The movie theater has a long tradition of being not only a place to see the latest film, but also as a meeting spot in town. Maybe it was where you and your friends hung out each weekend or the place that you had your first date; you may have stolen a kiss or two from your sweetheart while everyone else’s eyes were glued to the screen. It doesn’t matter what the memory is, we each have one involving the theater.
The Ritz Theatre is no exception and has been a part of the square in Thomaston since 1927; making this the 85th year for the historic single screen theatre. A celebration marking the event is planned for August 7 with a movie retrospective from the last eight decades, live entertainment from local artists, and of course, anniversary cake. Doors will open at 6:15 p.m. for the 7 p.m. show.
Current Ritz owner Malcolm Neal couldn’t be more excited about the show that he has worked on putting together for the last month, but it is the stories between the movie clips that he is looking forward to sharing the most. Neal interviewed several people from the area and asked them to share what it is that they love most about the Ritz or perhaps a favorite memory.
“It is always interesting to hear the memories others have of coming to The Ritz,” said Neal. “My favorite of the stories I’ve heard is the one about the lady who was married to the first projectionist and how he proposed to her in the projection room. She told me once that she felt like she almost belonged to The Ritz because it had been such a part of their life together.”
It seems that The Ritz has been full of happenings since it was originally opened by W.C. Stubbs in 1927. It was the heyday of theaters at that time, and The Ritz was not the only theater in town. There was also The Palace, Five Points Theater, Community Theater and Harlem Theater. However The Ritz has been the only one left standing since the 1960s.
In 1928, Stubbs sold the theater and upstairs office to former Thomaston Times owner J.B Hardy and his partner W. A. Odom in 1928. Hardy and Odom changed the front to the art deco style we know today.
The pair bought the business from Stubbs for $55,000, which was a large amount of money for the time period. Yet, the cost for the entire building and business back then is nearly $30,000 less than what it will cost to keep showing movies after the end of the year.
Those who run the movie industry today have decided that movies will only be distributed in a digital format after the end of this year. This leaves theaters which use 35 millimeter film like The Ritz, with only two options: raise the money for a new projector or cease to show movies.
A group of local citizens have formed the Upson County Concerned Citizens (UC3) and their first project is to help save the beloved historical theater. They have done a few talent show fundraisers throughout the summer and are currently in the process of organizing several larger scale fundraisers through the rest of the year. Neal stated that Larry Dawson, who is president of UC3, came to him and asked if they could use the anniversary show as one of the fundraisers. Neal continued that the show itself is free to the public, but that the group is asking for a $10 donation to go towards the Ritz Digital Challenge to purchase the new projector.
“The main purpose of the evening is to celebrate the anniversary of The Ritz,” said Neal. “People have told me how much they enjoyed the shows in the past and we want bring the party atmosphere back again… and hopefully we can raise some money to keep it open for another 85 years.”