side.” The conviction in my voice belied the butterflies in my stomach. I had just committed us to going to the Tower Theater. Now to get my dad's ok, which was actually easier than I expected. Now I was on my way to pick up Nancy and Marilyn.

“Ready?” I asked as I got out of my parents Olds 98. Nancy and Marilyn were waiting for me.  Marilyn had a big grocery sack of pop bottles by her side. In the back seat went Marilyn and the pop bottles, while Nancy took the front seat beside me. We were off for our maiden adventure to the movies.

“O, look, there is a line of cars at the gas station.” Nancy whined.  ":W-we can't just drive through the line without getting gas -- can we?

“That's not a line. Only three cars and for goodness sakes, there's two pumps,” I replied as I pulled into line for the next pump. A short wait. The car ahead of me pulled out and onto South Sixth Street. I waved to the guy at the pump and pulled on through to the parking area on the other side. Nancy had ducked down below the dashboard so the guy at the pump wouldn't see her. Marilyn giggled and waved too. When we stopped, Marilyn grabbed her bag of bottles and called to her older sister, “Come on, Nancy, help me take these bottles into the service station to sell.”

“O, I couldn't. He'll be mad or laugh at us for driving through the gas station.”

So Marilyn and I lugged the bottles to the little store. We came out with enough money for both cousins to get into the theater and a bag of popcorn to share.

Marilyn and I called to Nancy, “Come on, we're ready to go.” We stood at the edge of South Sixth Street waiting for her, before we crossed the “highway” on foot. After purchasing the tickets and popcorn, we went into the darkened theater, slunk down into the seats ready to enjoy our night at the movies. I smirked and tossed another piece of popcorn in my mouth. Even though the distance traveled was over three times the highway route - what with backtracking and crisscrossing the Basins backroads, it was possible to get to the Tower Theater without driving on the “highway.”  

Tower Theater
from the other side of South Sixth Street
Courtesy of www.americanclassicimages.com

~ ~ ~
 © Joan G. Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications

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