The Age of Nickelodeons in Mansfield: Part II

During the Nineteen-Teens the number of silent picture theaters in downtown Mansfield took a quantum leap.  After spending generations of life confined to one’s own mundane experience—seeing only one’s own town and experiencing one’s own not very exciting life—the opportunity to escape into all these new five-cent alternative realities was intoxicating.

To give an idea of how quickly the new craze evolved in American society all you have to do is look at Mansfield’s city directories.  When the phenomenon began in 1906 the first cinemas in Mansfield were still being listed as ‘Opera Houses.’  By 1910 they were ‘Moving Pictures,’ and by 1915, when the 7-reel hour-long “features” were commonly being shown, the theaters were called ‘Motion Picture’ houses.

In the summer of 1913 there were no fewer than 9 different theaters to watch movies—all of them within a quick walk from the Square.  Places like the Memorial Opera House and the Orpheum vaudeville theater still promoted stage shows on a regular basis, but they could see where the audience nickels and dimes were going and gradually included more and more movies in their season schedule as well.

Mansfield even had an experimental ‘outdoor’ movie house for about 5 years.  With bleacher seating on the sides and rear, and chairs in the center—like a basketball arena—the films were projected onto a large screen mostly at night…because the Air Dome Theater had no roof.  They advertised ‘See the Stars under the Stars.’  Somehow they were also able to show afternoon matinees, according to the ads.  The Air Dome space was eventually enclosed within a few years to become the airy Third Street Market.

The Royal Theater was near the SW corner of Fourth and Main, in a space now occupied by Richland Carrousel Park. It opened in 1912 and survived until 1928 after changing its name once to the Lido.
The Royal as seen from a streetcar.

Built in 1916, the Majestic Theater was showing movies long before the art form had developed the capability for sound, so it had to provide background accompaniment.   There was a piano player as the soundtrack for silent films, like other nickelodeons, but the Majestic had an entire orchestra as well.
 
There were other nickelodeons in Mansfield showing movies before the Majestic, but it was the first theater in town built specifically for watching “photoplays.”
 
Built at the corner of Walnut and Dickson, the raked auditorium held 800, and it had a theater organ with surround-sound pipes.
 
The Majestic had considerable competition from other movies houses in downtown Mansfield during the 1920s and 30s, but in the 1940s they all faltered.  The theater was vacant in December 1944 when the roof collapsed under a load of snow and ice.
Most of the Majestic building was demolished in the collapse, but one wall remained facing Walnut Street, and it can still be seen today as the Richland Academy.

When the Ritz Theater opened in 1925, it was without a doubt the finest movie house with the latest developments including: a sloped floor, seating made of “special steam-warped woods, perfectly fitted to the lines of the body.” The ventilation included “openings arranged so that there is a wide space open to every quarter of the wind so that advantage may be taken of any stirring breeze.”

In 1938 the building was enlarged, and then in 1957 it was torn down to make way for the Eagles Annex on North Main St.

The Memorial Opera House dated back many years before motion pictures came into existence, but once the movies caught on the theater was quick to capitalize on the craze. In fact, renamed as the Madison Theater, it showed the first talking picture in town: The Jazz Singer in 1928.

The theater entrance can be seen in this postcard, to the right and in the rear of the Memorial Building…behind the movie placard.
The Opera House burned in 1929 and was rebuilt as the Madison Theater.
Finished in 1930, the Madison was a movie house that served to entertain generations of Mansfielders from plush seats and a raked balcony.
 
After struggling through its last decade on Park Avenue, the grand old relic was finally torn down in 1986 and its site repurposed as a micro park for urban downtown.

The last theater in Mansfield built during the age of silent movies was the Ohio in 1928. Designed as a true ‘picture palace’ from the golden age of cinema architecture, it was equipped with a stunning theater organ created for accompanying silent films…so they were perhaps reluctant to embrace sound movies, though they showed their first one in 1929.

It is today the Renaissance Theatre, seen below.

The last marquee to shine on the Square was the Park Theater, built in 1939.
In later years when the building was adapted for other purpose—as the Park Building—the skyline lamps burned out, and it wasn’t until recent times that they have been restored to illuminate the night sky.

A Flickering Fad

Every year brought new improvements to the quality of the pictures, and evolution of the movie houses trying to lure customers.  The Majestic replaced their piano player with a small orchestra that played behind the screen, equipped with sound effects personnel who fired guns, slammed doors, and whirred sirens.

For folks in the 1910s—whose first glimpses into the hypnotic, flickering dream world were made by Charlie Chaplin and The Perils of Pauline—it seemed as if civilization was at its apex and life couldn’t get much better.  Within a decade, however, most of Mansfield’s nickelodeons faded in the 1920s when movie palaces with velvet seats and chandeliers made the old picture houses look cheap.  And shortly after the “talkies” hit the screen in 1927 all the old silent film houses went quiet for good.


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