SPRINGVALE, Maine — Two men roam the attic of a home filled with treasures. One of them owns the place. The other is the president of the local historical society. The homeowner has invited the president to the house to see if he finds anything there he would like to add to his organization’s trove of local historic artifacts.
He does. Three large medallions stand out from the collection.
The president knows these medallions by heart and is thrilled to see them again after so many years. He was an avid film-goer in his youth, and it is from these medallions that beautiful and elegant chandeliers hung from the ceiling of the old-time movie theater he attended as a boy.
The president enthusiastically accepts the medallions for the local historical museum.
Sounds like a pitch for an intriguing new movie. Or for a new exhibit at the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society.
The homeowner is Steve Shaw. The president of the historical society is Harland Eastman. Shaw called Eastman to the property he owned on Pleasant Avenue and invited him to take that look around in the attic.
That’s when Eastman spotted the medallions. That’s when he got the idea for the historical museum’s new exhibit, which showcases the history of movie theaters in Sanford-Springvale from the earlier years of the 20th century through the 1950s.
The late Ronald Morin, a longtime member of the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society, owned the home now owned by Shaw. With an eye toward history, Morin saved the medallions from the old Capitol Theatre on Main Street as it was being demolished in the spring of 1969. He kept them stored in his attic for nearly 50 years.
“Steve Shaw’s gift of these medallions to the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society was the spark that led to this exhibit,” the text that accompanies the new display declares.
The exhibit had its premiere during a special presentation at the Sanford-Springvale Historical Museum at 505 Main St. on Thursday, Sept. 20.
The exhibit’s special attractions include old movie posters, newspaper ads, and pictures of local theaters from yesteryear. Courtesy of City Councilor Fred Smith, one wall of the exhibit even features the wooden sign that greeted moviegoers at the old Sanford Drive-In from 1950 through the late 1970s. The drive-in existed where Breary Farms Apartments on Main Street are now.
According to research on display at the exhibit, the first showing of a film in Sanford is believed to have taken place in a room above Shaw’s Hardware on Main Street at one point in the early 20th century. Films also were known to be shown as early as 1907 on School Street at the Knights of Pythias Hall that eventually burned down in the 70s.
Local businessman Frank Leavitt is said to have shown films on the top floor of his block at the corner of School and Washington streets well before 1908 — the year he converted his father’s store on Main Street into the town’s first known movie theater, the Theatre Comique, home to vaudeville and silent films.
That venture proved so successful that Leavitt built and opened a bona fide theater with 1,300 seats on Main Street in Sanford two years later. Leavitt Theatre, as it was called, closed in 1929 and reopened late the next year as the Capitol Theatre, under the management of E.M. Lowe.
As mentioned, the Capitol closed and was demolished in the late 1960s. A 7-Eleven convenience store was built in its place in the late 70s and remained there at the intersection of Main Street and Route 202 until it too closed earlier this year.
“Leavitt was the real kingpin of the movie industry in Sanford for quite a while,” Eastman said during a recent walk-through of the exhibit.
The exhibit chronicles the history of the movies in Sanford-Springvale up through the earlier years of E.M. Lowe’s drive-in during the 1950s. Eastman hopes to continue adding to the exhibit throughout its run at the museum and encourages anyone who has any memorabilia — movie posters, for example, or anything else from the first half of the twentieth century — to call him at 324-2797.
Back in those earlier days, you could see a movie for a dime. This new exhibit at the Sanford-Springvale Historical Museum is even more of a steal, if you can believe that in this day and age of $10 movie tickets. Admission is free during the museum’s hours, which are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.
In the beginning, movies were shown at more venues in Sanford-Springvale than you might realize. Films were shown in the auditorium of the Sanford Town Hall, beginning in 1908. The Gowen Theatre on Butler Street opened in 1913 and was renamed the Colonial Theatre three years later. Sanford Theatre opened on High Street — near the corner of North Avenue — in January of 1928 and was destroyed by fire in January of 1937. Even the building that is now the historical museum itself showed films in the early 1900s and again in 1937.
Just a few doors down from the Capitol, the State Theatre opened behind the Gendron Block on Main Street under E.M. Lowe Management in the fall of 1959. Its nearly 1,000 seats made it Sanford’s second-largest theatre after the Leavitt. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, children flocked to the State to see such silver screen icons as Wild Bill Hickock, the Green Hornet, Flash Gordon, and the Lone Ranger in the latest installments of their ongoing serials.
Eastman, a youngster during this time, said he was a “movie-holic” as a kid, taking a bus to Sanford from his Springvale home and catching a show at either the Leavitt or the State on Saturday afternoons. On some occasions, he ended up attending movies at both theatres, adding a film in the evening “if there was something that couldn’t be missed.”
“I got a 50-cent-a week allowance,” Eastman said. “I could go to Sanford for five cents, to the State Theatre for 10 cents, and then, if I was going to stay and go to the Capitol Theatre, I could get a hamburger, a Coke, and a doughnut for 20 cents, and then I had 10 cents for the evening show, and five cents left out of 50 to take the bus home.”
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