Wonderful Memories of Park Theatre by Bryce Mayer

Wonderful Memories of Park Theatre by Bryce Mayer

Posted by on Sep 23, 2003 | 0 comments

From North Vernon Sun special section
Sept. 23, 2003

by Bryce Mayer

“The Last Picture Show” is one of my all-time favorite movies. The Peter Bogdanovich-directed film is built around the closing of a movie house in a small Texas town in the 1960s.

There are many parallels with North Vernon where the Park Theatre has sat idle for over four decades.
Ever since the restoration project began here, I have wondered when exactly did the Park Theatre shut its doors. I knew it was sometime in the early 1960s, but I wanted to find the specific date.

Hulda Reichenbach, one of the main movers behind the restoration, agreed that this is an important piece of history worth investigating. Like me, Hulda had a vague recollection of when the Park Theatre closed, but nothing exact. Others I talked to didn’t know either.

So, I went to the Jennings County Public Library to pore over the microfilmed copies of the Plain Dealer and The Sun from the 1960s.
The last picture show at the Park Theatre was on March 25, 1962. The film screened that evening at 7:15 p.m. was “The Hustler” starring Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman.

After that night, the theater closed for good — until this year. Virtually completely rebuilt from the inside out, the Park still has many of the same characteristics as it did when it last was used for its original purpose over 41 years ago, and many that are quite different. Its long anticipated rebirth is very welcome in Jennings County and cause for celebration.

I was just a young pup when the Park Theatre closed, but I still have vivid memories of watching movies there.

I remember going to see “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” a 1959 film with Pat Boone and James Mason, and being amazed that it was daylight when I entered the theater but totally dark outside when the movie was over.

I would join other kids in taking over the theater on Saturday mornings to view Roy Rogers and other cowboy serials (using coupons from the Plain Dealer for free tickets, as I recall.)

I will never forget walking to and from the Park Theatre with either my class or St. Mary’s School’s entire student body to watch a religious movie one school day. It may have been “Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima,” but I can’t be certain.

Hulda said during the final year or so before the Park Theatre closed that she remember several B-grade movies being shown there. That would explain some of the titles I saw in the Park Theatre’s advertisements in those old copies of the Plain Dealer: “Honeymoon Matinee,” “The Hoodlum Priest,” “Tammy Tell Me True,” “Love in a Goldfish Bowl,” Last Time I Saw Archie,” “Tormented,” “Boy and the Laughing Dog” and “Wizard of Bagdad” (sic).

Of course, there were other better known films advertised, such as “Ben Hur” and “Gone with the Wind.”

For one special showing of four flicks in January 1961 — “Battle of Outer Space,” “12 to the Moon,” “Surprise Package” and “It Started in Naples” — ticket prices were 60 cents for adults and 30 cents for children.

Free shows were offered on Tuesday nights with tickets available at local merchants.

The Park Theatre’s telephone number was Filmore 9-5731.

Ham salad was advertised at 59 cents a pound at the nearby Sherbundy’s Market at Fifth and Hoosier streets near the time of the Park’s closing.

Brand new Dodge automobiles were for sale at J.D. Stearns on Walnut Street.

Those North Vernon establishments closed not too long after the Park Theatre did. The Park came back, though, better than ever, literally a phoenix rising from the ashes.

It doesn’t get any better than this in the movies, even in one as good as “The Last Picture Show.”

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