WESTON — If you have walked through Bank Alley in Weston, you’ve inevitably seen the murals on one of the buildings flanking the walkway. If you look closely, you’ll see not only the Coca-Cola murals, but a Fairyland Theatre mural. We have all heard of Coca-Cola, but what about the Fairyland Theatre?
Local resident and historian, Bruce Adler, was asked this question, and provided the answer, not only to the Fairyland, but shared information on Weston’s other, long closed and forgotten theaters.
The first nickelodeon in the United States opened in 1905 in Pennsylvania. Weston was not too far behind, with The Fairyland Theatre opening in 1907, the second nickelodeon to open in Weston. The term nickelodeon came from the price of admission: one nickel. The Fairyland was located at 139 Main Ave., where The Weston Democrat now has its office. Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, native James W. Ferry operated the theater, which had a seating capacity of 330. The theater was advertised as such:
“Open afternoons and evenings. Clean, cool and comfortable room. Our picture does not hurt the eyes. Program changed daily.”
Adler added that in the summertime, Ferry gave free admission to his theatre to every child who brought to the ticket booth a jar containing 200 dead flies. Historians argue about whether early nickelodeons attracted working or middle class people, but in its infancy, nickelodeons may have provided a “simple amusement for the working class.” This could explain why dead flies were accepted as admission for children.
Backtracking a few years, the first motion picture shown in Weston occurred on April 14, 1897. The recently built Camden Opera House at 115 East Second Street served as the location, and the film was projected onto a white sheet by an Edison Vitascope. The minutes long film, presented by a Vaudeville troupe, showed scenes of Niagara Falls, a comic dance, pictures of traffic and pedestrians in New York’s Herald Square, a flame and smoke-filled fire rescue scene, and a watermelon eating contest, Adler said. The Opera House was a stage, and would not show films regularly for another 15 years. The Opera House closed in 1963.
The same year the Fairyland opened in 1907, Weston’s first, true, nickelodeon opened in March. The Electric Theater was operated by the McEwuen family from Ottowa, Canada, and was located in a former storeroom at 119 East Second Street. The building is no longer there, and has been replaced by a small section of the United Bank parking lot. Closing dates for the Electric Theater and the Fairyland Theatre are unknown, but Adler suggested that due to their short histories, they were not in business long.
The Grand, Weston’s third nickelodeon, was owned by John Hindenach, and operated from 1909 until 1913. Renamed the Hippodrome, it operated out of the Malloy building at the northwest corner of Main Avenue and First Street. The building was razed in 2008, Adler said, adding that in the next door room the short lived New Theatre operated form 1919 until 1922.
In 1928 the Tip Top opened, seating 215, at 124 Main Avenue. Closing within a few months, it was later occupied by the H & H Bowling Alley, and is now a part of Bennett’s Firestone. In October 1935 the Hollywood opened in the Barnes Building at 241 Main Avenue. Named after a public contest, it had no balcony or stage, and showed “B” movies.
While famous stars like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, and others were seldom seen on this screen, the Hollywood could boast it was the theatre that presented Gone With the Wind. Tickets were priced at a slightly higher rate, and reservations had to be made.
“On Saturday afternoon, the Hollywood catered to Weston’s young western fans whose heroes were Buck Jones, Ken Maynard, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers,” Adler said.
On January 1, 1954, cable television came to Weston. This was the writing on the wall for the Hollywood, and the theater closed for good on Sunday, April 29, 1956. In the last months of its existence, it was only open on Saturdays and Sundays.
Few reminders remain of these local theaters, but the Fairyland Theatre mural in Bank Alley tells us they existed. Now, with plans in the works to revitalize the area, local residents and groups are interested in preserving the murals. Weston’s Historic Landmark Commission, Lewis County First, Weston Mayor Kim Harrison and City Council, and the Blueprint Community have been involved in this project, along with other beautification projects in Lewis County. Blueprint has approved over $1,000 in funding.
“We are planning additional, decorative lighting for the alley, and hope to seal the brick walkway this spring,” LC First and Blueprint Community member Ray Smith said, adding COVID-19 derailed several projects in 2020, but they are hoping to get back on track in the new year. Smith is currently waiting on quotes regarding a system to string lights in the alley.
Jesse Corlis, the artist behind the mural at the Museum of American Glass in West Virginia (MAGWV), has expressed interest in working on the murals, only to restore them, not to make them look brand new. There are concerns with how much stress the wall of the building can take, however. Those involved with the project have consulted area engineers and contractors for input.
“It may come down to just applying a protective coat and nothing more. We’re just not sure yet,” volunteer Becca Rich said.
In the meantime, anyone in the community who may have old photos of the wall and the murals, or of the theaters, is encouraged to share those as none have been located yet. Those can be dropped off at The Weston Democrat, or shared by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org., or email@example.com.
“Photos would help give an idea of what they looked like years ago, before time took its toll,” Smith said.