Strand theater provided lots of great memories

Published 6:17 pm Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The closing of the Strand Theatre brings back another fond memory from those “golden days at the Strand.”

K.C. Powell, Rodney’s dad, worked for the theater’s parent organization, the Martin Theatre Chain. His job was transporting movie reels from theatre to theatre throughout south Alabama and northwest Florida.

He told us at one of our early morning coffee sessions about the day the popcorn machine went on the blink. He had just come in with the week’s movie reels and found the theatre manager working on the popcorn machine. He took it upon himself to call Shorty Holland at the Elect Shop. He said Shorty readily recognized the problem was a burned out electrical component. The manager gave him the OK to order the part from Mobile since Shorty did not stock the part.

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In the meantime, the theatre manager was concerned over not having popcorn. Someone suggested he contact Sam Transou, who operated a potato chip route business. Sam was glad to supply the theater with chips until the popcorn machine was repaired.
When the part arrived by bus at the bus station the next afternoon Ruth Cunningham, owner and operator of the bus station, called K.C. to come pick it up. K.C. said Shorty came back over and had the popcorn machine “a-poppin” at full speed. K.C. told us that the manager told him some of his movie-going patrons believed the movies were not the same without popcorn to munch on.

Another incident well remembered occurred several years earlier in my younger days. The theatre had to close down for about two hours one rainy Saturday afternoon because of a mechanical failure in the movie projector. The lights were turned on and the manager went up on the stage and told us we would be shut down for two hours. He said we could sit there if we like or we could go out and come back in later if we presented a half ticket stub, which would be given to us.

Several of us left the theatre and went next door to Escambia’s soda bar. Some of the popular drinks were milk shakes, coke floats and cherry smash. Mary Lou Strickland, who would later become Mrs. Robert Faircloth, was working the soda bar that day and she was pushed to no end having to serve so many sodas and milkshakes. She was so busy that one of the pharmacist assistants came over to help out. In fact I remember they ran out of milk and could no longer serve milkshakes. Several shoppers came in out of the rain that day only to find no more room at the soda bar.

Do you remember my writing about those “cute little female ushers” the Strand used on weekends?

Well, these girls were selected based on their personalities and “cute” looks. It was considered an honor to usher at the Strand. Most nights they went about their work in a pleasant manner ushering patrons to their seats using a small flash light with the beam pointed at the floor. Some of their remarks and responses as they went about their duties were very unique.

Remarks like “kindly remove your hat, sir, as it blocks the view of those behind you,” “watch your step as the aisle slopes right here,” “please keep your talking to a whisper,” “please don’t race down the aisle,” “sir, if you continue to talk I will have to call the manager” and “please, no smooching in the theatre.”

The price of admission was sometimes a problem for the ladies in the ticket-selling booth. My sister-in-law, Margaret Lockwood, was a ticket seller for a couple of years in the early 1950s. She told me how youngsters over 12 years of age would sometimes claim they were younger so they could get in for a dime. Those over 12 paid 25 cents. Sometimes she had to summon the manager to determine the age of the youngsters. She and the manager were acquainted with so many of these patrons and really “knew their movie going age.” But, she sometimes let a few in who were over 12 because she knew they did not have the necessary 25 cents.

There is one thing I do remember about the Strand. The popcorn was the freshest and the water cooler dispensed the coolest, thirst-drenching water you could ever want.

While we are on the Strand, this is a good time to whip up a “great big thank you” to our own Bub Gideons for all his valiant efforts to preserve Strand’s heritage. As you know he is leading a drive to fund and restore the Strand, making it Atmore’s truly great showplace. I remember his grand dad Oneree Owens. He would be proud of him I am sure.

And, it’s also a great time to endorse his efforts in his run for Escambia County Tax Assessor for the June 4 election.
What an outstanding record he has to run on. A former law student at the Capstone, he has personality galore and unmatched diplomacy to boot. An avid worker in his church, he carries no baggage and has no previous political defeats. And, when you read his writings you know immediately that he has the ability to express himself to the hilt. Knowledgeable and personable, he gets my early vote. I hope he gets yours too.

You know, our TV stations have great weathermen and weather ladies. Although I am somewhat swayed when they tell me “that’s all the cold weather for a while.” Then the very next week we get it with another blast. Could there be truth in the saying of one weather person to the other as they leave the building, “better close the window because we never know when it is going to rain.”

I will have more news next week on Atmore’s people places and events. I will also tell you about placing your application for work at Airbus. There are some great jobs coming our way in this industry for those who have prepared and are currently preparing themselves.

You can email Lowell McGill at