THE KAROLYN THEATER
In 1906 two men came to town and opened a picture show on South Railroad Street in Spaulding's room.
Mrs. Doc Hotchkiss played the piano for the music accompaniment with the silent movies. This was New London's first movie entertainment.
Mr. and Mrs. Danus D. Granger in 1909 had purchased the equipment from the first picture shows that had been in Spaulding's rooom on South Railroad Street. Mrs. Granger then operated a picture show in the old building on West Main St. that had been the old Methodist Church building. Her father had bought the building and moved it to the West Main Street site where it had been used as a furniture store, implement show room and repair shop. Now it was being used by Mrs. Granger for the type of entertainment that the original Methodists would have called "immoral", as picture shows were considered "The Work of the Devil" in the early days.
Mrs. Granger had arranged with a Cleveland architect to build a new fireproof cement block building. It was to be a one story building seating between 600 and 800 people with a stage for theatricals. The new building was erected by George King and Martin Motter who finished the building in late 1910. Mrs. Granger named it "The Karolyn Theater" in honor of her mother, Caroline White. The new picture show house was opened on January 18th, 1911. In 1912 Mrs. Granger redecorated the Karolyn Theater to celebrate it's first birthday.
In May of 1914, Mr C.E. Ward drove to Norwalk in his big touring car and picked up Governor Cox of Ohio who spoke to about 300 people in The Karolyn Theater. Gov. Cox later took the train back to Columbus. Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch and Charlie Chaplin were being shown at the Karolyn about this time. A benefit showing at the theater raised 24 dollars for the village Christmas Fund in 1917 for servicemen. In January of 1918 the Karolyn was able to open just one night a week due to a coal shortage which had hit the country.
This of course was during World War One. A new projection machine was purchased by Mrs. Granger later that year. One of the movies shown on the new equipment was Harold Bell Wright's "Shepherd of the Hills."
Mr. & Mrs. Danus D. Granger left New London in 1920 because of another business which Mr. Granger had purchased and the theater was left in the hands of a Mr. Riley. The Granger's daughter, Dorothy, went on to become a well known Hollywood starlit and was known in the 1940s as the "Queen of the Shorts". She was mainly in short comedies and played the part of Leon Errol's wife for ten years and also starred in many feature movies.
In 1924 "Barney Google" and "Spark Plug" brought crowds to The Karolyn Theater. Mr. Ripley sold the theater to Mr. Gordon Howard.
One of the hit movies in 1927 was Tom Mix who starred in the "Great Train Robbery". In 1928 a new "Photo Phone System" was installed replacing the old organ in The Karolyn Theater which Orvalette Pond Gilbert played.
The management reduced prices to 20 cents and 10 cents good for all except special showings. It was hoped this would bring in more customers. In 1932 Mr. Howard sold the Karolyn Theater to Richard Berry. Ralph Ripley had managed the theater for Mr. Howard and he was retained by Mr. Berry also as he had better than ten years in the theater business. A year later Mr. Berry sold the Karolyn Theater to a Mr. L.B. Brady who had twelve years theater experience in Lorain. He renamed the Karolyn, "The Family Theater."
By 1935 Mr. Brady had lost interest in the business and leased it to Mr. John 0. Guthrie of Lakewood, Ohio. Mr. Guthrie hired local men to put in a new lobby with upholstered seats and also installed a new heating system. Mr. Guthrie also restored the name back to "The Karolyn Theater". A few months later Mr. Guthrie purchased the theater outright from Mr. Brady. In 1939 he bought Carl's Antique Shop then tore it down and added twenty five feet to the back of the theater. He also installed new restrooms, carpeting and a new modern screen projecting system. The "Open House" for the remodeled theater was held on January 15th, 1940. The new seats were "adjustable" and very comfortable. New decorative insulation rendered the interior, "soundproof' with columns of indirect lighting on the sides. "Swaunee River" was shown for the affair. Mr. Guthrie later held a drawing every Saturday to help attract the public and this was a very successful thing for many years. In 1948 he again had the theater remodeled with a new marquee and ticket booth. A new modern wide cinerama screen and sound system was installed also.
A few years later John retired and left the theater in the hands of his son-in-law, Hermie Myers. Hermie kept the theater operating for a few years then closed it down at the end of February 1960 due to fewer customers and other commitments that he had. The theater was vacant for about eight months when Mr. and Mrs. Sterling Burrows of Clarksfield purchased the Karolyn Theater from Mr. Guthrie. John Guthrie had operated the theater for twenty five years. Mr. Burrows also owned "The Lincoln Theater" in Elyria, Ohio. He kept the Karolyn Theater going until the end of February 1964. Television had taken its toll on the movie business and it was no longer feasible to keep the theater open. He transferred the movie projection equipment and most of the seating to his theater in Elyria.
Mr. Bill Phillips rented the building and started a wood cabinet business in the old theater and was there for about one year. He made the cabinets for Larry's Barbershop. After he left in 1965, Bailey's Pontiac purchased the old Karolyn Theater building. They tore off the front of the old theater building in 1966 and used the rest of the building as part of their Pontiac Garage. It is still in use by Bailey's at the time of this story. The Karolyn Theater entertained most of us older New Londoners when we were young and was a fun part of our lives.
V.K. Neel, from Foskett's History of New London, Harold Kirkpatrick, Dean Bailey and Vinton Phillips.