San Antonio Theatres:
Now & Then
Past & Present
My name is Jim Miller. I've managed theatres here and in El Paso, Waco and Dallas, serviced projection rooms all over Texas, and was a union projectionist here in San Antonio. I learned projection from Danny Daniels's father, H. A. "Windy" Daniels at the Palace, Dixie and Texas in Seguin. I consider myself very lucky and blessed to have met, befriended and been mentored by some of the greatest names in Texas entertainment before they passed on. People like us are no longer valued in the industry but it holds a special place in my heart.

I was in the movie theatre business for 30 years, and worked at nearly every theatre in San Antonio that was open from 1968-1998. I started out at North Star Cinema, and most people don't even remember a theatre ever being in North Star Mall.

Remember the 22 drive ins San Antonio sported? I worked at 16 of them.

I knew Tom Milam and Tom Powers very well. The last I heard of Milam, he was working for Target, but that was many years ago.  Tom Powers has been dead for a long time. Most of the Santikos theatres were bought by him from other chains; or independents. Remember the Colonies North Theatre? It was originally called the Cinematex, and owned by yet another Tom; long time local personality, Tommy Reynolds.

Santikos also ran General Cinema, United Artisits, Plitt, Gulf States and other national chains out of town, and took over most of their local theatres. The first time I met John Santikos, he had two theatres; the Olmos and the San Pedro Drive In. When he announced that he was going to build a FOUR Screen Indoor on the South Side, most of us in the industry laughed! He got the last laugh though. Century south was a goldmine from day one.

He was once a force to be reckoned with. He had some of the greatest theatre minds in the industry working for him. Too bad its not that way anymore.

My favorite suburban theatre was the Broadway. It had a nice balcony, a large curtained screen, was 70 mm capable, and had comfortable seats. It was always well managed and clean.

I also liked the Wonder before they twinned it. I LOVED the waterfall curtain.

My least favorite suburban theatre was the Josephine. It had no balcony, and was downright ugly inside. It did have a nice curtained screen.

The best drive in to see a movie was the Bandera Road. The original screen there was made of aluminum, and was silver in color. It made the picture much brighter than a white screen. It also was a full Cinemascope width.

My least favorite was the Valley Hi. It had a Cinemascope width screen, but that's all I can say good about it.

The Aztec Theatre:

In 1969, Norelco (now Kinoton) came out with an invention that made the multiplex theatre possible. The "platter" film handling device. It allowed only one projector to be used in an auditorium as opposed to two or three, The film did not have to be rewound, only rethreaded at the beginning of each show. He first theatre in San Antonio to install this big innovation was none other than the Aztec Theatre! It was installed in late 1970, early 1971 when the big single screen Aztec was converted to three theatres by closing off and splitting the balcony. A new booth was constructed for the very large downstairs auditorium. The Norelco platters proved to be reliable, and easy to operate and maintain. One projectionist could run all three theatres. The 1950s era Century C projectors and RCA soundheads were retained for use, and only the old Strong Super 135 carbon arc lamphouses were replaced for some Cinemeccanica Xenon lamphouses. The Aztec had a three projector booth when it was a single, so equipment outlay was low for the conversion.

These are pictures of the downstairs booth, after the theatre closed.

North Star Mall General Cinema:

This picture was not taken in a San Antonio theatre, but the seats once were here! This picture was taken at the Marble Theatre in Marble Falls. The owner bought the seats from North Star Cinema II when it closed in the early 80s. I was making a service call o the projection room at the Marble when the owner told me of the seats. I am glad I had my camera with me! Those seats brought back some nice memories.

The seats still have the row and seat numbers on them, but not in any order. When I started working at North Star Cinema in 1968, we had reserved seat engagement in Cinema II all the time. I had to learn the alphabet starting with U, excluding Q and I. (The back row was U, the front row was A, and there was no row Q or I) I also repainted the steel backs of these seats every six months with white Spatz Theatre Chair Redu paint. It was thin, smelly, and dried quickly. I also replaced many torn seat covers! It looks like they haven’t had much maintenance at the Marble!

General Cinema used identically colored and upholstered Griggs Pushbacks in all their theatres through the mid 80s. We had them at the North Star, McCreless Cinema I & II, and the Ingram Square Cinema 4. The only theatre that was not a General Cinema that had Griggs Pushbacks was the Cinematex Colonies Theatre. It had 504 of them. The middle section’s chairs were pained red, with red upholstery, and the two side sections had blue chairs with blue upholstery.

The Palace in Seguin has Griggs Pushbacks in the same General Cinema colors.

The Woodlawn Theatre:

Here is a nice picture of the Woodlawn. It’s a great theatre, but had many ups and downs in it’s existence. It’s had many owners and operators including Interstate, Cinema Arts Theatres, Theatre Corporations, Ramon Ruenes, Texas National Theatres, Santikos Theatres, Movie One Theatres, Braha Theatres, and my dear old friend, the late Bob Hartgrove. I may have missed a couple, but that’s some who’ve run it as a movie venue. It has also housed plays, churches, day cares, and other types of businesses.

The Woodlawn has another odd distinction of having more projection equipment installed than any other theatre I know of! Most theatres close with the same equipment they opened with! The Fredericksburg Road Drive In down the street from the Woodlawn opened in 1940 with some brand new Brenkert projectors, and an RCA sound system. It closed in 1982 with the same equipment! The Woodlawn opened in 1945 with Motiograph Model K equipment. In 1953, some brand new Century Model C projectors were installed because the Motiographs did not project 3-D well. The Centurys hummed away until 1960 when "The Alamo" was booked in, and the world premiere was held there. Some wonderful Norelco AA II 35/70 projectors were installed, and the Woodlawn has the distinction of running more 70mm film than any other theatre in town! In 1975, John Santikos twinned the Woodlawn, and the Norelcos were WAY TOO HEAVY for the ceiling suspended projection room built for the downstairs auditorium, so some brand new Simplex 35 projectors and soundheads were installed, along with Norelco platter film handling devices. When the Woodlawn closed, the like new Simplexes were removed and taken to another theatre, and when Maurice Braha took it over, it was outfitted with some rebuilt Century Cs, RCA sound and CFS Super Platters. When Braha closed it, the equipment came out, and when it was reopened, it had some used Norelco 35mm lightweight equipment installed. The booth was empty for the many years it was not a theatre, but it is now a playhouse, and the operator has installed a nice Century projector set up in it!

The Woodlawn was a very fine theatre, but it never seemed to achieve the steady good business of other suburban theatres like the Broadway, Laurel, or even the Olmos. I’m glad it’s still standing, and hope it will be here for a long time.

The Capitan Drive-In Theatre:

This picture is of the Capitan Drive In's screen, taken from the projection
room in late 1972. The screen needed a paint job very badly, and received
one in the Spring on 1973. If you look closely, you can see the original
1.33:1 screen in the middle, and the additions to make it around 2.15:1 on
the sides. For some reason the sides of the screen were painted black. At
my urging, the entire screen was painted white in 1973, and we had a VERY
nice CinemaScope picture from edge to edge! The painters did a fantastic
job, and the imperfections were hidden beautifully.

We ran a LOT of CinemaScope movies in 1973-74. ALL Kung Fu movies were
CinemaScope! We got the first run of "Fists Of Fury", not expecting to do
any business with it. We filled the lot up every show for three weeks!
After that, ANY cheap cheesy Kung Fu movie that was offered played the
Capitan, The only Kung Fu movie we didn't run was "Enter The Dragon. It
went to the Varsity.

I worked at the Capitan for three years. The owner, Mr. Sylvan Barry was one of the finest men I ever met, and we remained friends until his death. The
Capitan was far from the fanciest, cleanest, or nicest drive in, but I
enjoyed every minute I worked there. Although I was just a projectionist, I
learned more about showmanship and fair play than any other theatre I
worked, thanks to Mr. Barry.

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