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The Town Hall as the Capitol Theater

Movie Poster

A Special Meeting of the Homer Town Board was called on April 26, 1938. This was for the purpose of hearing a lengthy presentation by William M. Priven of Staten Island. He proposed to rent the Town Hall for a motion picture theatre. At a meeting on May 10th, the Board unanimously rejected Mr. Priven’s proposal. Present at the same meeting, however, was a Mr. Shay of the Corona Theater of Groton who made his pitch for using the Town Hall for a motion picture theater. On May 16th, the Board traveled to Groton to meet with the proprietors of the Corona Theater. They looked over the theater arrangement, discussed the possibilities of changing the Town Hall into a movie theater, and returned to Homer — but not until after they had taken in the show, of course.

Next, the Board decided it would be best to bring the matter before Homer’s Chamber of Commerce, in hopes of ascertaining public opinion as to the desirability of a theater. On July 14th, the Chamber presented a petition signed by 103 persons, “including nearly 100% of the business men of the village,” calling for the leasing of the Hall for use as a movie theater. It needs to be recalled that the motion picture industry fared quite well economically during the 1930s, because for 25 cents and through the cinematic magic of Hollywood one could escape from the travails of the Great Depression. Thus, on August 18, 1938, the Board entered into “an agreement with the Townhall Homer Theatre Corporation” to lease the auditorium, the stage, and the main entrance for a theater. Thus, the Capitol Theater came into being. No doubt, the dome on the Hall was reminiscent of the one on the nation’s Capitol building, and so the theater derived its name. With a marquee over the front entrance, the Town Hall was also a movie theater for eighteen years.

Another change to the Hall came in the fall of 1939. The old Board Room on the ground floor in the rear of the Town Hall was rented to Leonard Denison as a radio service shop for $10 per month or $100 if rented by the year. The shop remained there until January, 1948.

On the snowy afternoon of March 8, 1940, the Board spent the afternoon observing different vehicles up for consideration for snow plowing operations. What did they see? The seven ton Brockway plow slid off in a ditch. A county plow came to render aid and was also ditched. The Caterpillar grader pulled them both out. The Board bought the Caterpillar.

On December 8, 1941, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States entered the Second World War. The next month, the Board made the Hall’s basement available to the Post Office Department “in event the local office was burned or destroyed by enemy action during the present emergency.” In the rear, the jail cell block was removed, and in the front, Murray Briskin, theater manager, had new front doors installed. That Christmas season, the Newton Line Company and its president, Ed O’Connell, hosted a party in the theater for its employees and their children. There were party hats for the children and a visit from Santa upon the festively decorated stage.

During the war years, the Capitol (telephone no. 255), with its concession stand offering popcorn and candies, had two complete shows nightly — at 7 and 9 PM. — with a newsreel first. There was a Saturday matinee at 2 PM and continuous shows Sundays and holidays from 2 to 11 PM. Some senior citizens today can recall going to the “very nice” Capitol as youngsters. They can tell you that Jane Fellows was either a ticket-taker or a ticket seller. They can even name the projectionists: Carlton Niederhofer, Jim Hawley, Leonard Denison, Harold “Jack” LeRoy, and Floyd Hamilton. In 1942, the price of admission was 25 cents for adults in the balcony and 30 cents for adults in orchestra seats. Children were “always 11 cents.” Tax was included. On October 14 through 16, 1942, the featured film, appropriately enough, was “To the Shores of Tripoli,” starring John Payne, Randolph Scott, and Maureen O’Hara. The Capitol was, as well, “the official issuing agents for war bonds.”

By 1946, admission for adults had increased to 40 cents and to 12 cents for children. A movie calendar for March and April had advertisements for A. B. Brown & Son on the Cortland-Homer Road (Tel.222) and Jackson’s Meats & Groceries at 42 James Street, with “free delivery every day” (Tel.77). Sunday and Monday had a double feature, “all in Technicolor”: Comedians Abbott and Costello starred in “In Hollywood,” and James Craig and Ava Gardner could be seen in “She Went to the Races.” On Wednesday and Thursday, “The Princess and the Pirate” was featured, with the legendary Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Virginia Mayo. April started off with Judy Garland and Ray Bolger in “The Harvey Girls.”

Saturday matinees found the youth of the village coming to see the latest Hopalong Cassidy or Roy Rogers western. Before the main feature, there would be cartoons and a Flash Gordon or Rin Tin Tin serial. The space adventurer or the clever canine would get into some thrilling “cliffhanger” situation, but the moviegoer would have to return the next Saturday to see how it all played out, just as you will have to read the next installment to learn about… The Town in the Post World War II Era.