Last Picture Show?

March 22nd, 2024

By John Marks, Curator

Geneva Movieplex 8 on Hamilton Street is closing. I texted the news to my son, a junior in college, and I could hear the door closing on an era of his childhood. To older Genevans, the Movieplex was nothing like the old theaters. To those born in the 21st century, it was “going to the movies.”

Black and white phot of the interior of the Elmwood Theater.Growing up in Penn Yan, my era of the movies began with the Elmwood (1921-1971) on Elm Street. Leon Lempert, Jr., son of the Smith Opera House designer, was the architect. Like the Smith, the Elmwood was owned by Schine’s Theaters beginning in 1936.

Born in 1961, I had happy memories of the Elmwood. I was too young to notice if the seats were shabby or if the theater was in decline. I think the last movie my family saw there was Fiddler on the Roof. I do remember my dad counting the audience. Management wouldn’t show a movie unless there were a minimum number of customers.

Geneva became the movie destination. In the early 1970s it was the Geneva Theater, now known as the Smith Opera House. All the President’s Men and Young Frankenstein are the two movies that stand out in my memory. After the Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council had the building, I saw some big-screen spectaculars there. My dad wanted me to see Gone With the Wind in all its glory, as he had experienced it as a kid in 1939. Ghandi was more recent but worth seeing on a big screen. When my wife and I moved to Geneva in 2000, one of the first activities was seeing a movie at the Smith.

1977 adr  for Star WarsBy high school, the Cinema on Exchange Street (originally the Regent) showed most of the first-run movies, and my brother and friends could drive. Movies became something to do with friends rather than family. The first big memory there was going to Star Wars with my brother. The line to get in was up Exchange Street. As people came out from the previous show, they shook their heads and said, “You’re not going to believe it.” Seeing light sabers and the Death Star for the first time was a big deal. (You can read more about the history of the theater here.

In 2005 the Cinema closed, and the Geneva Movieplex became the one place for movies. Born in 2003, my son wasn’t interested in seeing movies in a theater for quite a while. Movies were something on VHS and DVD. Even a small multi-plex theater, with all the people and loud sounds, overwhelmed him. As he got used to it, we became regulars. His Star Wars experience, in a theater, began with the third trio of movies. We saw all the Marvel movies there, up to Avengers: Endgame.

movie theater concession stand with man and woman

Geneva Movieplex 8

Since the pandemic, my movie-watching habits are 99% streaming. Unlike the days of my childhood – see the movie now or never see it again unless it’s on television – I know new movies will be available at home in a few months. I don’t even have to go to Blockbuster to rent them. If shared by many others, my attitude may have contributed to the Movieplex’s closure, and for that I’m sorry.


2 responses to “Last Picture Show?”

  1. Barb L says:

    John this is super. I thoroughly enjoyed it! For my family and I ,it was a new Elvis movie every Thanksgiving for a good number of years. I remember the house being packed.

  2. Coleen Sonntag says:

    We are very upset the theatre is closing. We are in our 70’s and do not stream or blog or any of the modern things. We enjoy the big screen and a night out to see a movie and have dinner with friends. Geneva has been taken over by the three “B”s: banks, barbershops, and bars. There is always a new bank or brewery or winery to take the place of a store. We do not frequent these places These may be great for tourists, but for us older people, who now have the time and money to do more fun things, this was one of the last in Geneva. Even shopping has been taken away from us.

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