Liberty Theatre 1920-1940  
Thursday, August 28, 2003
Patenaude/ Webster
So I've Heard

It may have been out of sight, hidden behind the Holden Block on Main Street; and it hadn't recorded an admission in decades, but Webster had a vacant movie house at the turn of the month.
Now the Liberty Theatre, the last of the town's film venues, has been town down. Most of Webster's movie places were vaudeville houses and converted for films. Music Hall on High Street burned down in 1922. The location is now the off-street parking lot behind Aubuchon's hardware store. St. Jean B'aptiste Hall on Davis Street had a screen when movies were silent. Seating and equipment was removed in 1926. The building, later the Webster Polish National Alliance Club, burned down. Again, the lot is part of a parking area.
Entrepreneurs George R. Coster and Henry Steinberg, who joined forces shortly after World War I, plugged into a piggyback concept, building theatres behind the Larchar/Branch and Holden buildings, adjacent blocks on Main Street. Both had pass throughs from the street to box offices. They named their theatres Steinberg and Coster. The Coster, later renamed Liberty, and with seating for 1,200 people, opened with a matinee Saturday, April 8, 1920.
The Saturday and Sunday attraction was "When Knighthood Was in Flower," and featured Marion Davies. Tickets were 39 cents for adults and 17 cents for children.
Admission varied. Monday was bargain day, 10 cents for matinees and 15 cents evenings. Gladys Walton in "The Gossip" on April 10 was the first Monday show in the theatre.
The other four days, Tuesdays through Fridays, tickets were 15 cents for matinees and 25 cents evenings. The discount for children was on weekend afternoons. Charlie Chaplin was on screen April 10 and 11 in "The Pilgrim" and Bessie Love in "Forget Me Not" was the feature April 12 and 13, rounding out the opening week's program.
A Boston lawyer with a Dudley address, Edgar S. Hill, bought the theatres in 1930, forming Webster Theatre Corp. He renamed the Steinberg Theater the State and the Coster Theater the Liberty, and changed show times.
The State became a 7-days a week venue and the Liberty became an overflow and special programs theatre. Attracting crowds of more than 1,500 was not unusual most weekends. So the State opened at 6:30 p.m. on Sundays and the Liberty opened at 7 p.m., if necessary.
The same films were on both screens. Staggered show times, with double features reversed and "one reelers" mixed in, accommodated the transfer of film. "Gone With The Wind," screened in the Liberty Theatre the week of April 7, 1940, is believed the last film to run at the Liberty Theatre only. Admission was 75 cents for matinees, $1 evenings and advance ticket purchases was encouraged.
The late Edward (Polo) Kaliszewski, who worked part-time at the theatres before and after World War II, used to tell a story about the night the Liberty screen went dark.
Mr. Kaliszewski had transfer duties, carrying film cans with reels already shown in one theater to the other. It was a cold winter night and, stepping from the State lobby onto the sidewalk, he was blindsided by a kid riding a bicycle.
Mr. Kaliszewski ended on his knees and the film can cracked open. The film ran loose, curling into a mess. Courier Kaliszewski picked everything up and carried it in his arms into the Liberty projection booth. The late Bruno Ziemski, a long time camera operator, unraveled and rearranged the film and sound track, and got it back on spools.
This was Mr. Kaliszewski's story about the night Liberty theatre patrons watched a "one moment" message flash for a half hour.
Mr. Hill was 90 years old when he sold the theatres to the E.M. Lowe Co. chain in 1945. Lowe ran the theatres about 30 years. Both were closed when the town Office of Community Development acquired the State through an agreement with the theatre company. A grant covered demolition and cos
-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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