Hampton Goes to the Movies

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By Mike Bisceglia Jr.

Hampton Union, Tuesday, June 26, 2007

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]

Hampton Theatre in its hey day.
[Courtesy photo not in original article, by John M. Holman,
Hampton History Volunteer, Lane Memorial Library, Hampton, NH]

Like most folks, the people of Hampton love to go to the movies. The Electro-rama was probably the first theater to attempt to delight locals and tourists alike. Located at the base of Great Boar's Head, the establishment was destroyed by the Fourth of July tornado of 1898. In the middle of the showing of the stereopicon production of "The Blowing Up of the Maine," the monster tornado slammed into the building killing four of the theater-goers.

In June of 1913, the Olympia Theatre opened its doors to movie buffs. Located at the corner of C Street and Ocean Boulevard, the theater featured 90 minutes of entertainment for only 10 cents. Not a bad price to pay for top-notch entertainment!

About the same time period, the beach area opened two other theaters, the Casino Theatre and the Barn Theatre The houses were small, but the movies were the best that Hollywood had to offer.

Business was booming along the beach in 1915, so much so that another theater, The Strand, was built.

Sadly, it had an incredibly short run. In September of that year, the Beach's worst fire destroyed The Strand, The Olympia and several other buildings between B Street and Highland Avenue.

After the fire, William J. Bigley, the owner of The Olympia, arranged to rent the town hall and show movies on Saturday nights. All went well for a short time until movie-goers on Saturday nights began missing church on Sunday mornings. It was at that point that the Women's Christian Temperance Union protested the movies saying that the town's morality was in jeopardy. Further, movies showing saloons, fighting and guns needed to be strictly censored.

The story goes that a small boy in attendance to one such movie became very scared. That was all that was needed to bring an end to movies at the town hall.

Although the movie theaters in Hampton all but ceased to exist for several years, the residents' passion for the silver screen didn't. Movie-goers began to frequent the Ioka Theater in Exeter. During the winters in the mid-teens, celluloid aficionados could take a trolley round trip to the theater for one small cost.

Program not in original article

"This Above All," starring Tyrone Powers and Joan Fontaine, was the first movie shown at the Winter Barn Theater, now the American Legion Post 35 Hall at 69 High St. The date was Oct. 2, 1942. The evening showing did cost a bit more, all of 39 cents (tax included), but everyone received a free autographed photo of Tyrone Powers on Friday and Saturday nights.

Later, when owner and manager Bernie Stevens decided to keep the theater open year round, the Winter Barn became the Hampton Theatre [The "new" Hampton Theatre held its grand opening on Friday, October 8, 1943 with the first show at 7:00 pm, matinee on Saturday, at 2:15 pm and the theatre was closed on Tuesday.]

The late '40s and early '50s was a wonderful era for movie patrons. For 50 cents (25 cents for kids), a viewer could catch two feature-length movies, the news of the day, a serial cliff hanger, cartoons and a number of previews of coming attractions. Add a box of "French Fried" popcorn, and it was one terrific night out. All good things must come to an end, however, and on March 31, 1951, the theater closed.

In the early '60s Jerry Lewis opened a string of family theaters in various cities. The Regal Portsmouth 5 was a former movie house in this chain.

In 1981, Hayden Clark and Michael Tinios bought the former Hampton Village Ford Garage at the corner of Winnacunnet Road and Lafayette Road and turned it into a theater. The garage was located at the site of the former Toppan Mansion and farm. The timing was perfect for a new theater. Baby boomers needed entertainment, and Hollywood was beginning to crank out spectacular movie entertainment. The first movie to be shown there was "Heaven Can Wait" starring Warren Beatty. Within two years, the theater added a second screen. In 1984, it went to four screens, and in 1988, there were six separate screens ... six different movies, all in great sound and great comfort.

The theater has seen its share of box office smashes including "E.T." and "Annie." There were long lines of folks outside the theater for those two. In recent years, movie videos and other innovations in movie viewing have come into existence. Rather than cut into the theater-going market, however, they seem to have whet the appetite for those who would like to go out and see a great flick.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to buy a box of popcorn, a frosty drink, relax, and be entertained at the movies.

A special thanks to John Tinios of the Hampton Cinema 6.

Mike Bisceglia Jr. is a freelance writer who lives in Hampton.

[See also, Hampton Has A "New" Movie Theatre .... In 1942!, by John M. Holman, Hampton History Volunteer, Lane Memorial Library, Hampton, NH]

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