I've written about this place before, but I just came across these photos. This was my first dream palace, but of course these pictures come even before my time (rumours of my having played piano at the first screening of Way Down East being a gross libel), in 1949. Just look at that marquee.
Just waiting outside would have been kind of a thrill, no? And imagine crowds actually lining up to catch what can kindly be called a routine sort of picture. It was cold that night; the movie came out in the first half of March, and the Warner was very much a first-run house.
Wouldn't you love to step into all that, just for a moment - to have a chance to see what was in those shop windows, hear the music drifting from the tavern down the street, get a look at a world - small city urban America - now as gone as Pompeii?
At night, the street had a real noir feel, a shade mysterious and cosmopolitan. By day it all has a slightly more mundane feeling, I suppose, but it's still pretty wonderful. The big department store was just off camera to the right, and the Warner's marquee, less dramatic at mid-day, juts out a block or so in on the left.
It's a funny feeling to see pictures like this. South of St. Louis doesn't seem like my parents' kind of night out (they were married four years right about then), but you never know; they might have decided, just that evening, that you couldn't go all that wrong with Joel McCrea. For that matter, that could be Grandfather Muscato in one of those behemoth automobiles, tooling downtown to the office on a perfectly ordinary day. He was a Packard man, mostly.
And now it's gone, mostly; certainly any vestige of that urban feeling; what's left is a patchwork of redevelopment and (mostly misplaced) optimism. The theatre hangs on, but the shops are long gone, and old people live in the onetime department store. Downtown is as much open space as solid brick commercial buildings, and I think that all but one of the eye-astonishing office blocks - one topping out at 12 stories - have turned into those open spaces.
Most of all, it's a place I may never see again, for the grandparents are as gone as Packards and our roots there (although they went back to earliest days, frozen ex-revolutionaries wondering why they hadn't settled somewhere less inclement, Georgia, maybe; south of St. Louis, certainly) are pretty thoroughly cut. It's good, still, to be from somewhere, and to think how permanent it must all have seemed, one winter's night in 1949.