The Town Theatre Once Was Wonderland, Then The Palace Theatre
Constructed in 1907, The Electric Building, home to the Town Theatre in later years, was originally known as Hotel LeRay. One of LeRay’s earliest storefront occupants was a little Nickelodeon, the first movie theater in Watertown, N.Y., named Wonderland.
Wonderland would be described as a “Theatorium” and “Electric Theater” due to the fact that it was partly a theater that could show motion pictures and live performances, as well as an auditorium where musicians could perform as well, which was often the case during the silent film era. Wonderland’s initial performance on September 7, 1906, would draw an estimated 1,000 patrons to the new theater.
Over the ensuing decade, a number of theaters existed in Watertown. The City Opera House would be nearing 30 years old by 1916 and still focused on live performances ranging from vaudeville, plays, and musical performances and had yet transitioned to showing movie reels. The Orpheum on Polk Street would be another large theater, doing much of the same while the Antique Theater on Court Street showed movies.
After opening their newest theater, The Olympic, on June 4, 1917, the enterprising Papayanakos Brothers, who also owned the Antique Theater on Court St., known in later years as the Liberty Theater, would turn their eyes to Wonderland and reopen it after upgrades in late 1917 as the Palace Theater. The Palace would seat 600 in its auditorium with nearly 300 in a balcony.
In 1928, it would become the first theater in Watertown to be operated by the Schine Circuit, which would go on to operate both the Olympic Theater just a few doors down on State Street and the Avon Theater on Arsenal Street.
In 1949, the Palace Theatre would undergo new management, remodeling, and rebranding to become The Town Theater. The Watertown Daily Times would report its opening on December 14–
TOWN THEATRE TO OPEN ON FRIDAY
Former Palace Entirely Renovated–Special Program On Thursday.
The Town Theatre, the renovated product of the former Palace theater in the Electric Building on Public Square, will be officially opened to the public at 7 p.m. Friday, it was announced today by Richard P. Morgan, president-secretary of the operators, the Richmor Amusement Enterprises.
The theater site, closed on Nov. 28, has undergone a complete alteration both on the interior and exterior featuring new modernistic appointments and a soft color scheme. Mr. Morgan said that the theater will feature first run films and the opening motion picture will be “Anna Lucasta,” starring Paulette Goddard and Broderick Crawford.
The new theater would have a 30-ton capacity air conditioning unit installed, making it the first theater in the North Country motion picture houses to have this accommodation.
The Town Theatre would have a good run for the next couple of decades, but, like the Olympic Theater, both would fall under the management of the Panther Theater Corp. in the late 1960s and be accused of, and arrested on, obscenity charges for showing adult films. According to the Times, arrests were made after District Attorney William J. McClusky and plainclothesman Charles S. Kubinski viewed “The Space Thing” and “Good Time With a Bad Girl” at the Town Theater.
The Panther Theater Corp., out of New York City, would also lease drive-ins around the area, including Star-lit Drive-In on outer Washington Street and the Black River Drive-In on Rt. 3. Though the Town Theatre still showed Hollywood films such as the French Connection, every once in a while the manager would be arrested on obscenity charges. The Olympic Theater would find itself closed down in 1973 and in limbo for a number of years, followed by more inactivity until it was demolished in 1988.
The Town Theatre would face a similar fate and be forced to close a year earlier in 1972. With the vacant building, the city would take over ownership and demolish it in 1976.