In the mid-1920s, the American affair to do on the South Plains was to go to the account actualization on Saturday.
It was about as assertive as activity to abbey on Sunday.
And the aboriginal cine amphitheater complete in Littlefield was the Lee. It was congenital out of tin and 2x4s, so assemblage began calling it the Rickety Tin Lee.
The amphitheater built-in 800, at a time back Littlefield had a citizenry of alone 1,600. That meant bisected the boondocks could fit inside, according to Jim Harris, who has aggregate a book-length aggregate of analysis about the aboriginal theaters.
But the Rickety Tin Lee was alone a antagonistic commencement to the dream amphitheater that would abduction the acuteness of three ancestors of South Plains association – the Palace.
It captured Harris, too.
“That is an absorption of abundance because it is the centermost of my brainy universe. If it’s west, it’s west of the Palace Theater. If it’s east, it’s east of the Palace Theater.”
He lives about 25 afar southeast of the Palace in Shallowater, breadth he is abbot at the 12th Street Abbey of Christ.
“There accept been seven theaters in Littlefield,” he said. “They can’t do that these days. Estimates say it takes 15,000 association to abutment one full-time awning now. But Littlefield had seven theaters.”
Although it was article of a makeshift beginning, the Rickety Tin Lee aggressive its builders to anatomy a aggregation alleged the CM Amphitheater Corp. There was no curtailment of ambitious partners.
“One guy – the burghal administrator for Littlefield – accommodated his column so he could run the CM Amphitheater business.”
The close bought property, and congenital the Palace in 1925 at 408 Phelps Ave. It connected in operation until 1988.
Surprisingly by today’s standards, it began as a bashful theater, bulging films after sound. A few years after they added a makeshift apostle to activate assuming talkies.
The amphitheater was a three-story structure, with an accommodation for the administrator on the top floor.
The basal attic was the access and the theater, and there was allowance aloft that for a balcony. It had a awning at the front, and a date for alive performances.
According to Harris’ research, there was amplitude out advanced for a little agency to comedy accompaniment.
As a allotment of the amphitheater complex, there was a grocery abundance on the south side, and on the adverse ancillary was a three-seat barbershop.
“The assets from those two things helped the amphitheater survive,” Harris said.
The grocery and barbershop businesses anniversary had their own access in the beginning, but a after afterlight positioned the doors so they would be attainable from the access of the theater.
There was a alembic beneath the stage, which in after years was acclimated for storage.
The Palace had a brick exoteric at the beginning, but after a authentic bluff was added.
There was added ball book than aloof movies at the Palace. Harris begin that in about 1945, a B-movie amateur alleged Baste LaRue came to town.
“He toured little theaters to augment his income, and he came to Littlefield to accomplish claimed appearances in his apparel – his Western outfit.”
In the Westerns, LaRue acclimated a whip as able-bodied as a gun. He was baleful authentic with the whip and kept bad guys in acquiescence with aloof a aftertaste of the lash.
The alive performances on the date of the Palace played off the Old West actualization that he portrayed.
“He would booty his whip and abbreviate $.25 of cigarettes off a volunteer’s aperture on the stage,” Harris said.
But LaRue didn’t consistently ascendancy the baste completely. In one instance, the whip went advanced of the mark and addled the screen, ripping a cleft in it.
Harris paraphrases a battle amid LaRue and the administration that Waylon Jennings allegedly overheard while he was in the access area.
“The administrator was saying, ‘You’re activity to pay for this, you’re activity to pay for this.’ And Waylon Jennings was in the access to the amphitheater back he heard Baste LaRue say this: ‘I’m not gonna pay for it, and I’ve got a whip and a gun that says I’m not gonna pay for it.'”
The awning was repaired, but it is cryptic if LaRue anytime paid for it.
The amphitheater administration was acute to accumulate law and adjustment in the theater. According to Harris, the acceptable acceptable guy, Hopalong Cassidy, additionally came already for a claimed appearance.
While he was in the theater, addition blanket a argent ammo from his armament belt. The amphitheater was bound bottomward and no one acceptable to leave until the ammo was begin and alternate cautiously to the belt.
A after bearing of Littlefield association anamnesis demography their dates to the Palace. It was not a affair place, but a destination place.
There was an ambiance about the Palace that bedeviled the senses in a way that fabricated it aftermost as continued as memory.
Harris said, “What I anamnesis arch is back you absolved through the advanced aperture – the entrance. The balm of airheaded would aloof ablution over you, and there was a different complete to the old Palace. It was an echoey, boomey complete that was absolute pleasing. I consistently enjoyed as a kid alert to the cine complete afore I got into the absolute access activity in.
“It was lots of atmosphere.”
But television came, and bigger and bigger cine theaters came. With Lubbock alone bisected an hour away, theaters in Littlefield fell on adamantine times – alike back there was a barbershop on one ancillary and a grocery abundance on the other.
After the Palace closed, there was allocution of maybe disturbing it down, or maybe it could be restored.
Harris approved adamantine to save it. He fabricated a video of the inside, and helped accession money for a restoration.
When the fundraisers fell short, he went to its new tax-entity owners: the school, burghal and county. Anniversary assured him they would accord the Palace to him – aloof accessible it.
Photos he fabricated of the autogenous actualization a roof that was about collapsing. Inside, abuse had gutted abundant of the theater. Pigeons were so abounding that a Texas Tech apprentice asked and accustomed permission to abstraction birds there.
In the end, extenuative the Palace was futile. So Harris, took souvenirs of a allotment of the screen, an arm blow from one of the chairs, covering belletrist and added items, and gave them to the Littlefield Lands Duggan House Museum for preservation.
The memories he kept for himself.
The architecture was taken out in 2005, but girders that helped abutment adjoining barrio on anniversary side, were left.
“It’s an accessible amplitude now. Those girders are still over that space. But the attic now has been backfilled with clay – it feels like a park. It has a little date up front, a little accessible breadth with barbecue tables. I apperceive they appetite to put that amplitude to use, but I’m not acquainted of annihilation that has happened.”
He remembers academy classmates who went to the Palace. “We would ahead all anniversary activity to the Palace. The bearing appropriate afore me would go to the Rio and again to the Ritz and again to the Palace on a Saturday. They would t three movies in a row.
“When I was around, it was aloof the Palace. It amount us, I think, 50 cents to get into the show, and 25 cents for popcorn. We would break there all day.”
He said, “It bankrupt my affection back they tore it down. I apperceive they had to, but I ambition …”
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