More memories of former movie theaters
It’s been some time since we focused exclusively on York County movie theater memories, so I thought it would be fun to tackle that topic this week and clear out some older letters!
In February of this year, we’d talked briefly about a theater on Springwood Road. Reader Jim Stauch Jr. wrote in reply to that, “My dad used to run the projectors at the (Springwood Road) theater in the early 1950s. On the weekends he would take me along. I think Mr. Swords’ first name was (something like) Rubin. He was always nice to me. I had my very own seat. At that time, the theater had a single row of seats along each wall, then an aisle, then the center section. My seat was along the left side, the very last seat along the wall by the exit door. I loved going there. I saw many Western movies there, but the best movie ever was ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ about the circus. I must have seen it 25 times. I also saw some magic shows there as well. A special treat was when Dad would let me come to the projection room with him. I remember when Dad would open up the projector to prepare to change from one movie reel to the next, how bright the ARC lamps were in the projectors. What fond memories!”
Jim also noted that he grew up in West York, where he could “walk into the Hiway Theater to see movies on Saturday and see the Vaudeville acts as well.”
We’ve talked several times in the past about the Hiway Theatre specifically; it was formerly on West Market Street in West York.
Marion Wagner Witmer of Emmaus said she was an usherette at the Hiway. “It was in my senior year of high school, and I worked there part-time some evenings and Saturday mornings. I loved that job!” she wrote.
Ernie Weire of West Manchester Township added, “We lived on West Philadelphia Street (500 block) during the ’40s. I would go to the Hiway Theater Saturday morning carrying a paper bag with a bologna sandwich in it. As I recall the admission was 10 cents, however it increased to 11 cents later on. The first movie on the program was mostly a Western movie (black and white) followed by a carton and a serial. The serials were around 15 minutes long and were action-oriented. Every Saturday they continued and they would last approximately six Saturdays. I recall one called ‘Spy Smasher’ and another called ‘Nyoka the Jungle Girl.’ There was an intermission after the serial. This is when you ate your sandwich or could go to the concession stand. Then they would have an update on the war called ‘Movie Tone News’ followed by another movie. The movies were all ‘B’-type. Like ‘The Bowery Boys’ and ‘Abbott and Costello,’ etc. The entire program lasted at least three hours. I’m sure there are other old-timers that remember the noisy Saturday morning movies.”
Another reader, Johanna Coombs of Spring Garden Township, wrote that she went to many of the theaters discussed in previous columns. She also noted, “There also was the Rialto Theater that was on West Market Street where the pawn shop is now. It once was Super Shoes near Beaver Street. My brothers and sisters and I went to the Strand for the matinee shows. It cost 50 cents. Some Saturdays we went to the Ritz on George Street to see Dick Tracey and some cowboy shows.”
Johanna also added, “The Southern Theater was on my paper route, and Charlie McDonald gave us a large tip for Christmas and a free show. We watched Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller at the Hiway Theater. My brother Will played in the woods swinging in the trees with a whip like Lash LaRue, a Hollywood cowboy. It was a great time to live in York.”
Reader Bonnie Yoder also remembered many of the former York theaters. “When I was a little girl I went to all of the theaters you mentioned,” she noted.
She continued, “The Ritz was on the first block of South George Street, on the west side. The Rialto was on the second block of West Market Street, on the north side. Also, when I went to Central School, on West King Street, I passed a building on the first block of South Beaver Street. It was near King Street, on the east side. We used to call it the Opera House. I know it was some kind of a theater house. Maybe someone else close to my age may remember it.”
I did find a reference to the former “York Opera House and Auditorium” in that location, and you can see an image of it from an old postcard at cinematreasures.org/theaters/40778. Some readers might remember the Orpheum, which took the place of the aforementioned “Auditorium” in later years at 33-35 S. Beaver St.Have questions or memories to share? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Ask Joan, York Daily Record/Sunday News, 1891 Loucks Road, York PA 17408. We cannot accept any phone calls with questions or information.