In April of 1920, M.A. Richardson announced that his Grocery Business would be moving from E. Washington to W. Washington. The reason: “The building I now occupy will be torn down and rebuilt.” The term “rebuilt” was an understatement. The current building was wood framed, albeit with a brick front and a brick nogged back (look that one up!), one-story, and 20’ wide. The 16’ wide, one-story, brick building next door was to go as well. As a replacement, Messrs. T.M. Wood, Q.L. Williford, and K.S. Anderson planned to build a two-story, brick building with offices above and a moving picture theatre below. The American Architect had reported in January of that year that William Irwin of Savannah had completed plans for the moving picture house which was to cost $10,000.
While Madison had had picture shows prior to this, set in existing buildings or sometimes out-of-doors, this enterprise was a step up. As noted in the newspaper, “There are few theatres in the entire South in towns even twice the size of Madison that can boast of a complete and attractive theatre as this one.” By November the building was well underway. The Madisonian gave this description of the “handsome new brick building”: “The first floor – one large room – has been rented to Mr. Lightman for a moving picture theatre. This will be nicely fitted and a great pleasure to all. The second story will have office suites,” two with three rooms and three with two rooms. Unmentioned in the news article was the balcony which had its own entrance and ticket booth. This was the segregated South where African American patrons were relegated to a separate space. A half century would pass before patrons of both races would share the main floor.
Even before the theater opened the Madisonian issued a plea. Well, more of a warning. Lamenting “the extent to which the latter day movies have become a menace to clean thinking and good morals,” the paper pledged to support the enterprise “provided the pictures are clean and wholesome.” Otherwise, the owners could expect to hear more from the Madisonian. They stated, “So many of the movie films are keyed to impurity, so much sex stuff, jazz music, jazz decorations, jazz pictures – so much jazz until the patrons think in jazz and act in jazz.”
The Strand Theatre opened Thursday, May 26, 1920, managed by Messrs. Nisbett and Lightman who had several theaters in other parts of the country. At opening they had contracts with Goldwyn, Realart, and Selert studios and were negotiating with Paramount and First National. Showings included short subjects and news reels rounding out the entertainment to about two hours. All for 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children – which included the war tax. The initial showing was Basil King’s Earthbound directed by T. Hays Hunter.
The first couple of years appeared to go well for The Strand aside from a small fire, always a danger with the cellulose nitrate film of the era. Fortunately, the operating booth was a fire-proof structure and disaster was averted. Manager S.T. Nisbet left for Little Rock and C.J. Ross took his place. Even the newspaper seemed pleased with the movie selections declaring them clean and wholesome. However, by 1922 the success of the operation was unsure. The Madisonian noted, “The Strand deserves better support than it is now receiving. Let’s patronize it better until conditions improve when its future will be assured.” That future did not come and the theater was closed by year end.
Six months later Gilbert Genesta reopened the moving picture house, but this is a gentleman whose story deserves a blog of its own.