The Bay’s Early Movie Houses

The first picture show in Bay Saint Louis was the Bay Pictorium, which opened in 1905 on the water side of North Beach Boulevard, formerly known as Front Street.  Its owner/operator, W. A. Sigerson, advertised “a change of moving pictures daily, beautiful illustrated song, a first class electric theatre with admission of a nickel but on Vaudeville nights, admission of a dime.”  On Wednesdays and Saturdays candy was given away.

Bay Pictorium had an air dome built over the water, and people sat on bleachers out in the open.  The management furnished an insect repellent called Sweet Dreams.  In case of rain, patrons moved inside, the projector was reversed, and the Keystone Cops didn’t miss a beat!

Mr. Sigerson sold the Bay Pictorium to Octave Fayard, who operated it until it burned in 1913.  The building was valued at $2,700. 

In the spring of 1914, the first of three A & G movie houses opened on that site under the management of Geraldine Ames and Philomene Gaspard.  After a successful season another “air dome” without walls or roof was added the following summer.  Before long both were rebuilt and converted to one large building which served up silent pictures for about six years.

In 1927 the brick building housing the new A & G Theater, designed by architect William T. Nolan, was constructed across Front Street on the land side.  At a cost of $60,000, the two-storied building was 42’ x 126’, it seated one thousand patrons, including a balcony area, and it had a stage behind the movie screen.

The parapet housed the broad copper marquee lighted by electricity. It protected “its patrons against inclement weather conditions, at all times permitting them to drive up in their automobiles beneath its bounteous shade,” said an admiring Sea Coast Echo reporter in the special edition of the newspaper dedicated to the opening of this grand attraction at the intersection of Front and State streets.

The interior boasted ornamented plaster, beam ceilings in barrel design, lighted by electricity in set conduits, “making it impossible for a fire to occur.  It [was] cooled by two arctic new air machines [driven] by electric motors thus providing comfort to the patrons even in the hottest seasons,” reported the Echo article. 

So enamored was the admiring Echo reporter with this bright new addition to the community that he dubbed the A & G “a thing of beauty [and] a joy forever”— perhaps not what the poet Keats had in mind. 

The Bay’s other picture show was the Ortte, which opened in the mid-1940’s in a building on South Beach Boulevard at Washington Street that had housed a number of famous establishments in its day. 

Built in 1894 to replace an earlier structure lost in a fire, the building was originally a dry goods store owned by August Keller. In 1921 it was bought by the group that reorganized the Bay-Waveland Yacht Club.  When the club began to struggle after a couple of years, its leaders staged a dance in the building in 1930, inspiring one of its members, Charles A. Breath, Sr., to acquire the building for a night club.

In the 1930’s Mr. Keller’s old store “changed hats” to become Uncle Charlie’s Night Club, a lively gathering place in front of which yacht races were held.

Subsequently, Ed Ortte, owner of several movie houses, bought the building in the mid-1940’s and opened the Ortte Theatre, which operated until 1955 when Joseph Scafide bought it and changed its name to the Star.  In 1975  it was purchased by Kelvin Schulz, who continued to operate it as the Star Theater showing films and staging community theater plays, until 1984.  At that time Schulz changed the commercial use of the building to a grocery store, known as the Big E.  Unfortunately, the building was yet another victim of Hurricane Katrina.

 

SOURCES:
Back, Edith.  “The Bay’s Early Movie Houses.”  Sea Coast Echo.  19 August 1999, Tercentennial Edition”  11.
Sanborn Maps.  Bay St. Louis, MS.  New York:  Sanborn Map Co., Ltd., 1893—1963.

 

© 2008 - 2017
Hancock County Historical Society
All rights reserved