Picayune once boasted finest theatre palace in Mississippi: Part 2

Published 3:59 pm Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Long anticipated by those who witnessed its construct ion, the D’antoni building was a costly complex built of brick, tile and frame construction of sufficient capacity to house eight business establishments on its ground floor, forming the counterpart of a modern shopping center. The Corner Drug Store, Ideal Theatre, Ideal Cafe, Dr. Harbenson’ s Dental Parlor, Byrd and Walker Barber Shop, the Dixie Bargain Store, Waldoff Chain Stores, the Variety Store and a number of offices were all housed in the building.

As the building neared completion, the residents fortunate to be granted a sneak preview of its interior were of the opinion that this was to be one of the finest theatres in the state. The Picayune Item, Picayune’s bi-weekly newspaper reported, “everything has been added to the theatre that is used in all the modern playhouses in the big cities. A pipe organ sold by the Southern Organ Co. of New Orleans was installed last Friday. Mr. Marks, with his crew of men came up from the city with the organ, installed it, and with the help of Miss Camille Alford, accomplished and finished organist, tuned the organ Saturday.

Miss Alford will be the organist for the theatre. The audience gathered in the unfinished building heard Miss Alford, as she played on the beautiful new pipe organ were thrilled and realized that Picayune is fortunate in having in one of its theatres a pipe organ.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“A color scheme of light cream with panelling of buff will be used in wall and ceiling decoration. The stage is a modern half-circular, with modern stage properties, varied lights, beautiful plush curtain and screen that is focused for comfortable view from any place in the building. The opera chairs of the latest make will be arranged semi-circular on the first floor. Carpet will be used as a floor covering. A ladies’ rest room and a gentlemen’s smoking room adds to the building.”

The Ideal Theatre’s pipe organ was a 2M-6R Wicks Orchestral Pipe Organ, Style 65, Opus 837, which had an Oak Theatre Console of conventional horse-shoe design and a direct electric action. The highly unified registration had the following stops. Pedal: Bass Flute 16’, Horn 8’ Cello 8’, Vox Humana 8’, Orchestrival Diapason 4’, Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Cymbal, Tympani. Accompaniment: Horn Diapason 8’ Concert Flute 8’, Viola 8’ Vox Humana 8’, Horn Principal 4’, Orchestral Flute 4’, Violina 4’, Flageolet 2’, Xylophone, Orchestral Bells, Snare Drum, Tamborine, Castenets, Tom Tom, Wood Drum. Solo: Bourdon 16’ Horn Principal 8’, Concert Flute 8’, Violin 16’, Vox Human a 8’, Orchestral Flute 4’, Vilolina 4’, Nasard 2-2/3’, Piccolo 2’, Vibrato, Xylophone, Orchestral Bells. Accessories included Wind Indicator, Crescendo Pedal, Special Tremolo for Voxhumana, Organ Bench, with Music Compartment, Crescendo Indicator, Swell Pedal, Toe Pistons, Blower and Generator.

As the Grand Opening date approached, the D’antoni’s  announced that Mrs. John Hammond, wife of the famous pipe organ artist, John Hammond, will entertain at the Ideal Theatre at its opening. “Mr. and Mrs. John Hammond need no introduction to the public, as both are widely known and loved for their great art, playing now at Saenger Theatre, New Orleans.”

On November 12, 1928, Picayune’s newspaper printed headlines commemorating the opening of the Ideal Theatre: “Picayune has most beautiful theatre in state; formal opening of new Ideal Theatre attended by 1200.” The Item further remarked, “as previously announced, but long waited for because of the immensity of the building, the new Ideal Theatre opened its doors to the public Monday night that swelled its seating capacity and isles to the amount of 1,200 people. “The completion of this theatre from its architectural beauty, its 900 seats, its modern heating and cooling system, its gorgeous curtains and scenery, its color scheme so erected to please the eye, its changeable lighting effect to the wonderful pipe organ, places the Ideal Theatre of Picayune first in the state of Mississippi and would be a credit to any town many times the size of Picayune.”

In anticipation of the grand opening, an advertisement appeared in the Item which read: “the new Ideal Theatre opens Monday, showing ‘the perfect crime,’ Monday and Tuesday — 2 shows each night — hear our $10,000 pipe organ.” Mighty theatre pipe organs, with their full power and brilliance were found only in the largest and finest motion picture palaces built during the twenties. The pictures of the silent era were all scored for the big pipe organ and called for a full range of effects to be used. During the intermission, the organ console would be spotlighted as the organist performed, and this was a supreme moment in the motion picture theatre. To perform at the large console reaquired the skill of a master artist. Miss Camille Alford, “a charming and talented young lady of New Orleans,” entertained the audience with a number of beautiful and expressive selections from the console previous to the program.”

Next, Mr. Marks, president of the Southern Pipe Organ Company of New Orleans which installed the pipe organ, introduced Picayune’s Mayor, Barney Whitfield, who in turn spoke on the marvelous undertaking the D’Antonis’ had just accomplished in the building the theatre that was not surpassed in the state. The Mayor then introduced E.F. Tate, founder of the Picayune Item newspaper and the Bank of Picayune, who told the audience that moving pictures were here to stay, and that they often kept the “sunny side of life up,” and encouraged people on being more happy.

A demonstration of the lighting effects followed by flashing lights on and off the stage was presented. The Item remarked “that the wonderful display of lights…is equal to any theatre in New Orleans.

Mr. L.O. Crosby, Picayune’s leading industrialist was next introduced. Following a long ovation of applause from the huge crowd assembled, he spoke of the progress made in so short a time and told of the time that will so quickly pass that the present building would have to be increased.

Then Miss Alford rendered the overture, “Poet and Peasant,” thrilling the audience with the music that she drew from the $10,000 instrument. “The people of Picayune are proud of the fact that a real artist will be among us as she and her mother will be permanently located in Picayune. The D’antonis are to be congratulated in securing the services of Miss Alford.”

The comedy, the clever colorful introduction, and the picture, “The Perfect Crime,” completed a program that was thoroughly enjoyed and attended by the largest crowd ever assembled in Picayune until that time. Following the successful grand opening the D’Antoni family publised an open letter in the Picayune Item in appreciation of all those who had participated and attended. It read, “we wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge with our sincerest thanks the fine spir it of co-operation shown by the people of Picayune and surrounding territory on the occasion of our opening night. We also acknowledge the floral offerings presented. To each and every one who attended, we wish to thank you and welcome you back as often as you feel disposed to come.

Throughout its existence, the Ideal Theatre did much to promote local talent. In addit ion to presenting the latest and finest movies, stage shows and live entertainment. As its fame began to spread, it was revealed on December 14, 1928 that Hollywood Director, Lem Kennedy, was going to make a new movie, “A Day in Hollywood” at the Ideal Theatre in Picayune, Mississippi. At that time the making of a movie was entirely unknown to this area, and the site of Picayune’s Ideal Theatre was chosen from over one hundred entrants. During the filming, Mr. Kennedy and his cameramen made scenes throughout the town, including schools and school children, with many scenes taken inside some of Picayune’s leading stores and business houses.

Mr. Kennedy expressed being very impressed with “the scenery of South Mississippi and Louisiana” and said that “the motion picture business had made California. And it will do for the South what it did for California.” He also remarked, “You do not have quite as much sunshine here as we have in California, yet you have other natural beauty and water, why that lake (Pontchartrain) is magnificent.” Mr. Kennedy, at that time, was also connected with the Louisiana Academy of Arts, locacted at Mandeville, Louisiana, where studios were planned such as they had in California.

The Item reported that the making of the movie was educational and entertaining and that many people are acquainted now with the requirements of making motion pictures, and will appreciate more the stupendous undertaking a motion picture company has when making pictures for the public’s pleasure.

In addition to experienced cast, Mr. Kennedy carefully explained what was expected of the local participants, giving them a gist of the story. Miss Lee Ila Jones was selected to play the leading lady, as Joana, and the boy friend Jimmie, was played by Elliott Morris. Mr. and Mrs. Keller, friends of Joana, was played by John York and Miss Virginia Lofton. Misses Lois Swatts and Francis McDonald were also girl friends of Joana and Mrs. Keller. Coy Weaver played the role of a crazy man, and Mr. Dean of the Picayune Police force played the role that he had in every day life.