Before settling into a parking place, I circled the block several times, ostensibly looking for a legal spot, so I could dash into Rispoli Pastry Shoppe next door to the theater, and grab a cappuccino. I found my spot finally, plunked some quarters into the muni-meter. Now I’m sitting in the car spooning the froth off the top of my coffee, trying to avoid going home, and gazing absently at the marquee — they ought to do something about that banner, the one that’s coming off, but never mind.
After paying for my cappuccino, I didn’t come straight back to the car. The doors to the theater were open, and — who could resist? — I went in. On the pretext of asking when Whoopi Goldberg tickets go on sale, I pulled back the friendly old red center door with its heavy gold deco-style handle--and strode right into the past. I was hoping there’d be nobody behind the box office window, and I got my wish, there wasn’t. I cruised around the pink marble foyer with its white and gold leaf plaster ceiling and small stained-glass chandelier, the one with those odd fake candles all clustered close, that look a little like fingers. Then I tip-toed into the lobby and reminded myself that the Pong machine stood right there. I used to play that game with whoever was standing by in the lobby, when I wanted to avoid thinking about how I was going to pay the electric bill. Of course, there was my office under the stairs. Mine was tiny. Current management has expanded it outward, into the lobby, to accommodate three or more desks. The big back office Dean used, with a sign stenciled on the door in gold, DISTRICT OFFICE is gone now: it’s been fashioned into a men’s restroom. The old men’s lounge (with a smoking room!) was in the basement, locked off these days. So it goes when you return to a house you once lived in and notice all the changes.
I feel covert, like a spy, when I enter the theater these days, even with a ticket in my hand. One door to the auditorium is open, and I eaves-drop briefly on the new lighting grid they’re building on stage. The stage: I miss the big old curved screen with its soda stains.
Will the St. George ever show movies again? Perhaps not — but, hey, it’s still around! So many old palaces — built for Vaudeville as much as for what was then a high-tech notion, moving pictures — are live working houses as they re-emerge. Given the St. George Theatre’s exquisite acoustics, why fight it baby?
The place was just forty-seven years old when I sat behind the filigreed box office cage with its broken electric TICKETS sign. On December 4, 2019 it’ll be ninety years old, though Blossom Seeley who opened that night would be, if she were alive, arguably 128 years of age. I’m in my late sixties and I probably look it, but the St. George, if anything, seems younger than I remember — hardly imperiled these days by neglect or a wrecker’s ball.
Check out the photographer Matt Lambros’ work documenting old theaters, many already in ruins. Next weekend, I’m driving — with our webmaster Robin Locke Monda — to Holyoke, Massachusetts as part of a photography workshop hosted by Matt, to visit the long-neglected and definitely imperiled Victory Theatre. Stay tuned — I intend to write about the Holyoke experience.
Did you ever break up with a lover and meet him suddenly on the street? That’s how it is for me now when I open the doors to what I still consider my theater and walk in. I used to come and go through those lovely old red and gold doors daily. Now I need an excuse — a cappuccino at Rispoli or to ask about some tickets — to steel my nerves and feel a little bit less like a ghost.