Home News Vision Historically Speaking: Roswell’s theaters of the past

Historically Speaking: Roswell’s theaters of the past

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The captions reads, "Liberty Airdome, August 15,1917. C.G. Salter, owner and proprietor, standing on the left."

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

What is it about longing for the things in the past that you miss? Growing up in Roswell, it was always a treat to go to the movies. We had the Plains Theater, 114 N. Main St., which is now the International UFO Museum & Research Center; the Yucca Theater, which was located at 124 W. Third St., and the Chief Theater, which was across from the courthouse. There was also the Pecos Theater, which closed in 1956, and the Capitan Theater, across the street from the Plains Theater.

Of course, there were the drive-in theaters, too, the Starlite Drive-In was on the base highway, the Ball-O-Jak was close to the fairgrounds on the Artesia highway, and the Jingle Bob was just south of where Goddard High School is now. The Jingle Bob was named after the John Chisum ranch, by the way.

The Plains Theater, to the best of my memory, was ahead of its time, as it had a glassed-in smoking section. I thought that the Yucca Theater was the prettiest, as there were staircases going up to the balcony on either side that wound around the concession area. It had a sort of old world feeling to it, and you felt as though you were in a big city because of the decor.

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A fun fact, both the Plains and the Yucca had soda machines where the cup dropped down first, and you punched a button for your favorite soda flavor, which would then fill the cup. Of course, when you’re a kid, you punched all the buttons for an exciting flavor combination, or so we thought.

Both the Ball-O-Jak and the Starlite Drive-in theaters had playground equipment below the big screen where the kids could go and play while their parents were able to sit in the car and watch them and the movie. If you got there early, you could play first, then go back to the car to watch the movie.

On June 24, 1956, the Roswell Daily Record had an ad for the Starlite Drive-in, which claimed that they had a “ferris wheel, merry-go-round, slides, swings and bucking broncos!” It stated that they were also giving away, “a free ferris wheel or merry-go-round ticket with every adult admission.”

The Starlite Drive-in had twin screens, which played a different movie on each screen. One faced east and one faced west, you had to choose which movie you were going to and get in line to pay and drive in on the side that led to that showing.

I remember, in those days, Mom would pack a picnic-type meal of sandwiches or something that we would eat in the car, but we were still able to buy popcorn and a soda.

Whether it was a walk-in theater, or a drive-in, what fun it was to buy a bag of popcorn and a soda, or other fare, and just sit down and forget the woes of the world to be entertained with a couple of hours watching a good movie.

Let’s go back much further in time, to the very first theaters in Roswell:

The Princess Theater opened on July 28, 1913. Following is an article about the sale of the Princess Theater in 1918, it getting a new name, “Liberty.” Then again in 1941, when the theater was renamed the Pecos Theater, which lasted until 1956, when it closed.

Roswell Daily Record

Feb. 6, 1918

“Princess Sold To C.G. Salter

“The Princess theater case was settled last night. The Princess theater now belongs to C.G. Salter and from now on will be known as the Liberty.” — Note: “Liberty” was a popular name for theaters during World War I.

“C.G. Salter last night bought the lease and fixtures from James Halper. The consideration for this deal was not given. Salter also purchased the motion picture equipment, consisting of two machines, transformers, slides, and picture screen from the Swartz Brothers. This equipment has formally been in the Armory. The Swartz suit for possession of the theater under a tax deed was also settled.

“The Liberty management announced this morning that, as soon as improvement and changes could be made, the Liberty Airdome would be closed and their performances would be held in the old Princess, or what is to be known as the Liberty theater. The Lyric will run as usual under the Liberty management.

“The new Liberty theater expects to be open for business within 10 days.”

The 1918 city directory lists, “Liberty Theatre, C.G. Salter prop., J.S. Bonner mgr., exclusive feature films, 305-7 N. Main, phone 279.”

“Liberty Airdome, C.G. Salter prop 500-2 N. Main”

Airdome theaters were just that: An open-air theater, which allowed for fresh, natural cool air on summer evenings, where smoking and spitting tobacco — which was common in those days — would not be so offensive.

Two photos that were donated to our archives on Feb. 20, 1991 by Albert J. Salter, came with a note which reads:

“I am sending you a print of two photographs showing theaters in Roswell owned by my grandfather Charles G. Salter. Each original photo is dated August 15, 1917. My grandfather owned and operated several movie houses over a period of years while in Roswell (from 1915 to 1930) where he was also a wool buyer. The city directory for 1918 indicates that he was then the proprietor of the Lyric and Liberty theaters and airdomes. The two photos I am sending you are of the Liberty Theater and Liberty Airdome. My grandfather is the grey haired, unjacketed man on the left in the picture of the airdome. I cannot identify the other man in the photo.

“I am pleased to be able to contribute these photos to your archive.

“Albert J. Salter”

Oh, those were the days: Walking into a darkened theater on a hot summer afternoon, buying a 10 cent soda and a 15 cent bag of popcorn, and getting lost in a feature film for the next couple of hours.

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.

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