The Park Theatre was located upstairs over Meditrina. Built about 1875, it has always been a business of some sort. Locals refer to it as Carpenter’s Store. Carpenter ran a clothing store here for many years.
I don’t know what year the theatre was first established. Danny Clemons’ mother, Lorene, with Ron and Russel Fararr’s mother Aili, took it over in the late 50s. At that time, Norman Adams was running it, but had decided to give it up. Russel told me his mother wanted to keep it open for the kids.
I went to many movies here when I was a boy. There was a very steep and narrow staircase to the second floor. You were greeted by Aili or Lorene at the ticket booth. In the lobby was a candy counter and popcorn machine. Soda was dispensed in bottles from a soda machine.
Inside the theater were rows of seats. The floor was on an incline so you could better see over people in front of you. The windows were blacked out. I remember cartoons and seeing previews of upcoming movies before the main feature began.
I liked Westerns and Vincent Price movies. “The Pit and the Pendulum” was a favorite of mine. One movie stands out, “Mysterious Island.”
Earl Horton was the projectionist. Russel said there were two carbon arc projectors. I found this description online:
“The very old projectors didn’t have a bulb, they used an open carbon arc, with high voltage jumping between carbon electrodes to create a very bright light. A powerful fan took excessive heat and ozone out of the building. This light was focused by a reflector onto the film gate. In the film gate, a geared arrangement called a Geneva movement moved each frame of film into position and stopped it for a fraction of a second before moving it out of the way, and the next frame in position. This happened 24 times a second, four perforations at a time (each frame was four perforations tall in a standard 35mm projector). This was 90 linear feet of film per minute. A spinning shutter that looked a little like a weird fan with wide blades spun to block the light during the times that the Geneva movement was pulling the film frames into position; light only shone through each frame while it was motionless. This Geneva movement was also called the ‘intermittent.’ After bright light intermittently passed through the sequence of film frames, that light would pass through a long lens with a fast aperture ratio, usually something like 120mm focal length and f/1.8, which, especially for the era, was a fast lens. The lens would be racked back and forth to focus the image on the screen.”
Danny said, because the carbon arc was hot, the projection room walls were lined with asbestos board. When Earl gave up the job, he taught Aili and Ron to run the projectors.
Danny described how film was mended when it broke. Stop the projector, remove the film reels and, with a splicer, splice the film together, tape it, and thread it back into the projector. I remember this happening. Most kids would stomp their feet on the floor in loud protest.
The photo with this article is from 1957. It features “Battle Hymn,” on the cover. At the top is: “PARK THEATRE CHESTER, VT. – Tel. 2721.” They boast CINEMASCOPE and WIDE-VISION SCREEN. Another flyer I have is from 1953. Admission: adults 70 cents, children 35 cents.
These advertisements were mailed for one and a half cents. When you open it, there is a schedule of upcoming movies and dates on each inside page. The same is true for the rear cover. There was a movie every night of the week.
All I spoke to have slightly different memories. I remember seeing “PT 109” in late ‘63 or early ‘64. Some thought the theatre operated as late as 1969. Others remember it closing earlier.
Danny remembers taking out the seats, projectors, and the movie screen. He said his father rolled the screen up and stored it in his barn. Russel remembers his father, Arthur, and Danny’s father, Bill, building the fire escape.
This week’s old saying is from Henry: “When we were kids I was the one your mother wouldn’t let you play with.”