By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Most towns that actively renovate or recycle buildings have an old movie house downtown. We are fortunate to have our Brauntex movie theater renovated and recycled into a performing arts theater. Before it bit the dust as a movie theatre, we affectionately called it “The Brau…” because often the sign had half the letters missing.
On the former site of Faust and Clemens Store, the Brauntexheld its grand opening in 1942 with Bing Crosby in “Birth of the Blues”. In its 56 year life span (’42-’98) the Brauntex went from smartly dressed ushers and cleanliness to smoke-filled air, dirty broken seats and popcorn flying through the air. Silhouettes of bugs could be observed trying to make their debut on the screen.
The building was rescued in 1999 by a group of concerned citizens that put lots of time and money into a project that all can benefit from. The vertical neon sign and the overhanging marquee are there and the inside has been overhauled.
Movies have a huge impact, especially on children. In my early teens, I saw Ingrid Bergman in “For Whom the Bells Toll” about the Spanish Civil War at the Brauntex. After seeing this movie, I went home, sat in the middle of my bed with a scissor and cut off my hair like Bergman. Why? Because I wanted to be brave like her and overcome my teenage suffering. It didn’t work. The reaction at home was that I had created my own civil war.
Earlier than the Brauntex was the Seekatz Opera House. Originally it opened in 1901 as a place downtown for traveling shows and local entertainment, like celebrations and dances. In the ‘30s, regular movies were added and for business purposes, the Seekatz gave up stage shows. The Kaufmann family ran the movie business until G.A. Cole bought the business and the Seekatz became home to the Cole Theater. When “Stella Dallas” was playing in 1941, the Seekatz Opera House burned down and the Cole was forced to move closer to the Plaza between the Jacob Schmidt building and the First National Bank (Chase).
LaVerne Schwab Pearce remembers her very first movie at the Seekatz in 1934. Her family lived outside of town on a farm and her mother brought her in to see the Shirley Temple movie “The Littlest Rebel”. The movie was a real tear-jerker in which the child (Temple) attempted to rescue her father from the executioner. Her father was charged as a spy, and Temple pleaded directly to President Lincoln for his pardon. Pearce says that she was so upset by the action on the screen that she began wailing loudly and her mother had to take her out of the movies.
In the beginning it was hard for most to tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Case in point: In a Reflections program done in 1977 by Jack Coleman, he stated that when an uncle of his (Nob Richardson) saw his first film, a western movie with lots of shooting, he was so upset that he whipped out his gun and shot at the screen.
The motion picture industry goes back to 1893 when Thomas Edison invented a motion picture camera. First these “movies” were shown in penny arcades in a machine that the viewer turned with a crank. Later movies were shown in halls where seats were installed, like the Seekatz. The price was a nickel, so they were referred to as “nickelodeons”. The first silent movie was “The Great Train Robbery” and the first “talkie” was “The Jazz Singer”.
There were other movie theaters downtown, but the Seekatz was the first and the Brauntex was the last still standing. The Brauntex has been restored and the Seekatz has been rebuilt. Both are recycled. Superkalifragilisticexpialidocious!