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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

Showstoppers and Curtain Raisers: Let's all go to the Movies!

Hello everyone! Today, we are celebrating the incredible contributions of the Martin family and Martin Theatres to the cultural arts history of not only Columbus, but also throughout the southeast. We've already talked about their contributions within the context of the histories of the Liberty Theatre and the Springer Opera House, so this spotlight explores more of the story. Thank you all so much for your continued interest in these spotlights. Remember, if you have any ideas - I'm always grateful for them. Historic preservation only flourishes because of your passion for the history of this town, its stories, and its people. If you have any questions or concerns, never hesitate to contact the HCF Office – 706-322-0756 or SOURCES: “Columbus has rich history in movie business” By Chuck Williams, Ledger-Enquirer, MARCH 04, 2016. Columbus on the Chattahoochee by Etta Blanchard Worsley, 1951. Columbus, Georgia 1828 – 1928 by Nancy Telfair, 1928., and Red Clay, White Water, and Blues by Dr. Virginia E. Causey, 2019.


In 1910, Roy Martin projected Columbus' first moving picture in a field in North Highlands. In the spring of 1912, he purchased the old Bonita Theatre on Broadway and, after extensive improvements, launched upon his successful career as a showman. Roy Elmo Martin was born in Harris County in 1885 to Jerry T. and Carrie Cox Martin. He graduated from Massey Business College in Columbus in 1901. He married Miss Hattie Lou Miller in Atlanta in 1916. They were blessed with two sons, Roy E. Martin, Jr. (1917) and Edwin Dennis Martin (1920). Desiring more adventure and financial return than the farm on which he was born afforded, he ventured into business with a retail furniture company. Later, he branched out into other enterprises, concentrating on real estate. However, at that time he became fascinated by a business called the “nickelodeon,” which was the theatre of the day.

In 1914, he completed the Grand Theatre, 1131 Broadway. From there, he owned and operated the Bonita (closed 1916), Grand (sold 1917), Home, Highlands, Pastime (built in North Highlands in 1920), Palace, Liberty (1924, African American theatre), American, Rialto, Lyric, Dream, Dixie, and Royal Theatres in Columbus, Bibb City, and Phenix City – along with the Rainbow Theatre in Opelika. Dixie Theatre (1220 Broadway) Originally opened on March 27, 1911, as the Dixie Theatre. It was closed in 1924. In 1926 the theatre was reopened and renamed the American Theatre. Grand Theatre (1131 Broadway) R.E. Martin built the Grand Theatre in 1914. By 1934 it was operated by United Theater Enterprises Inc. It was closed in 1940 and became a Woolworth’s store in 1942.

Home Theatre (3027 Second Avenue) The Home Theatre opened in 1916. It seated 300 and was no longer listed by 1927. The site is now part of Valley Rescue's retail center. Rialto Theater (1235 Broadway) The Rialto Theater was opened by March 1919. By 1934 it was operated by United Theater Enterprises Inc. Martin Theatres was the last company to run movies and Carmike Cinemas closed the theater when they purchased Martin Theatres. It was closed as an adult movie theatre in 1972. Pastime Theatre (316 2nd Avenue) The 970 seat Pastime Theatre opened in 1923. It was located on 2nd Avenue between 4th Street & 5th Street. When the theatre closed it was owned and operated by the Martin Theatres chain. The Pastime Theatre closed in 1961 and has since been demolished.

In 1928, Roy Martin owned and operated a chain of ten theaters in Georgia and Alabama. At the head of this chain was the Royal Theater. It was located at the corner of Talbotton Road and Comer Avenue. The large theater was built in 1927 by Martin as a fireproof building of brick, tile, and concrete construction. It was designed by T. Firth Lockwood and constructed by contractor E.P. Hastings. The theater was built to showcase large road shows, vaudeville theater productions, and to show motion pictures It was located in the rapidly growing suburban area of Rose Hill, where Martin himself lived with his family. When constructed, at a cost of $150,000, the theater was the largest in Columbus and one of the largest in the South with twice the seating capacity of other theaters.

There was also an adjoining store building that was part of Lockwood’s original design and was built to accommodate a business on the first floor and apartments on the second floor. The 1929 Sanborn Map shows a pharmacy located in the store. The city’s first radio station, WRBL, began broadcasting from this building in 1928. In 1958, it was decided to convert it into a theater for all live shows. The renovation and improvements included complete redecoration and the seating was reduced to 2,000. The opening attraction was "Auntie Mame."

Virginia Howard Illges

The Illges family, with Virginia Howard Illges at the core of the movement, donated the building to the city of Columbus in 1964 to save the theater and for it to become the new home of The Three Arts Theater League. It was home to the Columbus Three Arts Theater and the Columbus Symphony for many years until it was demolished in 2003. The Three Arts League, for nearly 50 years, brought world-class musical performers and groups to local stages.

Roy E. Martin’s slogan – “Work while other men play” – proved to be more like a mission statement. By his death in 1948, Martin Theatres operated 140 theatres throughout Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee, and held real estate holdings including hotels, amusement parks, office buildings, business properties, and residences throughout the southeast. He was also very involved in the Columbus community and in Phenix City. One of his largest developments was Idle Hour Park in Phenix City. The 240-acre park featured a 25-acre spring-fed lake, swimming pool, clubhouse, dance hall, bowling alley, skating rink, shooting gallery, football stadium, baseball field, picnic areas, and a zoo. His business sagacity and industriousness were admired by many. Roy Elmo Martin was killed in an airplane accident on February 11, 1948.

Roy E. Martin, Jr.

Martin’s sons would become a part of the company and furthered the expansion of the theater chain and real estate business. His oldest son, Roy E. Martin, Jr., became involved in the operation of Martin Theatres, Martin Realty Company, Idle Hour Park, and other enterprises in the summer of 1939. He served as President of Martin Theatres of Alabama; Vice President of Martin Theatres of Georgia; Martin Theatres of Florida and a partner in Martin Realty Company. He was very involved in the civic advancement of both Columbus and Phenix City for many years. Soon, younger brother, Edwin Dennis Martin, would join his brother and father. He served as the President of Martin Theatres of Georgia and Florida, and Vice President of Martin Theatres of Alabama. He was also a partner in the Martin Realty Company. He served as a director of the Southeastern Theatre Owners Association, Confederacy of Southern Theatre Associations, Theatre Owners of America, Motion Picture Exhibitor of Florida, Alabama Theatres Association, and Treasurer of the Motion Picture Theatre Owners and Operators of Georgia. The Martin brothers presided over the largest independent chain of movie theaters in the United States.

Edwin Dennis Martin

Georgia Theatre (113 13th Street) The Georgia Theatre was opened on June 6, 1946, with Olivia de Havilland in “To Each His Own”. Seating was listed at 1,168. It was owned and operated by the Georgia Theatre Co. until 1961 when Martin Theatres took over ownership. The Georgia Theatre closed in 1980 and has since been demolished.

Drive-in theaters consisted of a large outdoor movie screen, a projection booth, a concession stand, and a large parking area for cars. Within this enclosed area, customers could view movies from the privacy and comfort of their cars. Some drive-ins also had small playgrounds for children and a few picnic tables or benches. The screen could be as simple as a painted white wall or a steel truss structure with a complex finish. Originally, the movie's sound was provided by speakers on the screen and later by individual speakers hung from the window of each car, which was attached to a small pole by a wire. These speaker systems were superseded by the more practical method of micro broadcasting the soundtrack to car radios. This also has the advantage of the film soundtrack to be heard in stereo on car stereo systems, which were typically of much higher quality and fidelity than the basic small mono speakers used in the old systems. The earliest drive – ins were opened in the 1910s, but their popularity didn’t soar until the 1940s with the increased production of the automobile. The car changed everything from the architectural design of our housing to our entertainment. Columbus was no exception. Here are a few of our local drive – in theaters that were also Martin Theatres at one time.

Rexview Drive-In (983 Manchester Expressway) The Rexview Drive-In opened September 22, 1948, with Shirley Temple in “Honeymoon.” It's car capacity was listed at 450. The screen was destroyed in 1952 by a tornado and rebuilt. It was operated by the Georgia Theatre Co. until 1961, when Martin Theatres took over ownership. The Rexview Drive-In closed in 1980 and was demolished in April 1983. The site is now the home of Columbus Technical College. The Columbus Drive – In (996 Fort Benning Road) Opened July 2, 1947, with Dick Haymes in “Irish Eyes are Smiling.” The Columbus Drive-In was parking only 300 cars. One would think being named after the city it would be the largest, but that was not the case. The Columbus Drive-In was another Martin Theatre. Morris Road Drive-In (854 Morris Road) The Morris Road Drive-In was also parking 300 cars when it opened March 28, 1952, with Randolph Scott in “The Nevadan.” It was owned by Martin Theatres. It was closed in 1955. Morris Road ran south of Columbus near Fort Benning, making it popular with the military.

Edgewood Drive-In (Macon Road & Giddens Road) The Edgewood Drive-In was opened October 2, 1952, with Piper Laurie in “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” It parked 676 cars and was owned by Martin Theatres located in Columbus. Jet Drive-In (Cusseta Road and Alpine Drive) Opened on June 6, 1952, with Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson in “What’s Buzzin' Cousin?” The Jive Drive-In was an African American drive-in, parking 375 cars and was equipped with 16mm projectors. In September 1952, it was purchased by the Martin Theatres chain and renamed Jet Drive-In. They equipped it with 35mm projectors. It was closed in the mid-1960’s.

In June 1963, integration talks began for Columbus’ movie theaters. Initially, these discussions were unsuccessful. Following the creation of a city commission (15 whites and 10 African Americans) on September 4, 1963, to discuss racial issues and make recommendations, the theaters integrated on October 1st. Columbus Square Mall was opened in 1965 as the first mall in the city. This was a new way to shop, as well as provide entertainment and restaurants for our community. Martin Theatres didn’t miss a beat to capture these potential new audiences. The Beverly Theatre was the original theatre at the Columbus Square Mall. It was opened by Martin Theatres on March 25, 1965, with Julie Andrews in “Mary Poppins.” It was torn down to make way for mall expansion. The new theatre built at the renovated mall in 1975 to replace the Beverly Theater was the Columbus Square Twin (later Columbus Square Cinemas), which were operated by Martin Theatres & Carmike. It has now been demolished. Martin Theatres would also operate the theatres at Peachtree Mall and behind Cross Country Plaza.

By 1969, Carl Patrick was an executive with the Martin chain. He eventually was elected president and chief executive officer of Fuqua Industries who had purchased the Martin Theatres. By 1982, Fuqua Industries was selling the theaters. Carl Patrick, Sr. and his sons Carl Patrick, Jr. and Michael Patrick put up $250,000 of their own and borrowed $25 million to buy the then 250-screen Martin Theaters from Fuqua Industries. The new company was named Carmike for Patrick’s two sons. In 2016, Carmike Cinemas was sold to AMC. Roy Martin, Sr. … Roy Martin, Jr. … E.D. Martin … Carl Patrick … Michael Patrick … Roy Martin III. They all worked behind the scenes to put Columbus — in many ways the antithesis of Hollywood — in the movie game. Next Week: Next Thursday, we will continue exploring our community's cultural arts history through a couple of Columbus icons - Nunally Johnson and Carson McCullers. Thank you all again for your continued interest in these emails and for your support of preservation! See you next week!

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