History of The Playhouse Movie Theatre 1919 to The Present

                                                                                                                                            Setting the stage:

USA & The World 1919


 World War I had just ended and young men returning from active duty were searching for jobs.   The United States emerged from the War as a world leader but there were many challenges at home. The Great Steel Strike was in full bloom, there were race riots in several locations and the 18th Amendment, establishing prohibition, was passed that year. Some of the issues the country struggled with sound familiar today:  immigration, poverty, work safety, and labor and monopoly battles.

Model T Fords were rolling off the assembly line and selling for $345, but the most common mode of travel remained the horse and buggy—or the horse and sleigh on snow rolled winter streets.

Randolph,Vermont, 1919

 Vermont was different back then with only 30% of the state forested as compared to 75% today.  We were considered the butter capital of the world; cows far out numbered people.  The freight house and railroad depot were central to the life of Randolph Village. At the time, the freight house stood on the present site of Village Pizza. When plans were made for the building of a movie house, the nearby freight house was convenient for delivering building materials arriving by train, including Douglas fir lumber from the American west.  Randolph’s Main Street was dirt and movie goers either walked to the show or arrived on horseback.  Shortly after the opening of the movie theater in Randolph two silent films were actually filmed in town;   The Offenders in 1921 and  Insinuation in 1922.  Both films are presumed lost.

Motion pictures

 The first motion picture was demonstrated by Thomas A. Edison in 1896.  Soon, nickelodeons began springing up everywhere;  in converted store fronts, offices and  in penny arcades.  In 1913 the

the first feature length films were shown at legitimate theaters at stage prices.  By 1915 the era of nickelodeons was over.  Admission was now 10 cents.  Projectionists would travel from town hall to

town hall showing their films.   Birth of a Nation played in Randolph in 1915.   The Star Theatre,  located in the Dubois and Gay building, showed movies this way up until early 1919 when it

was closed, as many were around the country, as a result of the Great Influenza Pandemic.  The Star was especially susceptible because it was located in the center of the building with no exterior walls  for ventilation. ( As many will recall, the Dubois & Gay building burnt to the ground December 1991.)   

The fire hazard in movie theatres of the time was great as a result of the highly flammable cellulose film stock. When the projector jammed and stopped, the carbon arc lamp-house could quickly ignite the film.  The carbon arc lamp-houses created light similar to an arc welder by focusing the arc on a mirror with the rays converging on the film. (That projection system was used at The Playhouse up until 1992 ).

The new purpose-built movie theatres wanted to differentiate themselves from the live stage theaters of the time so they changed the spelling from “theater” to “theatre”.    The oldest surviving, purpose-built theatre in the United States is the ornate Al Ringling Theatre in Wisconsin, built in 1915 by one of the famous Ringling Brothers.   Four years later, in 1919,  Randolph had its own purpose built movie theatre.

The Strand

 Concerns about ventilation and clean air contributed to the closing of Randolph’s Star Theatre and soon there was a plan for a stand alone movie theatre in town.  Mary Carr bought the property at the corner of Main and Weston Streets.  The Blodgett house located on that site was moved to the rear of the property to make room for the building of the theater named The Strand. Kate Brock, who had previously run the Star Theatre, leased the building and lived in the apartment in the back.

Once the building was complete the following announcement appeared in the paper: “The state authorities have pronounced the arrangements, ventilation and sanitation correct in every detail.”

With this seal of approval, local residents flocked to see the first offering at their new theatre.  On August 4, 1919 The Border Wireless starring William S. Hart opened.  Mrs. Ella Russell was at the keyboard of the new Corona piano and the movie played to a twice filled house representing 800 townspeople.

Eventually ownership of The Strand passed from Mary Carr to Edward and Carrie O’Brien. “The Strand” was renamed “The Playhouse” in 1941 by Barbara Robb .  Ownership passed from Barbara Robb to Jack and Gertrude Champlain.  They ran the theater from 1943-1969.  Many colorful stories are still told today at The Playhouse about the infamous clicker Jack would use while walking up and down the isles to keep kids quite.  Arnie and Clara Hendin were owners from 1969 - 1988.  Arnie ran a church at The Playhouse.  George and Irene Rich leased the building for several years. They showed movies and started a video rental business at the playhouse and eventually moved to a new location on Main Street.

Operators since 1988:

(David & Tammy Tomaszewski)

 In 1988 my wife and I, accompanied by new born daughter Tina,  were looking around for a building to open some type of business.  We came across this abandoned building located on Randolph's Main Street.  The theatre clapboards had been sandblasted many years before and this gave the building the appearance of a place in a ghost town. Being a young family, we had little money so we wrote Clara Hendin a letter explaining what we could do financially.  She responded by saying she wanted to buy another horse and sold us the theatre.

When we took ownership the movie screen was draped even with the front wall, covering up the small stage and orchestra pit.  A mural, painted by Barbara Robb in 1941, flanked the screen on either side. The fire Marshall showed up to inspect and would not let us reopen the theatre until the mural and all the interior walls were painted with fire retardant paint.  The original "stage" was merely a 3' wide cat walk in front of the original "screen".  The walls were painted black and in the middle was the "screen"; a  four foot square of white paint with rounded corners.  This “screen”  was inset 10' from the front wall and had tapered walls, like a megaphone.  The orchestra pit was merely a foot deep contained behind the front wall.  This area currently is incorporated into a sound deadening and double fire wall system separating the apartment in the back and the theatre in front.  

The apartment in the back was transformed into a video arcade for a couple of years.  Putting in 12 - 14 hours a day at the arcade gave Tammy time to reupholster all the seats in the theatre. Meanwhile I learned how to run the carbon arc projectors with instruction from Mike Beacon. This was   not an easy task!  There were two projectors.  When you saw the cursed timing marks on the movie you had to turn one machine on and turn the other off without people noticing you changing reals.  You had to continually focus the arc to be in the right spot in relation to the mirror in order to give steady light to the film.  In the mean time you had to rewind the current reel and load the next to get ready for each change-over ... every 15-20 minutes!  We reopened in 1989 with Clint Eastwood's Pink Cadillac.  

Initially the arcade did well and we expanded into the theatre by flattening the floor in the front and installing a couple of pool tables.  We showed movies during this time with the pool tables covered.   I built a stage in front of the screen and tried to diversify.  We brought in live bands, but without selling alcohol, it was a bust.  We also offered the theatre to the local schools, at a loss to us, to hold school plays.  

 We were struggling to be successful and in 1990 we received a letter from a woman ( I don't recall her name) who  said our problem was the sound.  She couldn't understand the speech in the movies.   We invested everything we could borrow and only had $100 left in the bank after we installed a new spectral recording sound system, created a THX system behind the screen, installed a new curved screen, and sound absorbing curtains in the auditorium.  Our next movie was The Rescuers Down Under and success was immediate. Over the years we have reinvested in the theatre in order to keep it viable.  We changed over the two projector carbon arc system to an automated system with xenon lamp-house and platter.  The platter holds the entire movie reel to reel and change-overs are a thing of the past.  We retained the 1940's super simplex projectors until the 2012 digital conversion although the sound head had been reworked for a reverse scan digital  reader.  In 1994 Ed Lincoln worked with me to convert a 1940's York water heat exchanger over to central air conditioning. For the first time our patrons could watch movies in the comfort of air conditioning.  We installed a new metal roof, replaced the knob and tube electrical wiring, and designed and built a domed air lock front entrance to complement the original architecture.   In 2007 the University of Vermont was updating an auditorium on campus.  Thanks to a tip from Christine Damm, they gave us the old seats for The Playhouse. These were quite modern compared to our horsehair seats with wooden backs.  We transformed the new seats with cup holders in place of the fold out desks. In 2009 we began renting the apartment in back of the theater that I had been restoring for the past 20 years.  

 In 2010  we began to see that in the near future we would need digital projection and 3D capabilities. Single screen theatres as a rule had either twinned, were town owned, or did a combination live theatrical and film.  Randolph has two theatres with the Chandler for live theatrical.  Laura Morris was approached about the Chandler taking over the Playhouse and operate it similar to the Pentangle/ Woodstock town hall theatre; however, there was no interest at the time.  

Towards the end of 2011 the movie distributors where making it harder to get 35mm film prints in an attempt to get the remaining theatres to go digital.  

Playhouse Flicks Foundation was incorporated on March 12,2012 as a non-profit Vermont corporation.  The intent was to apply for tax exempt status 501(c)3 under:  The legal definition of a maintaining a Public Building:  Any building which provides facilities or shelter for public assembly.

Susan Delattre invited Laddie Lushin, Esq. to a board meeting to offer the Consumer Cooperative approach to structure our business entity.  David Tomaszewski had two firms (from Burlington & Stowe) that wanted to help us apply for 501(c)3 status for the reason stated above; however,  when confronted.....these firms agreed with Laddie's evaluation that the IRS only uses the definition of a Public Building as one that is government owned.

Playhouse Flicks Foundation, inc. was dissolved May 2, 2012 when we realized we would not be able to obtain 501(c)(3) tax exempt status without changing our programming to a degree that was not sustainable for our community of movie goers.

Playhouse Cooperative, a VermoJoining the Cooperative infont non-profit corporation was incorporated August 8,2012.  Ownership into the Cooperative is open to everyone.  Why not join us to sustain this piece of history.


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Movie Theatre

Playhouse Theatre

11 South Main Street

Randolph, Vermont 05060


Email: PlayhouseFlicks@gmail.com


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