Jim McKee: O Street: Lincoln's movie theater row

2012-05-20T08:30:00Z Jim McKee: O Street: Lincoln's movie theater rowBy JIM McKEE / For the Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Interestingly, some of the first movies on O Street were not even in Lincoln. This is because Havelock, a separate town until 1930, changed the name of its main street from Jackson to O Street, perhaps mimicking Lincoln, about 1912.

It was about that year that the first Joyo Theatre opened on the south side of O Street. A second movie house, The Jewell, opened on the other side of O Street and a block east in 1923. Then in 1928, my great uncle Volney Headrick built and opened the Lyric on what would today be the northeast corner of 61st Street and Havelock Avenue -- but then it was 13th and O streets. When the owner of the first Joyo bought the old Lyric, he moved his theater across the street into the Lyric building and renamed it the Joyo.

Back on O Street in Lincoln, a small movie house opened at 1138 O St. as early as 1905, but it closed after only a few years with the site becoming the Boston Dry Goods Store.

By 1911, L. B. Stoner had opened two theaters in Lincoln, both claiming to seat 400 moviegoers. Elite No. 1 was on the south side of O, at 1329 O St., and Elite No. 2 was directly across the street at 1330. In addition to the Elites, there was the Wonderland at 1308 O St., at the east edge of what would become the J.C. Penney Building, and the Orpheum, on the northeast corner of 15th and O streets. Those who are as old as I, however, will recall that 15th Street was not open between O and P streets for several decades, existing only as a very narrow alley.

In a little more than five years, Elite No. 1 changed its name to the Strand and No. 2 became the Palace, while the Orpheum became the Grand. Two new movie theaters also had opened: the Colonial, built by Havelock's Headrick, at 1444 O St., and the Magnet, which seated 711, at 1511 O St.

About 1925, the city directory stopped listing movie houses as theaters and bowed to progress, now calling everything a moving picture theater. The Palace was converted to Harris & Goar Clothing Co., the Strand morphed into a branch of Freadrich Brothers Grocery, and the Wonderland took on the name Strand.

The Depression brought prosperity to the movies with expansive off-O Street theaters like the Stuart and Lincoln where, for less than 50 cents, patrons could take a two-hour break from the economic bad news of the day. The only new addition to the O Street theaters was the Kiva at 1413 O St., while the Rialto became the Varsity.

In 1940, the number of O Street theaters had dropped to four and a decade later the number fell to three, with the Colonial renamed the Husker and the Kiva becoming the State.

With the 1950s, O Street theaters got a new lease on life as the Star View Theatre Corp. opened the West O Drive -- although technically it was at 201 Raymond Road, two blocks south of O Street. Still, the number of O Street theaters dropped to two as the Husker converted into the Sherwin Williams Paint Store and the Capitol closed.

When the Cooper Theatre opened at 5400 O St. in the mid-1970s, it joined the 84th and O Drive In, but drive-ins were on the way out. Cars with bucket seats, air-conditioned homes and daylight saving time produced a triple whammy that closed drive-ins nationwide.

Today, in a strange turn of events, the old 1905 Lyric Theatre site at 1138 O St. has become the southeastern-most auditorium of the Grand Theatre, whose entrance is on P Street. The Colonial and Kiva buildings live on though altered. But if you are willing to use the old Havelock name of O Street, the Joyo is still open for movies while its auditorium still retains many memories of the original Lyric Theatre. Just don't expect nickel popcorn or sodas.

Historian Jim McKee, who still writes with a fountain pen, invites comments or questions. Write to him in care of the Journal Star or at jim@leebooksellers.com.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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