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From the Publisher’s Desk – Saying good-bye to the Capitol

By Lisa Whaley

I had a plan.

As soon as I found a free evening, I was going to head to the Capitol Theater on Main Street, purchase popcorn and settle in for the perfect old-time movie theater experience.

Then I was going to write a column about it and share it with you, our readers.

But alas, it was not to be. Before I had a chance to buy that ticket, owners announced the theater had closed for repairs. I was going to have to wait.

I counted the days, the weeks and then the months.

Then, last week, owners had another announcement. The Capitol Theater, currently known as Capitol Cinema I and II, would not be reopening at all.

“The roof support was compromised in December 2018 during the heavy snowfall we had,” explained owner Jan Bradley, granddaughter of original owner Earle Hendren.

The cost to repair was too prohibitive, so the hard decision was made to make the temporary closure permanent.

I could have cried. Of course, my loss was one of “what could have been,” but it was a loss just the same.

Erwin was unique in that, unlike so many other small towns in America, it had until recently been able to retain its downtown movie theater and all the nostalgia that such a theater evoked.

Opened in 1940, the site became the gathering place for Friday night dates and Saturday afternoon matinees. Throughout the years, it also became a symbol of one part of the good old days we actually got to carry with us into the present.

I’m sure we could fill each and every page of The Erwin Record for weeks to come with all the stories out there about first dates, spilled sodas and popcorn, magical movie experiences and occasional mischief-making.

For me, I think part of the appeal of the Capitol was that it brought to mind the stories my dad shared about growing up in Walla Walla, Washington, a town not unlike Erwin in the 1920s and ‘30s.

Afternoons, he said, when not riding around town on his bicycle, were either spent at the Capitol Theater or the Liberty Theater downtown.

At the Liberty, you might find “Gone with the Wind” or “Citizen Kane,” he told me.

The Capitol Theater, on the other hand, was famous for its westerns like “Way Out West,” or “The Big Stampede.”

My dad preferred the Capitol. He couldn’t have imagined his childhood without it.

Erwin’s Capitol Theater’s contributions to both young and old have been every bit as rich. It was a business, true, but it was also the gift the Hendren family and its descendants brought to the town.

The Capitol Theater in Walla Walla was torn down long ago. The Liberty Theater has been renovated and now houses a Macy’s.

It is my hope that someone, somewhere sees the value in this old downtown theater, takes up its cause and continues its legacy.

I have yet to give up on my dream of an old-time movie theater experience in downtown Erwin.