Monday, September 8, 2008

#68 Monday Mourning--Avalon and Stoney Theaters

Only the Stoney is dead, but it's a good excuse to reminisce about my connection with the hey-day of Chicago movie temples, to some of which I made devoted offerings once-a-week or so as a callow youth. The Avalon in speciale. I mentioned this now-restored 1920s motion-picture palace in Saturday's post, and am drawn back because it had such a profound influence on my hard-wired devotion to the movies. And I mean deeply...comprehensively...well beyond film-buffery. I've seen just about all of 'em worth seeing, starting even before television reruns, when in the late '40s through the '50s, movies shared about equal billing with fledgling TV for our "silent generation's" viz-ed viewership. And a little kid with a good pair of legs or a dime for the bus and a quarter for the box office could see the best that Hollywood had to offer.

The Avalon was the "Queen of the South Shore" (Obama-country again) theater-wise, and only a few blocks from our apartment on Jeffery (and later our house on Chappel)--up past Horace Mann, my first grammar school...then left at Our Lady Of Peace (whose belfry was always visible from our 3rd story window) onto 79th St....then not quite to Sears (where my mother worked the jewelry counter for some years)...until finally there it was in all its so-called "Moorish Revival" glory...mosque-like turrets and all. My mother let me make this exotic journey alone when I was seven-ish with only the subsistence DOLLAR in my pocket to cover admission and concession (popcorn and Jujubes always). Thus was I treated once or even twice on any given weekend to the great movies of the fifties, most often matinee family-fare (though there were no restrictive ratings in those days), in first-run release.

The interior of the Avalon was no less grandiose than the name and the facade: winding spiral staircases, oriental rugs, tiled murals, grottoes, fountains, gigantic Wurlitzer organ and grand piano, faux be-jewelling everywhere, and glaring gargoyles on either side of the stage guarding the huge be-curtained screen (gone forever I guess is that show-time tradition of the slow and sweeping sideways furling of the curtain-layers, one at a time across the screen, till thinner and thinner and gone they finally let the full light of the movie's opening credits flood into the theater--what a rush). And the movies? More of this later.

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