The Grand Theatre
Taylor Theatre under construction
The tall building that stood proudly, until being destroyed by a fire in 1976, on the northeast corner of Commercial Avenue and Mill Street in Lowell was built circa 1895 by John Stringer and Gene Mafus, who originally planned a three-story hotel on the site.
When their money ran out after two stories were completed, the partners decided to create an opera house on the second floor. Soon after completion, the building was sold to John M. Castle, owner of a general store at the present site of the Osburn Insurance office in downtown Lowell.
John Castle rented his second floor opera house for musical and dramatic entertainment and community events. During some remodeling in later years when Fry’s Dept. Store occupied the building, old tickets were found: "Valentine Festival, the MCW Band, Feb. 14, 1905," "Adventures of Happy Hooligan," and a ticket for a reserve seat for May 1906. (The M.C. Wiley Brass Band, a popular group of the era, proudly led the large parade of Civil War veterans at the dedication in 1905 of the big military monument which stands at the Olde Towne Square.)
An ad in The Lowell Tribune on August 10, 1911, heralded: "Moving Pictures -- Lowell Opera House -- Every Saturday Night -- 3 reels and Illustrated Songs -- Change of Program nightly -- Admission, Adults 10 cents, children 5 cents -- Foster and Beebe."
The Lyric Theater was located in a section of the lower level of the Opera House building for a few years. In 1975 a story about earlier days by Marian Hayden appeared in The Lowell Tribune, and in it she wrote about the Lyric:
"The Lyric Theater was a busy place on Saturday night. For a nickel we saw Musty Suffers, Ben Turpin, Charlie Chaplin, ‘The Million Dollar Mystery’ and ‘The Perils of Pauline.’ We booed the villain and wept with the heroine."
An old postcard from 1910 shows the 800-seat Taylor Theatre in its final phases of construction. The large building, constructed at the southeast corner of Jefferson and Clark Streets north of The Lowell Tribune office, had a large balcony, box seats, and a huge stage. The curtains rose into an upper section of the building, the front curtain featuring "Asbestos" in large letters in the center, with ornate local advertisements covering the rest.
From The Lowell Tribune: "Taylor’s Theatre, Friday-Saturday, November 14-15, 1913 -- Dubee’s Comedy Circus -- Dogs, Cats, Rats, Monkeys and Apes -- 20 Real Live Animals 20 -- Do Everything But Talk -- Moving Pictures -- Children 10 cents -- Adults 15 cents."
For reasons unknown, a few years later the name of the movie house was changed to the "Grand Theatre." The movie showing November 18, 1918, was "Over the Top, Greatest War Drama, with Sgt. Arthur Guy Empey Himself," repeated by popular demand at 15 cents and 20 cents.
Empey wrote the novel "Over the Top," a story about the early years during World War One, and was also the producer of the movie. He fought in the trenches as a soldier in the British Army.
The following Sunday, the movie "Naughty, Naughty" was shown and no admission was charged. In May 1919 Dorothy Gish starred in "Battling Jane," followed by Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., in "Arizona." On Feb. 29, 1920, Mary Pickford was seen in "Heart of the Hills." The film on Friday, March 5, 1920, was "Broken Blossoms" with Lillian Gish, Richard Bartholemew and Donald Crisp. Admission had increased to 20 cents and 35 cents.
Pauline Kelsey Burroughs, Vessie Mahler Fehlman, Velva Moxell Littlefield and Evelyn Hayhurst were some of the piano players during the silent movies at ‘The Grand.’ The Old Timer remembers watching them play faster and faster and louder as the villain chased the heroine.
The first talking picture, "The Jazz Singer," first appeared in 1927, and months later at The Grand. There was no longer a need for the excitement of the piano players.
The "Jazz Singer" starred Al Jolson, Myrna Loy, Warner Oland and William Demarest. Famous songs featured were "Mammy," "Toot-toot Tootsie Goodbye" and "Blue Skies."
The once bustling movie house began to attract fewer patrons during the Great Depression after 1929, and the business closed. The 1911 building became a blight to the community and was demolished in 1935. The concrete blocks and the big wooden trusses were used to build a Lake County Highway garage on the present Harding Drive, and that building still stands as part of the Rieter Corporation complex.
Early in the 1920’s, a business building was built at the present site of Mid-Town Hardware. Arnott’s Furniture Store was there for several years when it was sold to Edward and Alice (Walsh) Yates, who continued the furniture business. In about 1930 a decision was made to remodel the building for a theatre, and a 40-foot theatre was added to the south, the floor was slanted, the building was redecorated, and a new facade and canopy, or marquee, were added. Soon a bright neon sign was installed with the new name: "RITZ."
In 1932 some of the :talkies" shown were "Man About Town" with Warner Baxter, "Devil’s Lottery" with Victor McLaglen, and "Skyscraper Souls" starring Maureen O’Sullivan. Prices were lowered to 25 cents and 10 cents for children.
After a few years, the theatre was rented to Kurt Laemmle of Chicago, nephew of movie producer Carl Laemmle of Hollywood, California. "Bank Nights" were featured on Wednesdays, Western movies on Saturday nights and exciting serials were shown for matinees. The Old Timer ushered there, where his pay was a pass to the movie!
In about 1943 the building was sold and the business rented to Patrick and Loretta Byrnes, who operated the Ritz Theatre until 1952, when they opened their new building on Mill Street at Jefferson Street. The new name "Palo" was taken from their first names, PAtrick and LOretta, the result of a contest.
In 1966 Loretta Byrnes sold the theatre to Harold Lappie and his sister, Bessie Lappie. Adult tickets were one dollar. In 1978 the 500-seat theatre was sold to Marge and Carl Beier, who operated it for several years until it was closed and the building used for other business ventures.
In five different locations for seven decades, silent and talking movies were shown in the Town of Lowell. The old Grand Theatre, with a capacity of 700, served the community from 1911 to 1930, when the average population in town was only 1,200 persons! Yet now, with a population of over 7,000, no movie theatre serves the community.
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