Early Winchester theatres

Published 12:27 pm Monday, May 22, 2017

Editors note: The following is the second in a series of columns about Winchester’s early theatres. The third installment will run in the Friday, May 26, edition of the Sun.

Lyric Theatre

The Lyric was the next to open in Winchester. Henry H. Phillips and Woodson Moss leased a room on the first floor of the Fraternity Building on Court Street where they showed their first film on December 6, 1911.

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The Lyric announced their schedule of first run films for January and February 1912: “Maud Miller,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “Durbar,” “Vanity Fair,” “The Three Musketeers,” and “Cinderella.”

They claimed that “the patrons of the Lyric are being shown the very best that is on the market. The management is booking all the best pictures just as fast as they are issued.”

The Lyric may have been the first theatre to use a lighted marquee. As reported in MPW, “The Lyric Theater has added a hundred 100-candle power lights to the illumination in front of the theater on Court Street. The string extends from the theater to the next corner, and converts the thoroughfare into a ‘white way.’”

In mid-year the theatre moved to a new location.

“H. H. Phillips and Woodson Moss, owners of the Lyric Theater in Winchester, Ky. have leased property in the downtown district of that city from the Lexington Lodge of Elks for a period of five years and will remodel the present building to constitute one of the handsomest moving picture theaters in Central Kentucky. The auditorium of the new Phillips & Moss Theater will be 116 by 28 feet in dimension. Work of equipping the establishment for business is to be begun at once and rushed to completion (MPW).”

The new theatre on South Main Street, seating 500 persons, opened in July 1912.

Clarence Bloomfield’s list gave the location as the “Finance Office.” In the 1960s through the 1980s there were several finance companies on South Main: Kentucky Finance, Winchester Building Savings & Loan and Winchester Federal Savings and Loan.

The only building that fits the theatre dimensions (28 x 116) is Winchester Federal at 57 South Main (became Winchester Federal Bank in 1987).

The Lyric would last until 1914. The theatre was losing money, and the owners decided to sell out to their competitors at the Pastime and Colonial.

Pastime Theatre

The next entry in Winchester’s motion picture scene was the Pastime Theatre.

MPW reported on the planning phase in late 1911. “Arthur Bloomfield, of Winchester, Ky. is preparing to invest about $7,000 in an up-to-date picture theater, having leased a suitable building for his enterprise. Plans for the new house are now being prepared, and it will be erected as soon as possible.”

Bloomfield leased the building at 24 North Main Street from Mrs. C. R. West.

“The Pastime Theater, the new picture theater at Winchester opened Thursday, April 4, 1912. It has a seating capacity of 333 persons and is well lighted and ventilated. An orchestra of five pieces provides music for the pictures. Arthur N. and Clarence Bloomfield are the managers. A ten-cent admission is charged (MPW).”

In 1913, the Pastime became the first Winchester theatre to present color films. The new technology was referred to as “Kinemacolor,” the first successful process for making movies in color.

In 1915, Vic Bloomfield took a 17-year lease on the building and announced plans to enlarge the theatre. In May, MPW reported, “The Pastime theater has opened its house after the building was overhauled and thoroughly remodeled. The building, as now arranged, is one of the most complete moving picture and vaudeville houses in the eastern part of the state. The auditorium has been extended back twenty-five feet and a stage has been erected with dressing rooms beneath. A small balcony with a seating capacity of twenty-five has been constructed at the front of the house. The theater now has a seating capacity of 450 in all. A gold fibre screen and new chandeliers have been installed. Another motion picture machine has been purchased, as the operator was handicapped with only one machine. Mary Pickford, in the Paramount production of ‘Such a Little Queen’ was shown as the opening subject.”

In early 1918, the theatre was disrupted by a fire in the basement engine room. The gasoline engine and dynamo the theatre used to generate electric power were damaged. The audience exited the darkened theatre without injuries.

Disaster struck on Saturday evening, March 9, when a wall collapsed killing 11 instantly and injuring scores, many of them children. Two days before the adjoining hardware store had been gutted by fire leaving a tall masonry wall unsupported. High winds on Saturday night caused the wall to fall on the theatre.

A standing-room-only crowd was on hand to watch “The Quiet Man,” a western starring William S. Hart. As usual, children packed the rows nearest the screen.

The front 10 rows of the theatre were in a one-story section of the building. The collapsing wall came through the roof, dropping tons of bricks and debris on the audience. It is recorded as one of the worst tragedies in Winchester’s history.