Dixie Theatre celebrates its 75th anniversary

Toby Sherrill, owner of the Dixie Theatre, outside the establishment as it looks today on Main Street in Haleyville. The doors, sign and building are reminiscent of the way the theater looked when first opening 75 years ago.

HALEYVILLE - The Dixie Theatre in downtown Haleyville holds many cherished memories to many people, memories that have been made for the past 75 years.
The business celebrated its 75th anniversary on Christmas Day.  The Dixie Theatre and its neighbor, the Dixie Den Restaurant, were built by John Lakeman, who with his wife, Christine, owned the Princess Theatre farther down Main Street.  The Princess had just been remodeled when the Dixie opened in 1948.
Plans for construction of the Dixie Theatre and Dixie Den, under direction of Spence Pannell, began in 1946, with the structure opening in 1948. The building was designed as 163 feet in length and 77 feet in width, according to earlier articles in the Haleyville Advertiser, the Alabamian’s earlier incarnation.  The Dixie Theater and Dixie Den were constructed between Mitchell Drug Store and Alabama Power’s company office on Main Street.
The Dixie Theatre, described in the late 1940s as a 726-seat,  $150,000 entertainment center, opened Dec. 25, 1948.  The first movie shown was Walt Disney’s “Melody Time,” featuring vocals by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers, among other popular artists at the time. The box office opened at 1:30 p.m., with the movie running continuously until midnight.
“Very few communities have a theater,” Haleyville Mayor Ken Sunseri said in commending the 75th anniversary.  “The age and the operation is kind of unique in itself. Not many businesses can make it 75 years.”  
The Dixie Den served sandwiches, ice cream and the specialty drink Dixie Spinner next door to the theater, with a door connecting the two.
Dr. Dan Lakeman, whose grandparents built and opened the theater, noted the Princess Theatre they operated was down the street near  Duke’s Jewelry and Rexall Drugs.
“Every Friday and Saturday, we would go to the movies,” Dan recalled. “My brother and I would, of course, get there way early. We basically saw every movie that came through, and they were G rated.”
The G rating was given to children’s or family-friendly movies, or movies for all audiences, at that time.
Through the years, the Dixie Theatre was not just a place to watch movies, but also enjoy family-friendly live entertainment. Dan’s mother, Sylvia Lakeman, recalled that Papa John, as she called him, got famous western film star Lash LaRue to come to the Dixie.  Another famous show at the Dixie early in its history was Ernest Tubb and the Grand Ole Opry Gang, who performed there in 1949.  Those who attended that concert were also treated to a bonus - a reprisal of the 1940 comedy “Saps at Sea” starring Laurel and Hardy.  Admission was only 30 cents and 60 cents to these shows, according to an advertisement that ran in the Advertiser.
“It really drew a crowd,” Sylvia recalled. “Granny would make popcorn and open the doors so the folks on the street could smell it, and she was right. She sold more popcorn that way.”
Sylvia also remembered Dollar Nights at the Dixie, which usually drew larger crowds, with “Popcorn Girls” selling the popcorn.
“I remember the popcorn machine was very special,” Dan recalled. “You remember going in there and that smell of that popcorn? It had a unique smell. It wasn’t bad; it was just unique.”



See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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