By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
Since its earliest days, Corsicana has been a movie town.
As far back as 1896, Corsicana’s cinema history revolved around a variety of theaters such as the Bijou, the Majestic, the Ideal Theater, the Stopple Theater, the Cozy Theater, the Gem Theater, the Queen Theater, the Grand, the Fifth Avenue Theater, the Starlight Theater, the Tex Theater, the Navarro Twin Drive-In, and the still-active Palace Theater, which now operates as a live performance venue.
Though for many Corsicana adults, Cinemark Cinema IV (Home of Front Row Joe), was the theater in town.
In 1969, comedian and entertainer Jerry Lewis partnered with Network Cinema Corporation to franchise a theater chain for any prospective theater owner who could meet the initial start-up cash requirement of $15,000 up to $50,000.
The 67,300 square foot Jerry Lewis Twin Cinema in the Golden Circle Shopping Center was located at 1803 W. Seventh Avenue and built by Don Wylie. The original theater owners were Larry Childs and Tommy Holmes, opening the movie house on June 16, 1972.
While passers by can still recognize the facade today, the theater’s exterior was surprisingly not unique, designed more in a franchised chain style, as seen in this article.
Jerry Lewis Cinemas as a theater chain didn’t last long for a variety of reasons ranging from theater operators lacking the skills and experience to operate their business, to the chain initially only running family friendly films. Whatever affected Corsicana’s theater is presently unknown, but Jerry Lewis Cinemas survived less than a year before transitioning into the Corsicana Twin Cinema (or Cineplex Cinema 1 & 2) on June 8, 1973.
Jerry Lewis Twin Cinema ended its operational run eight days short of its one-year anniversary.
As Corsicana was a small town, its local theaters did not receive first run movies, often having to wait weeks or even months for a film to come to the area. Examples of this include Jaws, which had a nationwide release of June 20, 1975, but didn’t hit Corsicana theaters until November 7, 1975. The same delay applied to other summer blockbusters such as the original Star Wars, which debuted on May 25, 1977, but didn’t premiere locally until August 26, 1977.
During 1984, Richard Kelly managed the theater. By February 28, 1986, Cinema 1 & 2 was managed by Grady Winslow when the theater expanded to a four-theater layout. Cinema 1 & 2’s theaters were split in half, and all-new projection equipment and a Dolby surround sound system was added.
With that, Cinema IV had come to Corsicana.
Ownership and operations were taken over by Cinemark Theatres on March 17, 1989. It was also during that same year that Tommy Taylor took over management. Known for his distinctive drawl when theater goers called in for showtimes, Taylor ran the theater for nine years, doing a variety of themed promotional and band events for now first-run films.
Being the 1990’s, Cinemark’s uniforms reflected the “extreme” attitudes of the time, with day-glo vinyl bow ties and suspenders and two dollar matinees. The latest arcade games and pinball machines regularly rotated through the lobby, and the theater was the local place to be for some of the biggest blockbusters in film history from Batman to Jurassic Park to Toy Story.
Taylor retired from the theater in 1998, with Kelly Presley becoming his successor.
In 2010, Cinergy Cinema opened across town at Corsicana Crossing, marketed as a higher end movie theater and entertainment center in comparison to Cinema IV’s more value budget approach.
In response to its competition, Cinema IV underwent a series of renovations in February of 2011, including all-new seating, bathrooms, and concession stands, and interior improvements such as new paint and carpeting.
Cinemark Cinema IV remained a Corsicana fixture until the theater finally closed in December of 2011. After being on the market for three weeks, Cinemark sold the movie house to Cinergy Cinema partner, Jerry Bauer, and was closed immediately after.
For an entire generation of adults, the Seventh Avenue movie theater was one of the many spots to hang out at between driving the town’s main strip. It was a way to spend time with family and friends, a place to go on first dates, and during the summer, it was one of the best ways to stay out of the Texas heat.
As many longtime Corsicana residents well know, the theater never fulfilled its “Coming Soon” promise of an eventual Theater Five, Six, and Seven.