Movies once were the center of local entertainment

Today, with television, iPads, iPods, Kindles, laptops, computers and smart phones to bring instant entertainment, the heyday of movies being the epicenter of entertainment is but a hazy memory.

Movies were truly the hub of entertainment. People studied newspapers to see what shows were playing at the Majestic and Manos theaters in Ellwood City. The marquee spelled out the movie, while posters outside the theater piqued interest with large, colorful pictures.

People got dressed up to go to the movies, because the movies were downtown and people didn’t go to town if they weren’t dressed up.

The Saturday serials were for kids, and they lined up every Saturday afternoon for the latest adventure. Every serial ended on a cliffhanger, and every child believed he had to be there to make sure the hero lived through the latest disaster. The serials included western adventures and “Jungle Jim” and “Jungle Girl” that were very separate movies, and some based on radio programs including “The Green Hornet.”

Movies were not rated back then, but most were family-friendly.

The Majestic closed in January of 1984 and the Manos in 1972, but memories linger on. Those who filled the seats of theaters back then haven’t forgotten Elizabeth Taylor in “National Velvet” and “Lassie, Come Home” or Henry Fonda in “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Patty Tomei, who worked at the large candy concession stand at the Manos when she was in high school, remembers that people would wait in the lobby until the next showing began.

“Many didn’t want to go in until the next show was beginning. They wanted to see it from the beginning and didn’t want the end spoiled by seeing it first,” Tomei said.

Vonnie Brough of Ellwood City recalls that her mother, Kathleen Galvin, was an usher at the Manos theater and wore a uniform and carried a flashlight. Galvin was born in 1918.

Brough also has her own memories of movies going back to when she was in fourth grade.

“We lived on Wayne Avenue, within walking distance of the Manos and the Majestic. I would pack a sack lunch and go to the movie around 1 p.m. and stay until after supper. There was the featured movie, and sometimes there was a double feature, the previews, news, cartoons,” Brough said. “The lights never came up, and you could stay as long as you liked, watching the movie two or three times. People sometimes arrived after the feature had begun, missing the first 10 or 15 minutes of the movie. No problem. They would just stay for the next showing, and watch the part they had missed and then leave when they reached the part that they had seen.”

In 1918 the John Biordi family bought the Majestic Theater, which had 396 seats, and in 1924 sold it to Joseph and Nick Shuler for $30,000. It passed through a number of hands until 1936 when John Biordi bought theater again. With his sons, Frank and Andy, the Biordis ran theater for 30 years.

The interior was elegant with velvet and brass staircase and a large stage. It had the traditional candy counter, and the restrooms were downstairs, more under Lawrence Avenue than under theater. The women’s restroom had a large mirror and leather couch and chair in one room.

The Majestic was destroyed by fire in January of 1984 and was razed.

The Liberty theater was constructed in 1922 and opened in 1923. In 1936 it was bought by the Manos family and renamed the Manos, run by Jack Manos. In 1949 it closed for a month while a $70,000 renovation was done. The subsequent grand opening featured Herculite doors opening into the elegant lobby. Herculite doors are made of very thick, frameless, glass with glass handles and hinges.

There was a large concession stand in the left front of the lobby. Mahogany was used throughout the lobby including the counters, ceiling and banister. The restrooms were on the main floor.

Jack Manos died of a heart attack in the lobby of theater in 1956. The theater was operated by a manager until it finally closed in May 1972.