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Glance At The Past

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In last week’s feature, we showed a program from Martina’s Pontiac Theater. This week we have another movie program, again courtesy of Drusilla Howland of Ogdensburg, from the Strand Theatre. The Strand operated in Ogdensburg from 1917 until it was destroyed by fire in 1972.

We placed the date of the program at 1933 based on the film it featured on the front, “The Bowery,” starring Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper and George Raft. The back of the program features the film adaptation of Zane Grey’s 1922 western novel “To The Last Man.”

The program notes that the price of admission back then ranged from a dime to 40 cents, depending on whether it was an evening or a matinee show, and the type of seats purchased.

The Strand was located at the corner of Caroline and Ford streets, next door to Phillip’s Diner. It was operated the majority of its life by Schine Enterprises, based in New York City, which at one time ran a chain of 148 movie theaters in five states and owned both the Strand and Pontiac theaters in Ogdensburg. The company was forced to sell the Pontiac following an antitrust lawsuit in 1949 that required it to divest itself of holdings in communities where it was considered to hold a monopoly. There were only a handful of communities where the company was allowed to hold onto theaters.

Over the years, Schine Enterprises branched out into vast hotel, resort and real estate holdings. Its hotels included the Schine Inns in Massena, in addition to oceanfront resorts in Florida and the luxury Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Schine also operated the WPTR radio station in Albany, a line of concessions services and bowling alleys, and a television antenna system. When the company sold its holdings in 1965, its assets were valued at $150 million.

The last owner of the Strand was John Langford, who had managed the theater for many years before buying it. It burned in an explosive fire on Oct. 15, 1972, that also demolished the kitchen of Phillip’s Diner and heavily damaged an apartment building behind the theater.

The cause of the fire was never conclusively proven, but a malfunctioning steam boiler was suspected. According to an Ogdensburg Journal account of the fire, Steve Barr, a 10th-grader at Ogdensburg Free Academy, had been in a photo booth near the theater and saw an explosion at the rear of the building that propelled the back wall of the theater into the apartments behind it.

Nobody in the apartment building was injured, and a waitress who was in the diner when the fire broke out also escaped without injury. Nobody was in the theater, as Mr. Langford, his wife and projectionist Michael Amo had left the building for the night, and patrons had cleared out about 40 minutes prior.

The fire raged for about two hours and a propane tank in the building also exploded, leaving behind only the front wall of the theater by the time fire fighters had done their work. The loss was estimated at $700,000. Mr. Langford told the newspaper he didn’t carry much insurance because he assumed the building was fire-proof.

If you have a photo or feature for Glance At The Past, please contact Advance-News Editor Elizabeth Lyons at 393-1003, extension 123, or egraham@wdt.net. Photos and accompanying information will be published in the order in which they are received, and must be received by Monday to be considered for publication the following Sunday. Contributors may pick up their submissions at The Journal and Advance-News office in Ogdensburg after they are published.

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