Skip to main content

Nickelodeon Theatres And Their Music

June 2024
1min read

by Q. David Bowers; The Vestal Press; 212 pages; hardcover, $24.951 paperback, $14.95.

Today the word means a coin-operated piano to most people, but in the early years of the century a nickelodeon was just one thing: a five-cent movie theater. Q. David Bowers has produced the ultimate fan’s tribute to the motion picture’s antediluvian days. The films were short and usually fleshed out with some “highclass vaudeville,” and the picture houses tended to be small. Nevertheless, the facades of even the humblest had an eager, hasty grandeur to them, as is suggested by one entrepreneur’s description of his Dallas theater: “the center panel is the largest panel in the entire Southwest, and the group at the top is the only group of figures in the state of Texas. … Some show, believe me.” Vintage posters indicate what went on inside (“The Mills of the Gods. … A Modern Drama that palpitates with fire and power”), and the “flash-light photos” illustrating this book take us there: we see, for instance, a somber crowd at the grand opening of the new Bijou in Lowville, New York, on February 2, 1914. Bowers ends his account the next year: 1915 saw the appalling tariff of two dollars set for a viewing of D. W. Griffith’s unpalatable masterpiece The Birth of a Nation , and across the country red plush seats replaced the kitchen chairs that had served audiences during the movies’ first two decades.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.