The first movie I ever saw in a theater was Old Yeller in Huntington, West Virginia, in probably 1958. I was four years old and I don’t remember much about the movie (it was sad) or the theater.
Going to a movie now is a lot different than when I was a boy.
I remember going to see a Christian film at the Will Rogers Theater on 11th Street (just west of Yale Avenue). It wasn’t very fancy but I remember it had a balcony section. I don’t remember the movie I went there to see but I remember the Will Rogers had an usher and he told me I could not sit in the balcony. I later found out it was because the balcony was reserved for black people, who I guess could not sit on the ground floor. This was in the early 1960s, when Tulsa was very segregated.
I can remember going to the Delman Theater which I think was on 15th Street at Lewis. Again, I don’t remember any films I saw there but I believe it also had a balcony. It was a classy building.
Both the Will Rogers Theater and Delman Theater have been torn down and are long gone. I don’t remember if I ever saw a movie at the Circle Theater (on Lewis Avenue at Third Street) or the Brook Theater on Peoria Avenue in Brookside but both those buildings are still there. And the Circle Theater has been restored and is very active.
I grew up about six blocks from the Admiral Twin Drive-in Theater and I frequently saw movies there, especially in high school when me and my buddies (Ron Harp, Tim Herron, Gregg Gingrich and others) got our drivers’ licenses and our first cars. And yes, we tried to sneak in the Admiral Twin by hiding in the trunk and once, we even tried to back in the exit driveway (unsuccessfully).
The Admiral Twin is still in business just off I-244 (Admiral Boulevard) and 73rd East Avenue but I haven’t seen a movie there in 30 years. In days gone by, there was a playground right under the big screen where the kids could play until the sun went down and the movies started. The speakers that you put in your windows back then were horrible but it was a lot of fun to go to the drive-in.
The 11th Street Drive-in Theater, on 11th Street at Mingo Road, was another favorite destination. It was across the street from Irish Mike Clancy’s Pizza Parlor. We thought it was cool because it had two screens. You could watch one movie and keep an eye on the other screen at the same time. If you could read lips, you could watch two movies at once.
The Airview Drive-in was, appropriately enough, near Tulsa International Airport at 7500 E. Pine St. Across the river, there was the Bellaire Drive-in at 709 W. 51st Street. If you were driving on I-44 at night, it was cool to see the big screen and wonder what movie was playing. Those are both gone.
In high school, I went to the 51 Drive-in at 14007 E. 71st St. because it was cheap and they always had double features on the weekends.
I can remember when the Boman Acres Theater opened on Sheridan Road at 31st Street. It was the first indoor theater with two screens. I can remember standing in a line that stretched completely around that building for some popular movie that had just opened. It is no longer a theater but houses LaserQuest (which is a lot of fun, too).
There was another theater on the I-44 access road south of 31st Street and Memorial Drive that was torn down to make way for an office building.
I know there are a lot of other theaters in Tulsa’s history but these are the ones I frequented.
These days, the movie theaters range from dollar cinemas to luxurious theaters with fabulous seats and big screens with fantastic sound systems. They have multiple screens and if a blockbuster is being shown – like the latest Star Wars movie – they devote multiple screens to try to insure that everyone who wants to see it can see it when they want to see it.
A few decades ago, someone predicted that people would stop going to theaters to see movies because it was so easy just to watch them at home on TV. That didn’t occur.
Still, I kinda miss the charm of the old Tulsa theaters that have been torn down for the sake of progress.