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PICTURE IT: LOWELL GOES TO THE MOVIES
 
     Motion picture venues changed within a few years when entrepreneurs realized that they could put a crowd into a hall, project motion pictures onto a screen and charge money.  It was the Lumiere brothers from Lyons, France, rather than Edison, who fostered this advance when they invented a machine which was a predecessor of today's projector.  On December 28, 1895, the Lumieres first projected ten short motion pictures onto a screen to a crowd at Paris' Grand Cafe.  They brought their show to the United States in 1897 and soon rivaled Edison with demonstrations in many cities.  Edison caught on, abandoning his kinetescope shows for public presentations in theaters.  Popular entertainment was forever changed, thanks to these movie pioneers.

Lowell's Legendary Theaters
Forty movie theaters existed in Lowell over the
years.  Early names were exotic:  La Scala, 
Voyons, Funny Land, Alhambra, and Jewel. 
Theaters remained in the same locations but names
changed with ownership.

     Movie going was a grand event and escape for
working people, made more special when some
latest hit was featured.  "I had a standing 'date' with my dad when the newest musicals came to town starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Alice Faye, and Eleanor Powell and played in Lowell's first run houses," said Lowell native and movie fan, Dolores Dion, looking back to the 1930s.

      Movies provided the best babysitter in town on
weekends.  Kids headed to second and third run flicks at the Rialto, Royal, Crown and Capitol, taking the bus for a nickel downtown and back, and getting in to see a movie for a nickel, dime or quarter.  "We saw Westerns at the Royal - Tim McCoy, Buck Jones, Tom Mix and Ken Maynard. There were Frankenstein movies and gangster films and the animal trainer, Clyde Beatty.  We got in for a dime," said Lowellian Charles Tsapatsaris, who organized efforts to save the Strand in the early 1970s.

      Eventually, Lowell's theaters fell victim to television, automobiles, shopping mall cinemas and urban renewal.  Here's what happened to Lowell's legendary theaters:

 * The Strand, located on Central Street where Lowell  Academy of Hair Design  now stands, was a local showcase and famous for its lavish lobby.  It opened amid splendor on October 1, 1917, to a twenty-six piece orchestra.  It stopped showing films in 1968 and, despite efforts by preservationists and the Save Our Strand Campaign, was torn down in 1974.

  *The RKO Keith on Bridge Street, where Petren Building and the parking lot are located today, operated from 1911 through 1963.  First called B.F. Keith's, this was a regular stop on the Vaudeville circuit.  Keith's featured three shows a day, including a silent movie and pit orchestra.  When Vaudeville faded, shows changed to movies that starred "names" on the circuit.  Keith's closed in 1963 and remained empty until August of 1975, when the City foreclosed on it for back taxes.  Petren purchased it in 1976 and razed it for parking.

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