And Now You Know: New “Picture Show” opens in Orange

Published 11:31 am Saturday, August 4, 2018

By Mike Louviere

In the first few months of 1950, land was being cleared near the traffic circle on MacArthur Drive. About five acres was being cleared of pine trees and was becoming open land. Soon it was evident that the project was going to be a drive-in theater, “a new picture show for Orange.”

The layout of the theater was “pie shaped”. There were spaces for 600 cars. Due to the shape of the theater, each car would have a straight on view of the screen. With the amount of available land, there would be wider than usual drives and parking spaces to eliminate cramped traffic conditions as at earlier theaters in the area. The screen was estimated to be nine times larger than indoor screens. At each parking space there was an individual speaker for each car and each speaker had a volume control.

The sound and projection equipment was installed in a fire-proof building in the center of the parking area. Patrons were invited to inspect the projection equipment any night before the feature began.

Next to the projection building was a modern, well equipped snack bar. In front of the snack bar building was a new feature to outdoor theaters. There was a “patio”. The patio was furnished with comfortable chairs with speakers where patrons could sit, eat, and watch the movies.

In front of the screen was a playground for children with “standard playground features.” Behind the playground was a seating area for patrons who wanted to watch their children as well as the movie. Each chair here also had individual speakers.

An innovation was the use of “free bottle warmers for babies.”

Restrooms were in the projection building next to the snack bar.

The theater opened on August 18, 1950. On opening night was a giant fireworks display. Koto the Clown was there to hand out to children free bubble gum and balloons.

The first movie shown was the technicolor musical, “This Time For Keeps.”

Normal opening time for the theater was 6:30 p.m. with the feature starting at 7:30 p.m. The movies were shown “rain or shine.”

The movie program was changed four times each week. New movies were shown on Sunday and Tuesday with a double feature shown on Thursday. Another double feature was shown on Friday and Saturday nights.

The first theater manager was Tom Clemmons. Behind the screen there were living quarters for the manager and his family.

On the back side of the screen facing the street was a “beautiful painting”. The marquee was triangle shaped with two sides showing the features.

L.C. Kyburz of the Jefferson Amusement Company was the designer, architect, and builder of the new drive in theater.

The MacArthur Drive-in Theater stayed in operation over two decades. There are as many stories about the theater as there were people that attended. Stories abound about persons being hiding in car trunks and getting in free. One of the top sellers in the snack bar was the PIC mosquito repellent. It was a coil of treated material that would smolder and make smoke to repel mosquitoes. One young lady told that her mother always knew when she had “been to the drive-in”. She could smell the PIC smoke on her clothes.

After Roselawn was built, the homes whose backs faced the theater had free access to the movies, all they had to do was sit in their back yards. Naturally, some residents found ways to splice into the sound system. Those folks had “talking movies.”

The Jefferson Amusement Company operated all the indoor and drive-in theaters in Southeast Texas. Over a period of time, as television made an impact on movies, Jefferson Amusement began to sell off its theaters. One of the first to be closed was the MacArthur Drive-in. Eventually, even Jefferson Amusement Company was no more.

For those who do not know the location of the theater, it was where Home Depot is now located.

“And now you know”