Imagine with me, if you will. The year is 1959. You ask your father for a quarter and he delivers – but only after you’ve taken out the trash, fed the cat and worked your math.
At last, you have the funding for an afternoon’s worth of entertainment at the Ritz movie theater. If you’re lucky, you might fall in love, but at worst you would escape all your adolescent fears while watching Rocket Man tame the unknown.
That’s the way I remember the Ritz, a 1930s vintage movie theatre in my little southern town of West Point, MS. That was where we spent Saturday afternoons – watching movies like “Bambi,” “Return of the Blob,” and “at Not-Okay Corral.”
Your quarter would buy you a double feature, a cartoon, a serial, and sometimes, the news.
When the movies were really bad we became distracted by the opposite sex, and many relationships were played out at the Ritz.
All those times ran through my mind today as I sat in the restored Ritz, watching a film clip from Harry Potter. It was accompanied by a chill producing state-of-the-art sound system that is rare in this country. I was thinking, if we’d had all this stuff, I’d not ever noticed the boys at all, I’d have been too distracted!
The developer, Milton Sundbeck, has cut no corners in restoring the theatre that the Ritz really never was, but could have been, given his vision. His associate, Lonny Peeples, described what they dealt with as the restoration began. He called it a “labor of love.”
“There were three feet of water in the building when we started out,” he said. “The projection room was being used as a pigeon roost.”
Somehow, bit by bit, cutting no corners, they restored a piece of history that figures into the lives of so many of us. (I wonder how they got all that gum off the floor). Next week, the Cafe Ritz will open the adjacent in the “old Woolworth Building.” As Lonnie reminded me, if you still had any money left after the movie, you walked next door to Woolworth’s to buy some candy.