Sent as a column to The Frederick Press and The Frederick Leader, September 21, 2010
Frederick Movie Theatres Provided Entertainment
Before cable television, computers and video games, entertainment often meant going to the movies. Most little towns in the Midwest had at least one movie theatre. Frederick had several.
In 1976, Carolyn Watson Maxwell Tharp researched and wrote a great article on the history of Frederick movie theatres for the History of Tillman County, VOL. II. In the article, Carolyn listed movie theatres from Frederick’s history. They included the Open-Air, Gem, Majestic, Criterion, People’s, Queen, A-Mus-U, Grand, Sunset, Okla, Ritz, and, of course, the Ramona.
During the heyday of the Frederick theatres in 1940s, four movie houses operated in Frederick and an easy estimate is that more than 1,000 people attended movies in those establishments every week.
Frederick’s first two movie theatres were “air-dromes” – open-air movie theatres that had no roofs. One was located on South 9th Street and the other was on the southeast corner of what later became the Tillman County Courthouse Square.
Other early theatres were the Majestic on South 9th, across the street from the Ramona, and the People’s Theatre which was located in the 100 block of West Grand on the south side of the street. The People’s Theatre burned in a big fire.
By the 1950s, Frederick’s four theatres were the Ritz, the Okla, the Ramona, and the Sunset Drive In.
The Okla was located in the 100 block of West Grand in the building that now houses McIntyre Insurance Agency. Prior to being the Okla, the theatre had been named the Criterion and the Queen under previous owners. The Okla was in business for about 10 years.
The Ritz was located in the 100 block of North Main on the west side of the street. It featured a stage area in front of the screen and hosted live performances, appearances by celebrities such as Gene Autry and Smiley Burnett, and novel acts such as a boxing match between a man and kangaroo.
Before becoming the Ritz, the theatre operated as the Gem.
The Ritz closed in the late 1950s. The building that housed the theatre was destroyed in a major fire in February 1974 that burned much of the 100 block of North Main.
The Sunset Drive In operated for just a few years in the early 1950s at North 15th and Highview, current site of the Bible Baptist Church. That location was in the country then. It featured a concession area and huge searchlights that scanned the nighttime sky to attract attention.
The Sunset’s giant movie screen blew away in a storm in spring 1955 and it was not rebuilt.
The Ramona, located on South 9th Street, was the original site of the much smaller A-Mus-U Theatre. In 1929, the A-Mus-U site and an adjacent building were leveled to build the spectacular Ramona. It was built in elaborate Mediterranean style and billed as “The Showplace of the Southwest”. The Ramona included features that rivaled any theatre this side of Oklahoma City.
The Ramona was owned by James B. (Barney) Beard, then president of the First National Bank. The theatre was named for his daughter Ramona.
NOTE: Carolyn Tharp’s long 1976 article about Frederick theatres includes a great deal of history, stories, and interviews about the historic theatres. It is fascinating reading, and can be found on page 145 of History of Tillman County, VOL. II.
Joe Wynn is a member of the Tillman County Historical Society Board of Directors.