The last part of our discussion briefly introduced us to Brownsville’s main theater of its day, The Majestic built by Interstate Theaters in 1949 and Raul Davila who taught his son Mario how exhibit movies in the theater he grew up in. What follows is a continuation of decades-old anecdotes through the wide eyes of a kid growing up in and around the theaters of yesteryear in Brownsville, Texas. This part of the interview, which was split between our meeting at the Central library and later, a downtown restaurant, is not so much about the end of an era but rather, the start of a new after Mario reached adulthood and continued doing what he did best.
1949 August 17 opening of Majestic
When our conversation drifted to old westerns and James Stewart in How the West Was Won (1962) who, by the way, was also in the Stratton Story (1949) which was shown as the premiere movie for the Majestic Theater’s opening in August of 1949, Mario bought of this interesting tidbit: When ABC Interstate Theaters was closing the downtown Majestic Theater in anticipation of its ‘new’ Northpark Cinema 1-2 which opened in May 1974 and had a much larger parking area, the manager proposed the idea of showing the Stratton Story as an homage to the long running downtown theater. He made a call to the corporate office to ask if they could send the film for a showing at the closing of the Majestic but they couldn’t make it happen. Instead, Gone With the Wind was shown when the Majestic reopened at the close of the year.
Brownsville Herald clippings courtesy of Rick Medina last midnight show at Majestic
Mario also seems to recall that the Majestic was temporarily closed then reopened by a company based in Houston when it became a split theater with the balcony section being converted to a small theater. It was soon after that the building was “gutted” out – never to be used as a theater again.
Majestic Mall gutted interior with remnants of beams
Some of the thick steel beams were difficult to be cut and can still be seen today when you enter the building and look up toward the ceiling in the area that was the theater. The steel beams appear to be embedded into the brick walls. A theater such as Movies 10 was constructed with prefabricated walls. The Majestic is such a decrepit looking thing of the past that it would be a shame to include a photo of what it appears as today.
The Sting was the premiere movie for the Northpark which opened in May 1974 and in February, the Amigoland Theater had opened. Cinema 1 & 2 manager Gus Gioldasis approached Mr Hawkins at Amigoland Cinema 1-2 to drop the “cinema” name in title since ABC Interstate Northpark Cinema 1-2 already carried that word but Mr Hawkins refused and that was that. Assistant Manager Carmen Abete inherited the managerial position from Gus after he passed away in 1976.
Mario Davila with 3 platter system – the first to be used in any Brownsville, Texas theater
Even with this advance in technology, if a film broke on this platter system, a long stringy tangled mess might end up on the floor if no one was in the booth to immediately stop the projector and remedy the situation and the time to rewind film back onto the platter(s) might consume hours.
There was another time when Raul Davila mentioned to Mario that Johnny Crawford of Rifleman fame made a visit to promote a film he starred in and made an appearance on the Majestic stage. Mario didn’t believe it but it was true – his father Raul got to meet Crawford in person and shake his hand.
Rutledge Burger has been squeezed between the former Grande Theater and building next to it in a very narrow space since 1924. Jack Rutledge’s Hamburger Stand was not so different back then. A customer would approach the window at the entrance to place an order. The grill, which is the original grill to be used since it opened and now at the rear of the establishment, was so close to the window that a person could singe their hand on it. The same small tables and seats were there too. As a boy, Mario recalled coming in to take a seat as Jack’s wife Hilda, would roll a ball of hamburger meat in her hands, slap it down on the grill and mash it into a flat patty with a “pallet.” With one word she would ask, “cebolla?” to know if the customer wanted onions included, then take buns out of a large plastic can covered by a lid, place the buns on a table and with a wooden stick dipped in mustard spread the condiment over the buns, add lettuce and tomato, flip the burger until it was cooked and then place it on the bun. Salt and pepper were added before capping it off with the top bread. To finish it off it was summarily wrapped in paper!
If the Houston Astros were having a game, you could be assured that the hamburger stand would be tuned into KRGV 1290 AM. It was common to place an order to go, carry the burgers in a small bag emitting the smell of grilled onions and enter the theater to eat them and enjoy a movie. Jack and Hilda’s son Martin took over the famous burger stand until selling it in 1995 but the name and business still remain.
1948 boys in bicycles in front of the Grande Theater – the blogger’s favorite burger order: a double meat ‘n’ cheese with ham hamburger with jalapeno and downtown musician in front of the burger stand.
Raul and Mario at Majestic and Mac’s Toys promotional display. Photos courtesy of Mario Davila.
When these photos were taken Mario was too young to understand that he was only modeling for the photo and excitedly pointed out which trucks he wanted to take home that day. Saturday matinees were sponsored by nearby Mac’s Toys to attract kids to the theater on weekends which were especially welcomed on during the summer where kids could enjoy a break from the heat. Raul would invite Mario to watch Warner Brothers cartoons all day where he would watch from the booth where his father ran the projectors or the balcony which was opened when the theater had a high attendance for the day.
Mac’s Hobbie’s toy store. There were other stores in the RGV. Photos Don McFettridge.
Lionel train sets and plastic model kits were as popular as Tonka Trucks etc etc. Mario remembers his train engine had reverse function that could back up and “hook” train cars to it and let out a little steam when you poured a few drops of water into it. Tracks also had switches to make train change tracks just like real ones do! His father never got him the Tonka toys he had wished for that day as he had hoped.
Mario Davila at Movies 10 Brownsville, Texas