The President Theatre
I’ve been browsing through the newspaper columns written by World War II/Korean War Veteran Monroe “Buddy” Stamps in the late 1990′s for his hometown newspaper, the Manchester Star-Mercury. Buddy was reminiscing about growing up there, just a few miles from Warm Springs, President Roosevelt’s Georgia home, the “Little White House.”
Here are excerpts from one of my favorites, “The Picture Show.”
The center of all entertainment in early Manchester was the Picture Show. (The word “movie” was not used back then.) The first picture show was built into the upstairs auditorium of the grammar school building. Legend has it that Franklin Roosevelt was attending a high school graduation here one night in 1929 or 30 when he received a phone call from New York asking him to seek the Democratic nomination for President. He accepted.
Sometime in the mid or late 20′s Callaway Mills built a theater upstairs over the Callaway Barber Shop. It was here that the town’s small fry would sortie bare-footed on the cinder road every Saturday morning to see Buck Jones, Tom Mix and Ken Maynard out-shoot and out-ride the bad guys and to watch breathlessly as Buck Rogers, Pearl White, or Flash Gordon were flung into the jaws of death in the weekly chapter of an exciting serial.
On October 15, 1935, all this changed with the Grand Opening of The President Theatre, an ultramodern picture emporium on Broad Street. Built by Martin Theater Company of Columbus, its first offering was “Diamond Jim” starring Edward Arnold. Admission was $.10 for children under twelve and $.20 for adults.
The theater was named “President” for President Roosevelt who visited Warm Springs abaout twice a year. The regular days bill consisted of two shows in the afternoon starting at 1:00 and two at night at 7:00 and 9:00. With previews of coming attractions, a “comedy” short subject, several commercial messages advertising local businesses, and then the main feature.
The commercials were crude by today’s standards, consisting usually of a typewritten message projected on the screen just before the main feature. One such commercial was for Wells Dairy, and the tag line written in big letters was “IT MUST BE GOOD. PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT DRINKS IT!”
This message ran for a number of months before someone from the President’s entourage saw it and had it stopped.
A wonderful attraction, missing at first but added a few years later, was air conditioning. I’m sure that this was the only building in town so equipped, and it was proudly proclaimed by a large cloth banner adored with artistic icicles hanging from the marquee: “20 DEGREES COOLER ON THE INSIDE!” It was a pretty good dime’s worth on a hot July afternoon!
The Picture Show was the place to see and be seen, to be entertained and during the war years, to follow history in the making via weekly newsreels.
But now she just sits there, old and broken … a weary old lady who has watched time pass her by. Her once proud tower is gone. The marquee is missing, and the dancing lights and wonderful sounds have faded into the past. But to an aging few of us, The President will always bring back memories of “going to the picture show.”
Yes, through the years the popularity of this hometown theatre declined. It closed, and the building was eventually abandoned. Today the community of Manchester is working hard to restore this historic treasure to its original beauty so that it can serve as a community arts center for Meriwether County. Regina Garrett and the Board of Directors continue to host fundraisers in order reach their goal. Their website documents their progress, and this video tells it all.