Alex Taylor Column November 16, 2008

Memories all that’s left after Cinema at the Avalon went dark

Avalon Theater at sundown



It’s hard to beat going to a good movie, but I tried something new last week. I went to a good movie and, instead of watching it, I spent my time up front serving popcorn and drinks at the concession stand — at one of the last showings of Cinema at the Avalon. The last show was Thursday night.

In the waning hours of the Cinema’s life, I saw the meaning that such a place can hold for an old-fashioned downtown. The memories, the stories, the rumors — they are all part of what breathes life into a community like ours.

Spending three hours with Brian Wade, the manager of the theater, was well worth the price of a ticket. His memories of an old movie house and its interactions with the downtown community are
endless.

There was the woman with a bird in her hair at the first of this year. That’s right. She came to the ticket counter and said she could never get into the movies because the little bird — the one that lived in her hair — sometimes bothered those around her. The little bird poked its head out and seemed innocent enough, Brian said they could come in, but she would need to keep the bird in the hair.

Then there are the rumors of the ghost. Although Brian says he’s never seen it, rumor has it that the ghost of Lucy Gates or some other woman still haunts the theater. “The most common story is from the late-night clean-up crews. There have been several different people who have seen the same thing — a woman in a white dress who walks down the aisle and, when she reaches the front, vanishes through the floor.”

But the ghosts couldn’t keep the regulars at bay. Every Wednesday was Seniors Matinee. And seniors from around the valley came like clockwork. Usually, there would be 60 or so, but when a period piece like “Pride and Prejudice” would play — or anything at all with Judy Dench — the place would be packed with 200 to 300 retirees, often dressed in costumes, having the time of their lives.

The senior folks always remembered Brian. They said hi, they left nice tips and they always come back.

Brian would bring his children to work sometimes. His youngest learned how to walk right beside the concession stand — in front of the old photos of the performers. His oldest son had his first date in the theater — at the age of eight. His school class came to see a film, and the boy invited his “girlfriend.” I asked Brian if his son had been so bold as to try to give her a kiss on the cheek.

“No, I don’t think so. She came with her dad.”

Brian also remembers the board of the Cinema at the Avalon well. He says they used to pass around a hat to collect money for his assistant manager to buy her books when she was in high school. “I’m glad she made it through school. We had to lay her off last week.”

Brian filed for unemployment Friday, the day after turning off the lights for the last time.

“It really just breaks my heart that this is all going to end,” he said. Gone is the warm glow of the globe lights that used to illuminate the corner of Seventh and Main. Gone is the most prominent nightly fixture on Main Street. After all other bills were paid, the non-profit Cinema couldn’t afford to pay the city the $1,200 in rent. The city didn’t think the theater staying open was worth it to downtown, so the credits rolled.

Now, when folks pass through Grand Junction and take a drive down Main Street, the lights will be out (unless a concert or church group is renting the place). I can just hear the comments.

“What a pretty old theater — what a shame. I hear they used to play movies there every night.”

Maybe if they look closely, they will see Brian manning the counter, or his little boy learning to walk, or the retirees all dressed up. Maybe they’ll still see the community.


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