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A rewind of the Mars Theatre’s past

POSTED: April 24, 2014 10:32 p.m.
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The Mars advertisement from the March 5, 1948 Springfield Herald.

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After 70 years since the Mars Theatre was built by J.R. Tebeau in downtown Springfield in 1944, the building is coming back to life as it was originally purposed. The theater, built with a balcony, seated about 300 patrons. It was owned and operated by brothers Jack and Harry Ramsey. The name of the theater came from the names of twin sisters who worked for the Ramsey brothers, Mary and Martha Mincey.

The theater was built of concrete blocks with a stage and movie screen. It had rows of neon tube lighting at the entrance on the canopy topped with large neon lettering which spelled MARS. The blinking neon tubes resembled starbursts under the canopy. Framed show bills on each side of the entrance announced coming attractions. Curved glass block walled in the ticket booth and concession stand in the entranceway, where some of the items sold were cherry cokes, chocolate candy bars and popcorn. An old photo of the entranceway showed 10 cents on the popcorn stand window.

Mr. Jack Ramsey, after he retired, spoke of standing on a box to operate the projector as a teenager. He was the youngest projectionist in the Southeast and claimed to have seen “Gone with the Wind” 39 times.

Saturday afternoon in Springfield was a big day in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Many families from outlying areas came to town to bank, shop and see the movies. The grocery stores of that time period stayed open until nearly midnight, as did the town barbers who had customers after the movies. The Springfield Trading Company (Irvin Edwards), B & R Grocery (Bragg and Rahn), Friendly Grocery (Bill Shearouse) and Snooks and Rahn (later Snooks Grocery) accommodated customers with extended hours on Saturday evening.

The theater had the same movies on Monday and Tuesday, another on Wednesday and Thursday and bigger-named features for Friday and Saturday. For a time, they had a Saturday matinee. The experience included a cartoon, newsreel and a serial (chapter picture) feature such as “Zorro,” “Rocket Man” and others. Admission prices ranged from 10 and 25 cents to 15 and 45 cents for children and adults, with children under 12 free.

Research of the Springfield Herald archives showed no closing date of the theater. Questions about the closing to people who were teens at the time say there was no announcement. It was open in December 1957 and simply did not reopen in 1958.

The owners had tried various things to build business in 1957 including different schedules, wrestling matches, baby photo contests and different tactics to compete with the opening of the Sky Vu Drive Inn on the outskirts of town and the invention of television that was now available for purchase at Walt’s Radio and Television Store.

After closing, over the years the building was re-purposed for several small businesses, including a savings and loan business. It had been empty for a long time when the new arts guild attempted to revive it in 2007. Now seven years later, with a lot of help from the city of Springfield and many volunteers, the building will reopen to offer new activities to the people of our community. First-run movies and different live entertainment shows are on the schedule. Check with the Web site marstheater.com for upcoming events.

History will be made tonight when the Mars reopens and the town of Springfield comes back to life as the Mars once again will offer citizens entertainment without a long drive to neighboring cities.

Some of the information above came from an article published March 8, 2007 in the Echoes column of Effingham Herald, which was written by Betty Renfro. All other information was from the archives of the Springfield Herald. This was compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact her at 754-6681 or hesheraldexley@aol.com.

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