The Town in the Post-World War II Era
While Europe was in conflagration in the last year of World War II, a destructive fire befell the village of Homer. On the evening of January 26, 1945, Supervising Principal Louis J. Wolner calmly asked everyone attending a basketball game in the school gym to depart in an orderly fashion. Fire was ravaging the elementary section of the Homer Academy on the Green (School District No. 1). Classes had to be housed at various places around the village — St. Margaret’s Church on Copeland Avenue, upstairs in the fire station, Phillips Free Library — until a new addition was ready in 1951. The basement of the Town Hall was used, too, for grade three classes. The auditorium/theater had frequently been used through the years for school plays and even commencement exercises.
In January of 1948, it was the Hall’s turn to experience a fire. Insurance of $7,363.41 covered the repairs, and fire insurance was increased from $16,400 to $51,400. The recently centralized school districts, known as Homer Central School, gave up occupancy of the Hall in 1951. In lieu of rent, the Town accepted all permanent modifications the school had made to the building, and the school would paint the interior as desired by the Board.
The 1950s saw the advent of television, and the new technology in American homes was starting to adversely affect movie theaters by offering competition. The Capitol was no exception. In early 1952, Murray Briskin closed one night a week because of “the drop in attendance,” and the Town reduced his monthly rent from $85 to $75. A public complaint was lodged concerning a smoke nuisance from the chimney of the Hall, and the matter was referred to Mr. Briskin, since he owned and operated the heating system. The theater lease came up for renewal in 1953, but only “after several months of bickering between lawyers” was an acceptable agreement reached, and the next year the rent was reduced to $60 and then to $50.
On June 7, 1955, Mr. Briskin informed the Board that he was terminating the lease and closing down the Capitol Theater. As of July 3, 1956, the Capitol Theater officially ceased to be. The marquee on the front of the Hall was removed in 1959, but remnants inside are visible today. There is the ticket booth, the original carpeting and seats in the balcony, the projection booth, the original four carbon rods needed to project images, and the graffiti upon the walls of the stage. There, one finds, scrawled among the names of townsfolk, the title of one film, “The Talk of the Town,” a 1942 release starring Cary Grant as an unlawfully imprisoned activist.
Upon entering the Hall today, visitors are greeted by two movie posters from the 1930s, and for a brief moment one is transported back to an earlier era. One can almost smell the buttered popcorn again and hear the dashing Rhett Butler tell the headstrong and beautiful Scarlett O’Hara, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” People of that era were shocked by such language being used in movie dialogue. What would they think today?
Another recreation issue of the mid- to late-50s involved complaints from the residents of the hamlet of Little York. It seems that boisterous swim parties were not uncommon after 10 PM on summer evenings at the site of the dam at the lower end of Little York Lake. The neighbors were seeking help from the highway patrol. Later, residents requested the area be fenced off and swimming prohibited.
In 1955, the Town Hall was only three years shy of being fifty years old. The decision was made to replace the old flat roof of the Town Hall with “a Flintcote specification, 20 year smooth surface built-up roof including flashings.” The $499 bid was granted to Burden Roofing Company of Homer. The next year, the dome structure and roof were repainted with paint specifically to come “from local dealers.” The local Lions Club requested permission to use the Hall for motion pictures, and it was granted “at $10.00 per night.”
The post-World War II era experienced a “baby boom,” an explosive increase in the nation’s population. A birth occurred every seven seconds in the U.S.. An expanding population in the township of Homer required more municipal services, and the Town tried to accommodate. Two sites were selected and purchased for town dumps in the mid-50s: one on Brake Hill and another on the O’Shea Road. Littering along the roads leading to these dumps became an environmental problem. In 1957, a Zoning Commission, chaired by “Cap” Creal, was to prepare a much needed Zoning Ordinance. Such a document was adopted April 8, 1958. In June, a vote determined that a new town highway garage was to be constructed on Prospect Street at a cost of $56,000. In August, the Hayes Ambulance Service was contracted to provide ambulance service for the residents of the Town and Village of Homer. A Town Planning Board was appointed in February of 1959, with John Gustafson as chairman, “to provide for the sound growth and development of the Town.” That mission has been pursued by that Board to the present day. A Youth Recreation Program was initiated and a gravel quarry just north of the village became a municipal swimming pool operated by both the Town and the Village. Today, it is known as Albert J. Durkee Memorial Park, but swimming is no longer permitted there. Mr. Durkee was co-founder of Durkee’s Bakery, which operated in Homer and Cortland from 1931 to 1972.
1958 was the Sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, of the County of Cortland. To celebrate its past, Homer had a long parade down Main Street, complete with floats and horses and bewhiskered members of the “Brothers of the Brush.” Being hirsute was “in.” Actually, it was required of male citizens, or you paid a two dollar “fine.” The Sixties were just around the corner. Facial hair, long locks, bell-bottom jeans, tie-dyed T-shirts, and sandals would be the fashion standard for young males after the “British invasion” by the Beatles.