Monday, March 2, 2009

General Cinema Refreshments, 1966

Prior to the 1960’s, concession sales in theatres were not a universal thing, and before the 1950’s, they were rare indeed. It was thought that eating or drinking inside a theatre violated a sense of decorum. General Cinema was no exception to this practice, selling refreshments in its drive-ins but not in its enclosed theatres, or “hardtops”, as they were nicknamed within the industry by that time.

By the time GCC launched its shopping center theatre expansion, the company had undergone a change of heart, and concession counters became a standard component of their theatres, shopping center-located or otherwise. They made such a significant impact on the bottom line that the “sense of decorum” was, shall we say, redefined. Most of their competition followed suit within a very short time.

One thing’s for sure - this great modernist lobby, from 1966’s Richland Plaza Cinema in Fort Worth, Texas doesn’t violate my sense of decorum.


  1. Quite extraordinary. I always took the refreshment stand in a movie theater for granted. I never realized that they were, at one point, non-exisitant in movie theaters. I had no idea that General Cinemas were innovators in that department. Cool. Keep these theater articles up, Dave! I think they are wonderful and a departure from the norm (although a nice article on Child World would be great too--just a suggestion.).

    Oh, and about my suggestion to cover the Sack Cinema chain from the Boston area...I hope you have better luck in finding info than I did. I found a few sites by Googling, but not much. Oh well.

  2. Of course it also provided a captive audience, no pun intended, for Pepsi, which GC was a major distributor.

    I would have never guessed that snacks and movies were a post war thing, but consideringt the old movie palaces, popcorn and soda would have seemed lowball in not crude and uncoof and a a distraction to the movies and shows themselves.

  3. Great post, neat history about snacks at the movies! Hey, are those vending machines to the right of the counter? If so, they don't doesn’t violate my sense of decorum either! Thanks for all your great research on these amazing posts.

  4. This looks like the old Cinema City Warren around the refreshment stand (with the automatic drink dispensers. Was this standard in all General Cinema built in the 1960/70s?

  5. Didi - That's for sure!

    Panda - I'm glad you've liked these, and I agree it was time to change the subject for a while! And Child World is a great one that deserves a space here. My grandparents took us to one - don't know if it was in Rhode Island or Mass., though. It was a great store!

    I couldn't find much on the Sack cinemas either, but I'll keep an eye out for info.

    Ken - Not a Coke to be found, that's for sure, at least after GCC bought the Pepsi franchises.

    I guess going to the movies was a much more formal event in years past, just like all the men wearing coats and ties you see in old photos of a baseball game crowd.

    Tim- I think they are vending machines. And thanks very much!

    Charles - It's my understanding that they were standard in all the GCC cinemas. Later on the lobbies were a just a bit less elaborately decorated. I'm assuming it's Warren, Michaigan you're referring to. Thanks!

  6. Good point about the vending machines. I vaguely remember that particular lobby layout, expecially the painted exposed square concrete block and the vending machines!


  7. I can't help but wonder how much the refreshments cost back in 1966. :)

  8. Well, I guess you can count my 14-year old cat as also being a General Cinema fan. As I type, he is totally mesmerized by the famous General Cinema kaliedscope "Feature Presentation" bumper up on my 22" LCD monitor.

  9. Dan - I remember them too. They seem to have been features of GCC theatres everywhere.

    Kim - A whole lot less than they do now! I think movie tickets at the time were around $1.00 for adults and 60 cents for kids.

    Anonymous - That's a nice copy of the bumper in the right aspect ratio. beloved by cats everywhere, no doubt!

  10. Just so everybody knows, you can save a copy of each of those film-tech movies to your computer. Just right click on any of those film-tech links and save to your hard drive. Of course, you'll need to download an "flv" player to play them ...


  11. I just discovered your blog and I am completely blown away.. Where did you find so many amazing pictures? Thank you for sharing them!

  12. Pretty Pickle - Thanks, glad you like it! Most of the photos i've collected over the years are from old publications - trade magazines, ads, company documents, etc. I took a look at your site - very impressive, and I love Louisville -it's a great place, with lots of history!

  13. Fantastic post and picture! I grew up quite near Richland Plaza, and when I was growing up in the 1980's, this theater was just an empty shell, with only the old marquee of "Cinema" on the side of the building to remind us of what used to be there. It was all boarded up otherwise. I was also so curious as to how it looked in its heyday, so I thank you for the picture. (BTW, it has now reopened as a Bingo Hall, sans the mod lobby of course!)

  14. Giselle – Thanks, glad you liked it, and that it helped to solve the mystery! This was actually a fairly common lobby design for General Cinema theatres, and a very attractive one at that.

    I guess anything can be converted to a bingo hall, can’t it? ;)