Hooray for Hollywood in Hixson

Thursday, February 28, 2013 - by Harmon Jolley
Grand opening announcement for the Northgate Cinema - note the admission prices
Grand opening announcement for the Northgate Cinema - note the admission prices

Today, the Hixson area has fourteen times as many screens as it did in 1972.  Hixson lacked a walk-in or drive-in movie theater prior to the March 23, 1972 opening of the Northgate Cinema.

There had been theaters in Red Bank, including the Red Bank Drive-in and the short-lived Fox Theater.  However, there was no picture show prior to 1972 “in the thriving town of Hixson,” as Hixson High’s alma mater goes.

Hixson’s movie options have increased since 1972.  The following is a recap.

NORTHGATE CINEMA

With elaborate ceremonies, Northgate Mall opened on Thursday, March 15, 1972.  A week and one day later, Northgate Cinema opened inside the mall near Miller Brothers.  The first movie shown was Disney’s “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” starring Angela Lansbury, who later voiced Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Northgate Cinema only had one auditorium and screen.  However, the 530-seat theater could accommodate large audiences.  I remember going to a showing of “Animal House” in 1978, and was part of a sold-out show.  Everyone was enjoying in the antics of the Delta Tau Chi’s led by John Belushi.   Over my years of movie-going, the decibels of laughter at that movie were only topped by a later Three Stooges film festival at the Tivoli.

After its eventual closing as a movie theater, the original Northgate Cinema served as home to the NewsChannel 9 Science Theater.  A herd of school buses was often parked outside, while teachers and chaperones attempted to corral the kids inside the building.

The theater space is currently vacant, but the owners of Northgate Mall have announced plans for a complete renovation of the shopping center.

NORTHGATE  3

On January 29, 1974, the Chattanooga Times reported that the Martin Theater chain would be adding two screens for the Hixson area.  A twin cinema was to be opened in the shopping center that is along the Hixson Pike perimeter road of Northgate Mall.  At the time, the center included a Kroger grocery and Weight Watchers office.

The new cinemas accommodated 344 and 418 theater patrons respectively.  A new twin theater was announced at the same time for Fort Oglethorpe.

Sadly, the article also reported that while the local Marbro Drive-in on Lee Highway was getting a second screen, drive-ins in general were being closed due to rising property values.

NORTHGATE  6

On January 10, 1982, the Chattanooga News-Free Press announced that the Martin Theaters at Northgate would be expanded again.  Two screens were to be added to the two at the perimeter shopping center.  The theater inside the mall was to be divided in order to make it a twin-screen.

LITCHFIELD/REGAL

The Chattanooga Times reported on December 15, 1981 that Fairlane Litchfield, Inc., a Greenville, SC-based cinema chain, would build a four-screen complex in Hixson.  The new theaters would be part of the development of the former Austin farm on a hill above Old Hixson Pike.  The development would be called Northgate Crossing, and originally included stores such as Handy City and Ardan Catalog Center.

Additional construction details were given in a March 5, 1982 News-Free Press article.  The Litchfield theaters would have auditoriums of various sizes – from 275 to 425 seats – and accommodate a maximum of 2,000 customers.

The Litchfield Cinemas opened on March 25, 1983, according to a Times article appearing earlier that day.  Premiere movies were “The Black Stallion Returns,” “Spring Break,” “Tough Enough,” a Disney re-release of “Sword and the Stone.”

The colors of the screen curtains of the Litchfield always reminded me of chocolate and vanilla swirl yogurt, which was available down the hill at the new TCBY Yogurt.   The curtains opened and closed at every showing, just as in the golden age of cinema.

The theater complex was the first that I recall having a video game room in the lobby.

Later, the Litchfield was acquired by the Regal Cinemas chain, and was renamed.

I recall often taking my family to Disney movies such as “Hercules” and “Home on the Range” at these theaters.  My wife and I also took in a midnight screening of “Heavy Metal,” an event sponsored by a local radio station.

NORTHGATE 8

On August 18, 1991, the News-Free Press stated that four screens were being added to the perimeter theater complex at Northgate.  The twin cinema inside Northgate Mall was to be closed.

I recall that my family split time between the Northgate and Regal theaters, depending on what was showing.  A memorable time from the Northgate era was when we saw Disney’s “Emperor’s New Groove” on a rainy night in the middle of the week.  We were the only ones in the theater, and had to wait while the projectionist recovered from the film suddenly burning during a scene.

CARMIKE NORTHGATE 14

With search lights combing the skies, the Carmike Northgate 14 – Hixson’s new and now, only, theater complex – opened on Friday, October 7, 2005.  The Northgate 14 features all-digital screens and sound, and all-stadium seating.  A large lobby serves as a waiting area, and has a gourmet concession stand for all of the movies.

The theaters have provided a new era of entertainment for Hixson residents.  I have especially enjoyed seeing Michael Jackson’s “This is It and “Les Miserables” there.

The Northgate 14’s opening led to the closing of the nearby Regal Cinema, which now houses a ReMax real estate office and other businesses.  The theater’s former sign along Hixson Pike now lists houses for sale.

The new theater was developed on a site formerly occupied by a single-story office building which once was the home to Kelly Lyn Fitness Studio.

The former Northgate 8 stood vacant for a few years, and the “Now Showing” space for movie lobby cards was similarly empty.  As the initial phase of Northgate’s renovation, the theater was made to look like Fred Flintstone’s friend (Rubble) in January, 2013.  The demolition prepares for new buildings to house Ross Dress for Less and Michael’s craft store.

If you have memories of the Hixson theaters, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.  I’ll include some of your feedback in an update to this article.

Now, having made it to the end of the article, let’s all go to the lobby (your kitchen, your break room at work, etc.) and have ourselves a treat!



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