WOW! What a place! I was inside an Aztec temple! It was an adventure. I was immediately overtaken by the rich smell of popcorn. We go to the concession stand and Sonny buys us popcorn and a Coke.
Sonny showed me to my seat and I expected him and his girlfriend to sit next to me. They don’t, they sit 3 aisles in back of me. I didn’t care, I had my popcorn and Coke!
The movie begins and it’s a “Pocketful of Miracles’ ‘, starring Glenn Ford, Betty Davis, Peter Falk, Ann Margaret and others. I didn’t know who they were, but I fell in love with Ann Margaret. The movie is about Apple Annie, a street vendor who sells apples to a gangster who claims the apples always bring him luck. A wonderful movie that takes place in New York City, reminded me of downtown San Antonio with all the neon lights, skyscrapers like the Transit Tower. I loved the movie with all the street urchins. I felt like I was there. To this day I watch “Pocketful of Miracles’ every Christmas. You have to see it to believe it.
I am happily watching the movie and I turn back to look at Sonny and his friend. Sonny motions to me to turn around and watch the movie. I do. I run out of popcorn. I turn around again to look at Sonny and show him my empty box of popcorn and he gets up and takes me to the concession stand. He buys me boxes of candies! I never had candies in boxes. We go back and sit. I am stuffing my mouth, not to mention I am stuffing my pockets too!
Needless to say I never looked back. I munched, enjoyed the movie and forgot about Sonny and his female friend.
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, not to mention all the popcorn and candies! We are outside the Aztec and Sonny’s friend is picked up by her mom and we go home.
I kinda knew what to say at home, which was nothing. Mom asked me how I enjoyed the movie. ” I did Mom!” as I took out my bounty of candies from my jacket and offered her some. Sonny’s date was never mentioned.
Thus began my romance with downtown San Antonio’s downtown silver screens!
I attended Catholic schools. St. Michael’s and St.Mary’s. Neither were near our home, we lived in the back of Dad’s barber shop on the eastside. In the third grade, I began to take the bus home. Downtown San Antonio was my stomping ground after school. I got to know downtown SA in the 60’s. It was the heyday of downtown. Oftentimes I’d explore downtown, I knew where and what every store offered. I’d read all the movie posters in front of the theatres.
Herewith are my memories of the great theatres of downtown San Antonio…..
Texas Theatre
The Texas is my favorite. I spent many Saturdays there. We would have our Saturday morning altarboy meetings at St. Mary’s Church just a block away from the Texas. We’d practice in the Church, go over our assigned Masses for the week, sometimes I would serve Mass for a visiting priest.
After the meetings, if there was a good movie, I’d head to the Texas. The concessions at the theaters were too expensive for me. I’d go to the Coney Island, order a 15¢ hot dog to go and to please double bag it. I’d stick the hot dog in my sock and pretend to walk normal and off to the Texas! Once inside, I would buy a Coke from the vending machine for a dime. It was the freshest and best Coke. The machine would drop a cup, then flaked ice would fall, topped with syrup and carbonated water. The plastic window would automatically open. That first sip was the best!
Once the movie started, I’d carefully take out my Coney and enjoy.
During the summer months, the Texas would have Pepsi Cola shows every first Saturday of the month. Mom showed me the advertisement in the San Antonio Light newspaper. Free entry to movies with 6 Pepsi bottle caps! I was fortunate, where Mom worked, they had a Pepsi vending machine and that meant free bottle caps! I never lacked caps.
The line was long to get into the Texas, it extended for 2 blocks all the way to the back of the theater. I dumped the bottle caps into a huge box and was given a ticket. The theater was noisy and full of us kids, standing room only. After the movie there would be a drawing for brand new bicycles and other prizes.
One time I did the math. The capacity of the Texas was 2700 seats. If each kid brought 6 bottle caps, that would be over 16,000 caps. That’s a lot of Pepsi!
Majestic Theatre
The Majestic was probably the most classiest theatre and largest. Capacity was 3700. Multiple balconies and an atmospheric sky, complete with twinkling stars and artificial clouds rolling. The ushers were always well dressed and kinda strict & stuffy with kids.
We would attend Mass on Sunday in the early 60’s at St. Mary’s Church. Dad would park the car on College St. I’d always see a line of African-Americans, some even in US Air Force and Army uniforms waiting in line under a mini canopy in back of the Majestic. It was a mini metal canopy designed just like the big canopy on Houston St.
I asked Mom why African-Americans had to enter through the back. Mom answered me with one word, “Stupidity”. Later I found out African-Americans had to go to the highest balcony to view the movie. Segregation was unfortunately alive in San Antonio. That entrance was labeled the “Colored Entrance” and the ticket price was higher. I am sure most of the downtown theatres had “Colored Entrances”, this was the only one I noticed.
Next to the Majestic was a small candy shop. In the display window it had a shiny chrome salt taffy machine always turning globs of taffy. For 10¢ I would purchase 3 pieces of taffy fresh off the machine. They’d place it in a little white bag and off to the movies I would go.
My most memorable movies at the Majestic were “Goldfinger” and the “Matt Helm” movies featuring Dean Martin. I would take a date and the movie was so interesting and exciting, I totally ignored her.
Empire Theatre
The interior of the Empire was not as grandiose as the other theatres. The Empire would feature second run movies at a cheaper price. If there was a favorite movie I wanted to see I would wait for it to play at the Empire. I practically saw all the spaghetti westerns at the Empire.
Joy Theatre
The Joy was located in the “Mexican part of downtown”, on Houston St, one block west of Flores St. After I would see a movie at a major theatre, I’d end up at the Joy. The Joy was across the street from where Mom worked, Rubin’s Clothing Outlet.
The Joy wasn’t anything to brag about. No balcony, no decor, basically a large room with a descending floor. Sometimes my shoes would stick to the floor because of spilled sodas. The concession stand hardly had anything, just a few candy bars, sodas and popcorn from an old popcorn machine. A tall older man about every 15 minutes would walk down the aisle with his metal basket of popcorn bags and drinks. As he got toward the screen, he would turn around and begin to walk up. He would slowly approach the few patrons and look you in the eye with his spooky penetrating eyes and ask if you would like anything. I always sat in the front row next to the aisle and to grab my attention he would tap me on the shoulder. He scared me, he reminded me of Frankenstein, but he was harmless.
The Joy would feature 3rd run movies and admission was only 25¢. The best movie I saw at the Joy was “Pepe’ starring Cantinflas! I thought Cantinflas was the greatest comedian in the world and he was Mexican! I would later see Cantinflas in person when he came to San Antonio to campaign for Henry B. Gonzalez’ initial campaign for Congress in 1961. But that is another story I will share with you one day.
If you ever have a chance, catch an event at one of downtown San Antonio’s theatre showcases and step back into the golden age of cinema.
Rick Melendrez, is a native San Antonian. Melendrez considers himself fortunate to have been born in San Antonio, just 3 blocks from the San Antonio de Valero mission (the Alamo) at the former Nix hospital on the riverwalk and to have attended Catholic grade school on the southside and on the river walk.
Catholic education is very close to his heart. Melendrez attended St. Michaels for five years (1960-65) and then attended St. Mary’s School on the river walk (1965-68) and onto Cathedral high school in El Paso, Texas.
He is the former publisher of the El Paso Citizen newspaper and former chairman of the El Paso County Democratic Party. He writes a page on Facebook titled “Sister Mary Ruler, Growing Up Catholic In San Antonio”. Everyone is invited to read about the San Antonio of the 1960’s
You may contact Melendrez via email at or by phone, 915-565-1663 (landline).