Palms sweating and heart pounding, I entered the Crandell Theatre. I prayed garbage cans were within reach, as I was positive I’d be sick from fear. I was 11 and on my very first date.
The Crandell Theatre was built in 1926, as a vaudeville house in a little Upstate, New York country town. Much of my childhood was spent sitting in the balcony watching the red velvet curtain part, to reveal the Marx Brothers, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Jaws, amongst others. For years, the price of a film was $1.50 until it slowly rose to $5.00. The best bargain in town.
What better place for a first date?
Young Frankenstein, 1974. Yes, I’m revealing my age with that admission, but the thrill of seeing the film alongside my boy crush was indescribable.
That night, as I sat frozen in my chair with “him” mere inches away, I never noticed the beautiful architecture of the building. The old lanterns, Spanish-arched designs, stucco walls, 26-foot wide stage and orchestra pit. Little did I know, there were still dressing rooms in the back from the vaudeville days. Perhaps my date knew, but luckily, we were only 11 and not 18.
Did he hold my hand? I don’t remember, but I do remember the sexual innuendo between Gene Wilder and the gorgeous Teri Garr horrified me. I was definitely too young to date… and too young for that film.
This was to be my first of many dates at the Crandell. Three years later, I went back with the same boy to see Star Wars. This time it was Princess Leia flirting with Han Solo. If only I were that graceful and experienced. Even though I was older, not even a Jedi mind trick could calm my nerves. I was convinced I was in love… though perhaps it was Luke Skywalker I loved, not my date.
The years past and my taste in movies and boys did too. I saw everything from The Breakfast Club to the horror flick, Friday the 13th. For that, I do remember being clutched to a boy’s arm. Horror films were the perfect rouse for boys to hold my hand. I fell for it, hook, line and sinker.
The thrill of the Crandell wasn’t just in the charm of the architecture, it was the family who ran it. I’d come to the counter to buy my R-rated film ticket, terrified the owner would turn me away for being under 17. He would give a stern look, ask if my parents gave permission, I’d nod, then he’d smile and hand me my ticket. No one dared lie to him, because he indeed knew all our parents. Small town living.
Time went on, but it never seemed to change the Crandell. It was the town anchor of amusement and beauty. Ten years ago, our community formed The Chatham Film Club, a lovely group of film fanatics who birthed the film festival, Film Columbia. Our Crandell Theatre was the star. I would buy a pass and sit in my chair, this time with my husband holding my hand. We’d watch foreign films and a variety of independent features. The seats were packed, and we lived on popcorn and Hot Tamales for four days. By this time, the theatre had passed hands to the next generation, and every day of the festival, the owner and his wife were present. Him smiling and greeting the locals, and her at the concession stand passing out Milk Duds.
Sadly, the owner, Tony Quirino, unexpectedly passed, and the theatre closed. The Film Club is raising money in hopes of purchasing it to preserve its beauty and charm for future generations, just as the Quirino family did.
A part of our town’s charm passed away with Tony that sad day, as the lights went out on the marquise. While we all miss him, we are grateful for the years of joy he and his family brought our lives and the memories forever embedded in our souls.
The Crandell was more than a movie house; it was a treasure of celluloid, first loves, hand-holding memories and a magical red velvet curtain.
*originally published in Making Me Magazine
*update: The Chatham Film Club now owns of the Crandell Theatre. Full story HERE