by Billy B.
State Theater, Winnsboro, Texas
is a curious thing. I recall vividly some of the movies I saw there
in the 1950s, but the appearance of the theater itself is vague in
my mind. The old State Theater in Winnsboro,
Texas, was one of my favorite haunts for several summer weeks when
I was growing up.
My paternal grandparents invited me to come to Winnsboro
to spend two weeks with them for three summers in a row between 1953
and 1955. Winnsboro,
at that time, had about 2500 residents. It was a quiet, peaceful East
Texas town, a very different community from the city where I lived.
It offered a variety of attractions for a boy eight to ten to explore.
My grandparents had no qualms about allowing me to wander about town,
for no dangers lucked about either in the sunshine or in the shadows.
State Theater in DeKalb, June 1997
Photo courtesy Billy B. Smith
State Theater in Atlanta,
Photo courtesy Billy B. Smith
of my first discoveries was the State Theater on Main Street. "State"
was a common name for movie houses in this part of the world. There
was one in DeKalb, Atlanta,
and an ill-fated one in Pittsburg
that burned down when I was a kid. Winnsboro's State was not a very
large theater. It had a triangular marquee, which jutted out over
the sidewalk, and a box office that I believe was to the right of
the entrance. A small lobby contained the traditional snack bar and
the restrooms. One thing that impressed me was the price of the tickets.
A youngster my age could get in for a quarter, except on Tuesdays
when the price dropped to a dime. This sounded like a real deal to
me. And the movies changed ever two to three days. Sometimes there
was even a double feature. I squeezed in as many films as possible
during my two-week stays.
The interior of the State, as I remember, was not that appealing.
It reminded me of a large box. There was a center section and smaller
side areas containing maybe four seats per row. The theater had no
balcony. What struck me were the light fixtures, the only decorations
the house had, that were spaced about ten feet apart along the walls.
The lights bore the colors of the rainbow, giving an otherwise drab
atmosphere some sparkle. Within this auditorium I saw some classic
movies: All the Men were Valiant, Jubilee Trail, This Island Earth.
Next to the State, separated from it by a narrow alley, was a small
café. It served the best hamburgers in town and therefore attracted
movie patrons by the droves. Across Main Street was a pool hall where
the bigger kids hung out. Winnsboro's downtown was active during this
era, and I felt all grown up by being where the action was.
Theatre in Sulphur
December 1984 photo courtesy Billy Smith
grandfather would take me for rides around the country and to other
towns in the area. Many of these had their own picture shows: the
Gem was in Quitman,
the Strand in Gilmer, the
Joy in Mt. Vernon,
and the Mission in Sulphur
Springs. I wish I could have checked each one out, but there was
no time to do so. But I did have one fascinating adventure. I discovered
that Winnsboro once had a second theater, which, although shuttered
and dead to the movies, was still standing. It was, very appropriately,
located right next to the funeral home on Elm Street. I want to say
that the marquee sign said "Ritz," but my cousin tells me that it
was the Kilroy (or something like that) Theater. Whatever the name
was pales beside what I eventually saw there. A neighborhood kid and
I found a back door to the old movie house that had a broken lock.
We managed one day to go through that door, flashlights beaming brightly.
I will never forget the sight that confronted me. All the seats and
the screen were intact, but they were covered by thousands of spider
webs. We could also hear rats scurrying to get away from us. There
were several rips in the screen, but except for nature's reclamation
of the property, the place was in pretty good shape. There was even
a balcony. Unfortunately, this was my only visit. After telling my
grandfather what we had done, he forbade me from having any more exploits
involving the abandoned theater. The building eventually became a
florist shop. I don't know what its present status is.
Like many small town picture shows, the State sadly succumbed to the
popularity of television and other more spectacular distractions.
It went out of business, sat empty for a long time, and ironically
became a video rental store. The marquee was removed, and over time
the old building resembled less and less a theater. I don't get back
to Winnsboro anymore, so I cannot relate the ultimate fate of the
State. But it once offered a little boy exposure to a celluloid world,
where he got his first taste of a form of entertainment that makes
him salivate with anticipation even today.