Thursday, February 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Hastings Theater

The Hastings Theater in 1929

Today is the 90th birthday of the Hastings Theater, which opened amid great fanfare on February 11th, 1920. We are lucky enough to have an eye-witness account of this event written in 1967 by Steve Zebrock (also known by his stage name of Alan Brock). In 1920, Steve was eleven years old and living with his family on lower Warburton. To earn enough cash to get to the Yonkers movie house on the weekend, Steve and his friends delivered newspapers for the Hastings News. But they kept a keen eye on the site next to the Hastings News office where architect Foster L. Hastings of Ridgedell Avenue was superintending the construction of Hastings’ very own movie theater.

“… in December, 1919, the Hastings theater building stood before us in all its magnificent glory, and Mr. Hastings decided to let us in on the opening night attraction: Douglas Fairbanks in “The Mark of Zorro”! We cheered the posters out front – Doug was then America’s favorite movie star. …

A few days before the opening of the “Mark of Zorro” a heavy snowstorm blanketed Westchester – actually more of a blizzard. The kids were scared – maybe the movie wouldn’t open? Fortunately Mr. Hastings stuck to his word. … Despite the snow, the weather was not too cold, and parents, with offspring holding on, were spread all around the theater.

This was a real “dolled up” night, the likes of which most of us village kids had not seen before: Members of the first families were arriving in their motors, with some of the men in Tuxedos and the ladies in evening gowns and fur capes. Among the first of the leading citizens was the Walker Whiteside family. Mr. Whiteside was a famous Broadway stage star who lived in Tower Ridge. His young and lovely daughter Rosamond was also a well-known actress. Next came the Wuppermans, Ralf and Frank, known to Broadway as the Morgan brothers [Frank Morgan would later play the Wizard of Oz in the 1939 movie]. Claudia Morgan, who later became famous on Broadway, radio, and TV, was the daughter of Ralf. There was a loud cheer as the shining Rolls Royce belonging to Billie Burke and Florenz Ziegfeld pulled up. The Zinsser family soon drove up, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Zinsser with their beautiful daughters Ellen and Peggy, and handsome son Jack. …

Within a few seconds the cashier’s window was raised and the head of Anna O’Hara welcomed us from behind it. The first honorary tickets went to Village President Thomas Goodwin and his family. After that came the Thomas Reynolds family, and Mr. and Mrs. Egbert Handy and their pretty daughter Edna, and gradually the crowd moved comfortably indoors.

The young Steve Zebrock

Once inside the theater itself, we were awe-struck. This was not a narrow tunnel-like movie such as the ones we had been accustomed to. The auditorium was brilliantly lighted and wonderfully warm. Brand new carpets stretched down the entire length of the aisle to the stage, and the wall lights looked like real candles burning. We were proud of our Hastings Theater.

The excitement of this special night was quickly reaching its climax. We grabbed seats down front right behind the orchestra put and reveled in all the splendor surrounding us. … At last the lights began to dim and Foster L. Hastings walked down the aisle with a few of the village dignitaries. A sudden hush fell over the entire audience as Mr. Hastings began a speech of welcome. He then brought on the Village President, Mr. Goodwin, to a round of applause, and a few more familiar faces. More applause and whistling, then – the stage was empty.

The piano quietly went into music from the opera “Carmen,” in keeping with the Spanish mood of “The Mark of Zorro.” The lady at the piano was Gordon Smith’s mother. We all knew her. Mrs. Smith was the most popular pianist in Hastings. [Gordon Smith says that his mother was invited to play for the opening and stayed for the next three years.] At the end of the mood music, everyone in the auditorium broke into applause. The next minute the screen flashed Douglas Fairbanks in “The Mark of Zorro.”

When the last close-up of Douglas kissing beautiful Marguerite de la Motte faded from the screen there was a sudden let-down. Back to earth. The lights were on again and the miracle was over. But we knew that ahead of us were more miracles. Now we had our own movie theater. And Hastings, for us, was on the map at last.”

Hastings Theater right after it closed its doors in 1977. In the years that followed, it was under consideration for several businesses – an antique shop, a movie house for films in Spanish, housing for senior citizens, a theater for training young Broadway hopefuls. In 1986 it was remodeled into the Moviehouse Mews.

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1 comment:

  1. It is a shame that we do not have a small independent theater in Hastings. The theater could be a mini Jacob Burns, and could help drive business to local restaurants and other merchants. The Hastings Mews shops could move into the vacant storefronts in the new building on Main St, and the theater in Hastings can be re-born!