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The Movies

Kenny Stallard

     The movies were the main source of entertainment in Kingsport in the late 1940’ through the early 1960’s with the peak probably being in the mid-1950’s.

     A look at the entertainment page in the Wednesday, September 17, 1952 edition of Kingsport Times, shows twelve theater advertisements.  We must remember, these are individual theater buildings or drive-in venues, not the multiplex theaters we see now.  Four of these advertisements are for drive-in theaters.  Of the remaining eight theaters, four are in downtown Kingsport, one in the Highland community and two in Gate City, VA.

     Kingsport’s oldest theater, the Strand, is located on Broad Street, in the middle of the 100 block.  The Strand started life on the corner of Main and Shelby Street, moving to Broad Street in 1925.

 

 

A fire in 1947 forced the temporary closing of the Strand, but after renovations, the theater reopened within six months.

 

     The next oldest theater, the Gem, opened on Main and Shelby Street in the building vacated by the Strand.  Most movies shown in this theater in this time period were second run and “B” movies, usually double headers.


 

     The third oldest theater in Kingsport at this time, the Rialto, was located on the corner of Cherokee and New Street in the Five Points section of town.  This theater when opened screened first run movies, but by the 1950’s was screening second run movies and double headers.

Note: The Gaiety Theater, later the Queen and then back to the Gaiety, operated on Broad 
Street in the early to mid-1920's.  This was originally the third theater in Kingsport

 

     The fourth oldest theater in Kingsport, the State, on the corner of Broad and Market Street opened in 1935.  This was the first theater in town to have a regular kiddy's club, The Popeye Club.

 

     On the east side of Kingsport on what was then referred to as the Bristol Highway, now East Center Street, was the Fox Theater.  The Fox had birth in 1936 as Hiland Theater, with a name change coming in the early 1940’s.  The Fox was a neighborhood theater, showing mostly second run and “B” movies.

 

     Over in Gate City, we had two theaters at this time, the Gate City and Taylor.  One interesting point, the Taylor Theater was owned and operated by the Taylor Brothers, the same owner/operators of the Fox Theater in Kingsport and the future owner/operators of the Taylor Drive-In Theater soon to be erected in Weber City at Moccasin Gap.  The Gate City Theater would soon close and The Scott Theater would open.

 

   

 

     Now we come to the drive-in theaters.  Most in the Kingsport area started appearing in the early 1950’s as automobiles became more available to the average families, some purchasing their first automobile after the war.  The movies shown at the drive-ins was the typical second run and “B” movies and some considered “blue” movies at this period.

     The Triangle Drive-In was located in the triangle formed at the intersection of Bloomingdale Pike, the future Stone Drive, referred to as State Route 1, which had been graded, but would not see paving until the late 1950’s, and Gibson Mill Road at the east side of the triangle.

 

     The Kingsport Drive-In was located on Wilcox Drive, just pass Delmar Drive-In restaurant in the parking area of Eastman’s office building and recreation building.

 

     On out Wilcox Drive, in the area of the hotel at Meadowview, was Bays Mountain Drive-In.  When this drive-in first opened it was 81 Drive-In, named for State Route 81, the highway number for the highway running from Kingsport to Greenville.

 

     Now we cross over the state line into Virginia.  The Sundown Drive-In was located by the North Fork, Holston River just before the Gate City Highway, US 23, crossed the river.

 

     Quite a selection of movies to choose from, for those with transportation to the drive-ins or those preferring the sit-down venue of the auditorium theaters.  Admission to the theater had increased to 50˘ for adults and 25˘ for children; quite a difference from the local cost of $7.50 for a movie at the multiplex theaters at the local malls.  Some of the drive-in theaters were still charging $1.00 per car load, regardless of how many were in the car and some were charging 50˘ per adult, with children under 12 years admitted free.

 

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