Postcards: Morris Movie Theatre

Postcards: Morris Movie Theatre

rich history, but is
also a compelling story   of community involvement.   (reading)
Theatre ranks as one of the finest in this section. Modern equipment,
rich furnishings and decorations:
Future theatre.  Okay,   (reading)
The Morris
represents one of the largest building jobs
undertaken in the city in many years and is a
noteworthy addition to the city.  Well the Morris Movie
Theatre has a really long   history in Morris.   It’s been in its present
location since 1940 and   people would go to the
movies all the time,   it was a big, it was a big
event to go to the movies,   you know it was
always sold out.   There’s a lot of pictures
in the collection of   people standing in line
in front of the movie   theatres, in front of
the Morris Movie Theatre.   One of the first movies
I remember going to,   I was about seven years
old and we stood in line   around the block to get
into the movie and of   course the movie was
a very popular one,   it wasGone
with the Wind.  Long movie, all the seats
were full including up in   the balcony and I’ve
been fascinated   with the movie theatre
ever since then.   The woman in this picture
is Ruth Darling who was   born and raised here
in Morris, Minnesota,   and these diary entries
are from a period   of time from 1942
to 1947 while she   went to the Morris Theatre.   November 29, 1942.   (reading)
Abbott and Costello in
Pardon my Saronghad mother and I just
doubled over today. The theatre was packed. People gave up dignity to shove for a place in line.  I also think that it’s
got a lot of memories for   people, people who have
remained in the area.   And I think it’s still
a gathering place to a   certain extent that people
like to see remain in   their community.   In Morris, on
Atlantic Avenue,   there were two
smaller theatres,   and they were in
competition until this guy   came to Morris and his name was   St. Boniface James Benfield,   and he was known as Bonnie.   And Bonnie was an
interesting character.   He smoked cigars and you
know had the cool fedora   hats and things
like that so anyway.   So he, he bought the two
theatres and then he in   1937 he started talking
about building a new one.   Okay,   (reading)
The theatre has a
capacity of 811 patrons, nearly 300 more than the
capacity of The Strand. In the balcony in addition
to the patron seats are located the
projection booth, a crying room where
parents of fretful children might take the
youngsters and still be able to see and
hear the show, though other patrons
will be undisturbed.  It used to be
called a crying room.   So back when
people would come,   the whole family would
come to the movies in the   40s and 50s and 30s,
you’d bring your kids and   sometimes your
kids would cry,   and that would
bother people.   So they would come up
here to this room   and I’m afraid it’s
covered up but there’s   a glass window there
behind that Styrofoam   and speakers, so you
could sit up here and   your babies would howl
and mom would enjoy the   movie that way, ha-ha,
and dad and the kids   would be downstairs or
vice versa if   it was a
less sexist family.   It was between keeping it
as a movie theatre or it   would turn into a church.   It was just a last minute
meeting that was called.   We knew that we wanted
to save the movie theatre   cause we wanted to keep   first-run movies in Morris.   Initially
we became an LLC,   just and then throughout
the fall of 2007 we were   trying to figure out what
was the best way for us to   operate, and we
learned that becoming a   cooperative was probably
going to work best for   getting the most members.   Most small town theatres
are individually owned.   One part where we’re
unique is that we’re a   cooperative, and
we have member,   and we’re member
driven, and we need   a lot of member support.   So our first goal
was to pay off   and own the theatre.   And within the first year
we actually paid off the   115,000 dollars we’d
taken out in loans   to buy the theatre.   And then we wanted to try
and do some renovations,   we hope to do, eventually
to get multiple screens,   we want to keep the
character of the theatre,   the 1939, 1940 art
deco streamline modern.   And the even more
original 1930s carpet.   And the exterior
was a little bit in,   in tough shape.   The stucco was
falling off,   it had gotten
water damage,   the windows, some of
em were in bad shape.   The vitrolite, which is
that kind of glass if you   look at the exterior,
it’s kind of that glassy,   ceramic like
kind of thing,   that material was popular
back in the early 30s,   40s, maybe early 50s
for movie theatres,   a lot of downtown
businesses like   restaurants and
so forth so kind   of a shiny material.   And we had a lot of those
pieces were broken and   they don’t, they stopped
making that stuff   back in the 1950s.   We also had glass blocks
out there that were broken   like decorative
glass blocks.   And then we had the neon
was all broken so we had   the company come in from
Alexandria and repaired   our neon lights and our
marquee lights and   got the building painted.   We got the
stucco repaired,   so now we’ve got the
outside of the theatre   looking very much
like it would have   when it was first built.   In Morris we have
lost a lot of our,   you know the physical
history of the older   buildings and so on and
so this is a really fun   building for a town
like this and it was one I   wanted to keep
going but mostly,   I want the movies in town
and I’m willing to you   know, do my
bit to help out.   It’s fun.   It’s just an asset for the
community and it really   helps every other business
in town because if people   are going out of town
to go to the movies,   whether it’s taking their
kids or they want to go   see a movie or whatever,
they’re taking their   business out of town too.   I wanted people to be able
to have a place that they   could bring their children
to see the movies because   I have four grandchildren.   I wanted them to be able
to go see cool movies and   to be able to just go to
my local movie theatre.   (popcorn popping)   Support your local
movie theatre,   come and see
the movies with us,   we’d love to have you.   (theatre lobby sounds)
Thank you, enjoy the show!  

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  1. I wish I could get to Morris more often on Sunday afternoons to support the theatre and enjoy their first-run features. Thanks to all the board members for making this possible. A large screen showing is a totally different experience than watching on any television.

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