The First Picture Shows

May 19. 1910 – dooms day.

On this day of gloom, many anticipated the earth’s collision with the Halley Comet. Newspapers across the world announced that the earth would be brushing the tail of the comet within its orbit.

According to the website wired.com, “in anticipation of the comet’s arrival, telescope sales shot up and hotels in large cities offered special packages that included rooftop viewings.”

The entire spectacle became nothing more then media hype when, on May 20, 1910, people awoke to the same planet Earth, the same workday, and the panic had left their minds. People could now go back to focusing on the new hype – the silent moving picture theaters.

The next most talked about event of 1910, the mass hit Frankenstein; a thirteen minute long silent film based on Mary Shelley’s novel.

Nine years later, in 1919, Floyd Williams and Sam Selman opened the Wilselman Theater on the Slaton Town Square. Prior to this theater, the Cozy Moving Theater on the corner of Garza and 9th Street offered various silent films to the public. The Cozy was the first theater and was built sometime between 1911 and 1915.

However, The Wilselman Theater was the first major theater to have a sound system and could seat approximately 740 patrons during one showing. It was also the first theater that brought major block buster movies such as Broken Blossoms, Daddy-Long-Legs and the number one hit of 1919, The Miracle Man.

In 1920, as dramas played out on screen, the drama seeped into the business as well because the theater was, once again sold and bought by Jeff Custer who operated the venture through 1925. During this time, Slatonites were treated to films such as the Mask of Zorro (1920) staring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and the lavish adventure film Robin Hood (1922).

There is little known about how many citizens of Slaton, or those passing through by train, enjoyed the theater. It is known, by many accounts however, that the theater business in Slaton remained a powerful force for many decades.

In 1927, many renovations and modern advancements were added under the ownership of Oscar Korn. The theater also changed names and became known as The Palace Theater. Later, Walter Buenger became the owner of the theater.

A newspaper clipping published in the 1950’s in The Slatonite said, “The theater has been under the management of several different managers but none of them has met with the success that Mr. Walter Buenger has in winning the favor of local citizens and establishing the good will of the theater generally through this territory.”

Mr. Walter Buenger was originally from Monahans. He spent two and a half years, prior to coming to Slaton, at Monahans and Tyler where he learned the skills it took to master the successful operation of a show house.

For generations, many citizens of Slaton enjoyed the luxury of the modern movie theater and witnessed as the industry went from silent double features lasting twenty-minutes to major studio blockbusters. The Slatonite is interested in hearing stories about some of those outings and memories of the motion movie pictures of Slaton. Please contact James Villanueva at the Slatonite for some of your tales.

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About slatontx

The ramblings of one of the few remaining small town newspaper reporters left in the world!
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