Looking Back: People flocked to Liberty theater

September 22, 2003|BRENDA S. EDWARDS

LIBERTY - In a time when everyone went to the movies for entertainment, the Kentuckian was one of the most modern theaters in the area.

When it opened in 1950, the Kentuckian was one of few places of entertainment in town.

Built in the winter of 1949, the brick, 8,000-square-foot structure fronted on the east side of Hustonville Street. Ralph Cundiff and John Weddle Sr. contracted a company in Tennessee to build the theater.

Charles Brown, who owned the theater with his wife, Lillian, remembers the company built fires in tin garbage cans to keep the concrete from freezing.

The 690-seat theater opened May 17, when admission was 20 cents for children and 40 cents for adults. A movie-goer could get a preview of upcoming attractions, see cartoons, news reels and a movie for one ticket.


Mrs. Brown said the only news of the war was on the movie reel.

"This was a big deal for little Liberty," said Brown, who bought into the partnership a couple of years after the theater was built. The partnership lasted 20 years.

The theater had a full-size stage and entrance, and lobby area with terrazzo flooring.

David King of Kings Department Store grew up next door to the theater. He watched as it was built. When the theater opened, King was at the first movie shown, "Sands of Iwo Jima," starring John Wayne.

King was impressed with the red, upholstered seats and the handsomely decorated, pastelcolored auditorium. The ceiling simulated the sky and clouds and had lights behind it.

"It was a safe place to bring children," said Brown, who had three young sons at the time. Not only did the theater offer movies, it had good concessions.

The Lobby Shop not only served the theater-goers, people walked in from the street to eat the concessions.

"We had competitive prices for our Cokes, hot dogs, candy, ice cream and popcorn," said Brown. "We did not have any $3 candy bars.

"We bought popcorn a half ton at a time, then sold it for 5 and 10 cents a box. The multi-colored paper cones of popcorn sold for a nickel, and the boxes were 10 cents," Brown said.

Movie-goers could catch a matinee and evening movie on Sunday afternoons. For nighttime showings, the theater was open Monday through Saturday, with Saturday including a midnight showing.

"The house filled up for the Saturday midnight show," said Brown.

The thing Joberta Wells of Yosemite remembers most is that if the Wells children did not go to church Sunday morning, they could not go to the afternoon matinee.

"That was a rule we had," she said.

The movie was advertised through newspapers. Show bills were placed in grocery stores, restaurants, barber shops and fliers were seen all over, Brown said.

"People came from all over the county and some from surrounding towns, too," said Brown.

Mrs. Brown, who served as "ticket taker," said there was nothing else to do back then. "You could bring the whole family, but you have to be careful (about the movies) now."

She was referring to the language and scenes.

The theater never failed its audience. When the electricity went out, a generator kicked in to run the film.

The marquee with its bright lights also drew people to town.

"Folks told me they came to town at night just to see the lights flicker on the marquee," said Brown.

King remembers the lights chased each other around the marquee, which advertised the film that was playing.

The latest films were purchased through a Cincinnati firm, which had connections with 20th Century Fox in California. Clyde Goodin of Hustonville Street ran the projector for films, which lasted from 11/2 to 2 hours. He checked the film constantly to look for breaks and tears during the show. He was projectionist the whole time the downtown theater was open, and his wife and children did the cleaning, said Brown.

"Their main complaint about cleaning was the Sugar Daddy," said Brown. "They fussed about us selling Sugar Daddys; they stuck to the concrete floors and were hard to get off."

Also active at drive-in

The Browns were faithful to the downtown and drive-in theaters. He also operated the Green River Drive-in for several years.

"We did not buy a television until 1955 to be loyal to the theaters," he said.

The drive-in projectionists were Ray Bryant, Wayne Lane and Bud White. There were 300 parking places at the drive-in.

"The big deal was the Fourth of July fireworks," said Brown. "I was the first person to bring fireworks to Liberty."

The new Kentuckian theater replaced the old Allen Theatre that seated 250-300 people. The Allen Theatre had been owned by Oscar Hopper and Hershel Gilbert before Weddle and Cundiff bought it. Hopper moved to Lebanon to operate the Arista Theater.

"It had such huge crowds," said Mrs. Brown.

That was why the new one was built. She recalls the tickets were 10 cents.

"I remember standing in line to get into watch 'The Prince of Peace.'"

Besides movies, the theater had live entertainment such as the Lone Ranger, Gabby Hayes, and country music singers Kitty Wells, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Furniture auctions also were held occasionally before the movies began.

During the time the Browns ran the theater, they operated and lived at the Brown Motel for 41 years. They have three sons, Doug of Louisville, David of Houston, and Jeffrey of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and nine grandchildren. They sold the motel in 2001.

Cundiff, Weddle and Brown kept the theaters until 1971 when both were sold to the Weddle children, who sold them to John Baird of Danville. He kept the movies going about five years, then closed both.

The lights, flooring and stage are gone now. The building, owned by the King brothers, serves as a storage building.

Central Kentucky News Articles