They were young — 9, 10 tops — either riding their bicycles or being dropped off for hours of basically unsupervised entertainment. The ticket, a Coke and popcorn cost less than 50 cents. Seemingly overnight, movies gravitated towards gigantic multiplexes, abandoning the storied single-screen cinemas for bigger and conceivably better venues.
Tickets went from a few cents to tens of dollars and the concession stands turned into miniature gold mines for the theater operators. Gone was that central gathering place at the heart of the community, just like the soda shop and the burger joint.
In the wake of that shift are the shells of several marquee movie halls, like the Buckhead Theatre, with limited use but unlimited architectural appeal. Across from Ansley Park was Rhodes Theatre, the only hint of which is a pediment off the side of a white building on the corner of Peachtree Street and Rhodes Center. A marquee once hung from the front announcing the latest film showing at the grand theater, which dated back to the 1940s.
Rhodes was the Atlanta flagship of the Storey Theatre chain according to the Cinema Treasures website. The one-story building between historic Rhodes Hall and a highway connector in which the theater was housed has been slated for redevelopment for years. No doubt that day is coming soon. Up Peachtree, north of Peachtree Battle is the Garden Hills Cinema, which opened in 1940.
I have even caught a few movies there during my time at the small theater. Famed Atlanta theater owner George Lefont operated it for a time before it ultimately shuttered in 2006. It, too, has been slated for redevelopment, along with almost all of the strip to which it is connected.
Then there is the Buckhead Theatre, which opened in 1930 and was a central fixture of Buckhead entertainment for decades before becoming a live-music venue, the Roxy. In 2008, the Roxy closed its doors, allowing Buckhead businessman Charlie Loudermilk and his business partner, Alex Cooley, to restore the theater to its original state with a few tweaks — a state-of-the-art sound system, a digital marquee and new lighting.
The enormous and luxurious velour curtain remains. By the time I was coming up, the movie theater of choice was in Lenox Square, which had as many screens as options in the food court and all the personality of a hospital room. It was not a place you would drop your 9-year-old off unsupervised. For now anyway, all of these theaters remain relics to the Golden Age of cinema.
Thanks to the meticulous restoration, the Buckhead Theatre is sure to serve as a wonderful link to that time for generations to come.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlanta resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.