Jefferson County

The Birth and Rise of
Mt. Vernon Theaters
By Tiffany Evans

Mt. Vernon Township High School

Where did the people of Mt. Vernon, Illinois, meet for a social
gathering before the 1880s? Socializing occurred primarily at local churches,
but that changed when the Knights of Pythias and the Free Masons bought
property jointly to build a theater. Before the theater was built, conservatives
claimed it would be a bad influence. Opposition was overcome by renaming
the theater the "Mt. Vernon Opera House." The structure was lighted by
electricity, heated by a furnace, and furnished with opera chairs and elegant
scenery at a cost of more than ten thousand dollars. The Opera House was
on the first floor and the two lodges shared the second floor. 

Operettas, slapstick comedies, and short skits were presented at the Opera House, along with many community events. In 1893 it was advertised as the "finest opera house in southern Illinois." Mt. Vernon's first experience with motion pictures started with short silent movies run at the Opera House and nickelodeon arcades around the city square. In 1944 the Opera House was destroyed by fire. The first theaters in Mt. Vernon were not always successful. Between 1908 and 1911 the Dreamland, Vandette, Ninth Street, Gem, and Star theaters opened. Even though many of these did not last long, they still contributed to the desire of the people to progress as a city and the establishment of permanent theaters. On Thanksgiving Day 1911, what was to become the first permanent theater, the Majestic, opened. This theater was known for showing many epic movies, such as, The Birth of a Nation. Many vaudeville acts were performed on the Majestic stage. During the remodeling, the theater was gutted by fire, and a new movie theater was built and named the Royal. The Royal was also destroyed by fire. But it was redesigned and reopened on May 15, 1947, as the Stadium Theater. At the grand opening of the Stadium, the program consisted of The Star Spangled Banner, The Welcome, Universal World News Events, Metro-Goldwyn's Academy Award-winning cartoon, The Cat's Concerto, and Twentieth Century Fox's feature, The Homestretch starring Cornel Wilde and Maureen O'Hara. Matinees and night shows cost patrons fifty-five cents. After the birth of the first Mt. Vernon theater, citizens were no longer satisfied with only "country style" social activities. They not only watched the movies for entertainment, but movie goers began to fashion their clothing and hairstyles according to the movies. The Stadium is still operating today at the same location. The Plaza Theater opened on December 25, 1919, and was the main theater for years. The theater had many firsts such as orchestra accompaniment, a pipe organ, and sound equipment. The city's first cooling system was installed, and usherettes appeared for the first time in a Mt. Vernon movie house. In 1924 partners Reid, Yemm, and Hayes purchased all of the theaters in Mt. Vernon, and Homer Marvel became the manager. In 1929 the three owners purchased additional land to build the Granada, but this was delayed when on October 26, 1929, the chain was sold to Fox Theaters. In 1971 the Kerasotes Corporation purchased the theaters from Fox and currently runs them. The much-awaited groundbreaking ceremony for the Granada was held on June 7, 1937. Six months later, December 16, 1937, the Granada had its grand opening. The movie True Confessions was shown to a sell-out crowd in the theater, which was considered to be one of the finest outside the Chicago area. The Granada had air conditioning, a stage, the latest movie technology, and arena-type seating for twelve hundred, affording a perfect view of the screen from any position in the theater. The Granada's manager dedicated the new theater to the purpose of "making life fuller, richer, and happier to the people of Mt. Vernon." Marvel said that for a motion picture to function properly, it must be viewed in the proper environment. He boasted of fulfilling not only the major requirements of the modern theater, but also providing an atmosphere of beauty and good taste. The quality of the sound system called mirrorphonic was the latest development and was superior to anything ever heard before on the talking picture screen. Sound was directed equally to all parts of the theater, making hearing as well as vision perfect no matter where patrons sat. Engineers claimed it was one of the finest sound theaters in the country. The new Granada received many telegrams of congratulations and continued success from many movie stars such as Myrna Loy, Robert Young, James Stewart, Shirley Temple, and Clark Gable. The Granada had been built with a high percentage of Mt. Vernon labor and materials. Congratulations from businesses like the following ran in the Mt. Vernon Register News: "We are proud of the part we play in making Mt. Vernon the best city in this section, and we too, have great confidence in the future of our community and strive to keep step with the advancement and betterment of our city." The theater did credit to a city many times larger than Mt. Vernon and was a real civic asset. The Granada and Stadium remained basically the same until a few years ago, when both were remodeled. The Granada was divided into two theaters in 1981, the Stadium in 1985. Currently, construction is underway for a new eight-screen theater located next to Jent Factory Outlet Mall. To many this brings excitement, but to others, it represents an era coming to an end. For so long the Granada and the Stadium brought movies to Mt. Vernon, and now that is being replaced with more modern construction and technology.—[From "A stores G Advertisement," Mt. Vernon Register News, Dec. 14, 1937; Carl Drennan, History of Jefferson County, Illinois; Jefferson County Historical Society, Facts and Folks, A History of Jefferson County, Illinois; "Motion Pictures at their Best in Mt. Vernon's New Granada Theater," Mt. Vernon Register News, Dec. 14, 1937; "Movies Provide Good Entertainment," Mt. Vernon Register News, Dec. 14, 1937; "Perfect Sound and Vision in New Granada," Mt. Vernon Register News, Dec. 14, 1937; Thomas A. Puckett, Mt. Vernon; stadium program, n.d.] ILLINOIS HISTORY / DECEMBER 1995 Illinois History A Magazine for Young People 1995 The Appellate Court of the Fourth District also attracts people to Mt. Vernon.  ILLINOIS HISTORY / DECEMBER 1995 

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