In the late 1950s and early 1960s, on Saturday mornings in the summer, my daddy would give my brother Denney and me 25 cents to go to the Strand Theatre. We called it the “Picture Show” or sometimes just “The Show.” The 25 cents were in the form of a case quarter, a 25-cent piece.
This was important because I could easily carry it in my hand while we rode our bicycles to the show. You see Denney and I always wore cut-off blue jeans in the summer. These were the remnants of the new blue jeans we received each year at the beginning of the new school year. We were pretty rough on clothes. My jeans often had holes in the pockets so I would lose any change I put there.
In Alexander City or Alex City — we pronounced it ‘ElickCitty’ — there wasn’t a lot to do for young boys in the summertime. We had a black-and-white TV but in those days, you could only pick up three stations. There were cartoons in the morning, but Saturday morning was washing and cleaning day for my mother. Sending Denney and me to the Strand Theatre was a way to get us out of the apartment and help keep us out of trouble. My dad could only afford for us to live in an apartment at Russell Apartments. Later, we would need to move out because it got crowded with six children, Mother and Daddy in the little two-bedroom apartment.
Denney and I would begin our trek in mid-morning riding up South Central Avenue and turning right at Buddy Bennett’s gas station on past the Piggy Wiggly then between the courthouse and the fire station. My dad was the architect who designed the Fire Station.
We then traveled around the court square and another block to the theater. We would lean our bikes against the brick theater on the sidewalk. In those days you didn’t have to lock your bicycle because nobody would steal it.
We proceeded to the tiny ticket window and placed our case quarter through the opening in the glass. We got back 10 cents in change. Yes, it cost only 15 cents to get in. Once in the small lobby, Denney and I proceeded directly to the concession counter. I would place my dime on the 5-foot wide glass counter that covered the display case and tell Mr. Mack I wanted a Snickers bar and an RC. The candy bar was big, and the cola was in a large glass bottle. Just seems like they were a lot larger back then. Our order was the same every Saturday — a real treat for me and Denney.
We could take the coke and candy with us into the auditorium area to partake while we enjoyed the shows. They would always show three or four cartoons prior to the main feature. Often the main feature was a Western. Roy Rogers was my favorite. With the help of his wife, Dale Evans, his sidekick Gabby Hayes, his horse Trigger and his dog Bullet, Rogers was always the hero taking care of the bad guys. I also liked Gene Autry and war movies starring John Wayne.
Another show I remember was “The Creature from the Back Lagoon.” This was very scary. I would sometimes hide my eyes when the creature was about to grab someone. I saw this movie again a few years ago on one of the movie channels. I laughed because the creature’s rubber suite was so fake looking. Not so scary.
In later years, I would meet my buddies at The Strand. As I got older, it was the girls we would meet and sit with in the balcony. Then in high school, I would take my date to the movies on Saturday nights. The last time I went to The Strand was with a date in 1971, after returning home from Vietnam.
Later, I would learn while they were teenagers, my dad had been a projectionist at the Strand Theatre with his friend Jack Venable, later to become a member of the Alabama House of Representatives from Tallassee.
My sister says my dad took my mom on their first date to The Strand around 1947. Of course, where else would they go?
Sometime around 2001 my wife, Carol, purchased a painting titled “Strand Theatre” from an art gallery, which was housed in the old Cox-Dobbs Chevrolet dealership building. It was print No. 87 of 300 painted by Dennis Waldrop in 2000. She heard me tell stories about going to the picture show and knew of the fun times and fond memories I have of the Strand Theatre. Today, that painting has a prominent place upstairs over my television in my man cave as a reminder of so many happy days.
You can see this painting if you go to cinematreasures.org/theaters/32179.
Carey and Carol Owen live in Auburn and spend time in Dothan as well, with grandchildren in both cities.