Jerry Summers: Chattanooga's "B" Movie Theatres

Monday, September 9, 2019 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

With the renovation of Miller Park, it is easy to overlook the history of the “B” movie theaters that were on Market and Main Streets in downtown Chattanooga in the 1940s-1980s era.

“A” movies were the most lavish and expensive movies to be produced with highly rated and famous stars.  B movies were cheaper to create and featured less known or actors in the twilight years of their careers.  Although John Wayne got his start in B Westerns, other cowboy stars such as Tom Nix and Buck Jones mainly attained their success in “B” films.

Memories of the Dixie, Cameo, American Capitol Rialto, State-Martin, Rogers and Tivoli are vivid in the recollection of young people growing up in that age.  Saturday mornings began at 8:30 with the payment of a nine (9) cent admission to the State-Martin Theater to view the amateur talent shows with “Tina from Lovemans” on the airways and as members of the Mickey Mouse Club newsreel, cartoon previous serial chapters and the main feature would conclude around noon in time to buy Krystals for 5 cents or a sandwich at the luncheonette in the Hamilton Bank Building on the southwest corner of Market Street.  Two roast beef or grilled cheese sandwiches washed down by either a glass of milk or Coke would cost you 25 cents plus a penny for tax.  The State opened to the public in 1928, was renovated to become the Martin and closed in 1979.  It was adjacent to the Ligetts Drug Store on the northeast corner of Market and 7th Street.

Next tough decision would they be able to pick which “B” movie houses in which to spend the afternoon hours.  

The Dixie was located at 920 Market Street on the under construction site of the new Miller Park.  It had entrances on both Market and Cherry Streets and featured a weekly serial chapter of either a murder mystery, space adventure or cowboy saga of the battle between good and evil.

Another “B” movie theater was the Capitol which operated from the 1940s until the 1960s adjacent to the old Electric Power Board headquarters at 6th and Market Streets.  It would be part of the Solomon and Boriskys Independent Theaters chain which would eventually be owned by Moss Leowitz, founder of the C.B.L. shopping mall conglomerate.

The American Theater, located at 245 E. Main Street, featured “B” grade westerns with the actors occasionally appearing in person on stage.  Niedlov’s Breadworks is now located at its site.

The Rialto was located at 709 Market Street until the 1950s and was replaced by the Federal Bake Shop and McLellan 5&10 store when it was razed.

The two “A” movie houses in downtown Chattanooga were the Tivoli which opened in 1921 and fortunately has been preserved by the City of Chattanooga, although it has had its ups and downs over the years. It presently is being utilized frequently and is an outstanding example of historical preservation in downtown Chattanooga.

The Rogers Theater opened in 1951 and was named after the first manager of the Tivoli in 1921, Emmitt Rogers, who had gone to work for Eastern Theaters after graduating from Chattanooga City High School in 1918.

It operated until 1976 and the entire block at Market Street and 9th was razed and lay vacant for several years. It had been named “the Butcher Block” prior to the collapse of the Jake and C. H. Butcher, Jr. banking empire amid their bankruptcy and criminal convictions.  The Electric Power Board moved its headquarters and erected the modern building and parking garage on the site.

With the advent of television and rising costs of the production of motion pictures, it was expected that the “B” movie industry would die.  However, the memories of the then younger generation may still get excited about the expectation of looking forward to next Saturday’s low budget western or horror movie and to see how “Flash Gordon” or the “Durango Kid” would escape from the dilemma of the latest episode.

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Jerry Summers can be reached at jsummers@summersfirm.com



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