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Their Story is Our Story

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on August 1, 1992


Longtime Daytonians put memories, photos in useful new book

By Roz Young


     Herbert L. McClelland commented in his foreword to Daytonians—Their Story, a 1992 collection of reminiscences and photographs of Dayton in the early part of this century, that by the time people reach the stage in life when they would like to reveal scenes of their youth – homes, schools, neighborhoods and the all important downtown, they find that many old places have vanished.

     He asked a number of his longtime acquaintances and friends to write down their memories of yesterday.  Roy Thomas furnished most of the illustrations for the book, Ken Stanick provided rare newspaper stories from ancient scrapbooks and Elizabeth Stephens heads a list of old Daytonians who described adventures at home, in stores, during the flood, at the theaters, in school and downtown.  The book, available at Wilkie’s and at the public library, is a great source for anybody interested in Dayton history.

     The chapter on downtown theaters may surprise today’s Daytonians, who couldn’t attend a movie downtown if they wanted to.

      George Gounaris says the Columbia was his favorite, partly because his father was a bartender in the Ramona Café, next door to the Columbia on the west side of Jefferson Street between Fourth and Fifth streets.

     “The theaters had no concession stands in those days,” Gounaris writes, “and no popcorn machines.  On the second floor of the Ramona Café, we had an old-fashioned popcorn machine with a tray to put the popcorn in, and it would pop over into the machine. Then by hand you would turn the popcorn container over.

     “I got pretty good business-wise in the sense that I would make popcorn when I knew people were going to come out of the movie next door at the Columbia or when new people were going to go in.  I made sure they could smell the popcorn, and I did a pretty good business for a kid.”

      Robert M. Pool’s father built the Keith theater at Fourth and Ludlow streets.  The elder Pool was a structural-steel engineer and proud of the fact that Keith’s had the largest unsupported balcony in the country at that time.  “When the building was finally demolished in the late ‘60s,” he writes,  “I hear they had a rough time trying to tear the balcony down.”

     Dorothy Hamilton was a cashier at Loew’s movie theater in the early ‘30s.  When Hell’s Angels, starring Jean Harlow, played at Loew’s, all 14 ushers wore flying uniforms and the head ushers even had helmets and goggles.  “Imagine 14 ushers in a movie theater today,” she writes.

     William T. Burger was an usher at Loew’s when Gone with the Wind opened in February 1940.  “The box-office lines formed early,” he writes in the book, “and would often extend around the block.  My duty at this time was outside on the street, patrolling the lines and answering questions.  I was an imposing figure, I fancied, in my uniform laden with brass over which was worn a long, black, re-lined cape secured at the throat with a huge brass clasp.”

     One morning, as he patrolled the line, he noticed a black woman.  In those days, blacks were barred from the downtown theaters.  Burger hurried into the theater and reported her to the manager, who made no comment but sent him back to the street.

     Five minutes later a police paddy wagon appeared in the alley between Loew’s and what was then Rike’s department store.  The line moved forward until the woman was third from the ticket window, then the manager came out and nudged her from her place in line.  “She protested,” Burger writes, “and demanded her rightful place in line.  Her protest brought two cops from the paddy wagon, right on cue.  She was arrested for disturbing the peace. The police escorted her to the paddy wagon and drove off.  We learned later that the police dropped her off on a corner a couple of blocks from the theater with instructions not to try that again.

     “I immediately regretted the role I played, however minuscule, in this blatant denial of civil and human rights.”  Burger writes in retrospect.  “But a thousand times a thousand mea culpas could not begin to compensate for the indignation and the pain that that lady was made to suffer on that morning.”

     Daytonians – Their Story is a good addition to your collection, if you have one, on Dayton history.