Wonderland Parkersburg WV First Theater - - Mackey's Antiques & Clock Repair

THE HISTORY OF WONDERLAND PARKERSBURG'S FIRST THEATER 

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THE HISTORY OF WONDERLAND PARKERSBURG'S FIRST THEATER 

Parkersburg's first Nickelodeon appeared in 1903, Parkersburg's first movie theater was opened on the east side of the 400 block of Market Street. A yellowing newspaper clipping, undated, pictures the entrance of the Wonderland, situated on the site of the later Strand Theater, in 1903, however, motion pictures were quite primitive in technical quality and simple in content. They were not affectionately called "flickers" for nothing. Both the uncertain light of the early projectors and the unsteadiness of the film running through the sprockets contributed to the effect.

 Those early theaters were known as "nickelodeons" because the admission cost was only five cents. The Wonderland featured that attractive price prominently on the facade, with the naughty comment, "the whole DAM family." Lest the public should think the show might be improper, the owner painted a sign over the arched doorway, "Ladies and Children." The title of the movie being shown at the time the photograph was taken was "Through the Matrimonial Agency," perhaps an early form of today's computer dating service.

In the doorway stood the house personnel identified as manager Charles Summerville, pianists Esterella Healey and Mary Healey; the unnamed projectionist, owner Julius Cahen and another anonymous man possibly a partner. The pianists were necessary then to accompany the silent film with appropriate music and sound effects. Some times the key board artists provided their own ideas for the music, but as the industry developed they were able to obtain books of suggested themes to represent every kind of emotion and situation. In the following decade the producers furnished fully annotated scores for at least the principal pictures. Later on, in the bigger cities pipe organs were installed in the ever more elaborate movie palaces.  Some of them even had live -orchestras.

The 1903 movies told their simple plots, often only an episode, with in the 10 minutes of a Single reel. It wassome time later before the length was extended much beyond that, notably by such pioneers as D. W. Griffith. The raw film stock required either full sunlight or bright arc lights. Most movies were made on outdoor stages with the sun filtered through muslin screens. The images were harshly contrasted in black and white. many of the actors drawn from the stage wore garish makeup suitable for footlights. Settings were flimsy flats like hose of the stage, sometimes trembling in the wind. But all these blemishes were readily accepted by those struck by the wonder of moving pictures. Technical developments advanced through the decades both in photographic quality and in projection until the present expertise.

  By the middle of the 1920s just prior to the introduction of sound the art of the camera men reached a level high enough to compare favorably with today's craftsmen. An example may be seen late this month at the Ohio Theater in Columbus, when "Don Juan" of 1926 will be screened. This was actually the first picture to be presented with a musical sound track played by a symphony orchestra with sound effects like the clatter of swords in the dueling scenes. The star was John Barrymore with Mary Astor as his youthfull leading lady. A smaller role was played by the likewise quite young Myrna Loy, who will attend the Columbus showing. The score will be played by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra conducted by Evan Whallon. The Wonderland of 1903 was succeeded, on the spot most recently occupied by Burger Chef by the Strand Theater, operated by the Barrett family. They later wired it for sound but soon afterward leased it to Paramount Publix.

In the middle of the Depression the big Hollywood studios were engaged in a struggle to line up chains of show places through out the nation. About the same time Warner Brothers took over the Smoot and Lincoln Theaters from the Smoot family and later acquired control of the Strand when the Paramount lease expired. then the Lincoln, built by the Smoot brothers in 1920 at the corner of 8th and Market streets, was converted into a store by the J C Penney company. A few years a go the original theater building was restored as the Actors Guild Playhouse.

 In the height of Hollywood popularity the downtown Parkersburg area was dotted with theaters. The Hiehle opened in the early 1930s at 703 Market St. now occupied by Radio WIBZ-FM and WADC-AM. Radio On the other side of the street was the Parker operated by Mrs. Rose Thomas, and on Juliana Street, opposite the post office, was the Virginia, dedicated mostly to Westerns. On 7th Street. near Lynn Street was the Palace. The Burwell was built a few years later. 

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