How to Run a Picture Theatre – part 1


I’m going to start up a new series of posts, telling you how to set up your own cinema, in 1910. The posts will present extracts from the book How to Run a Picture Theatre: A Handbook for Proprietors, Managers and Exhibitors, published by The Kinematograph Weekly in 1910 [correction – probably 1912]. First thing to consider, where are you going to build it?

On Selecting a Site. It requires but a very slight stretch of memory to go back to the time when the opening of an electric Theatre was an extremely simple operation. Any disused shop to which could be added an attractive looking front, was considered good enough for the purpose of a moving picture display. But with competition has come a change, and to-day, he who would succeed as a moving picture exhibitor needs not only capital, but an artistic taste and business acumen …

… The value of a site naturally depends to a large extent on local circumstances. It must be borne in mind that the public on pleasure bent does not frequent the residential areas in search of entertainment. Therefore a main business artery is to be preferred and care should be also taken to have the theatre on the right side of the street. It is strange, but nevertheless true, that twice as many persons frequent one side of a street as are to [be] found on the other side, and it is the side most used by pedestrians that is best fitted for the electric theatre …

… It is well to consider also from whence your clientele is likely to be drawn when you have opened your theatre. It does not pay to expect one’s patrons after the turmoil of the day to walk miles to the theatre. Therefore, the site should be as near as possible to the part most densely populated by the comfortably-positioned artizan or middle classes, as they are the greatest supporters of the picture theatre.

Electric Theatre was a standard term for cinemas at this time. It seems to have been first used for Thomas L. Tally’s Electric Theater, a storefront show which opened in Los Angeles in 1902. The term was exported to Britain in 1908 by New York businessman Joseph Jay Bamberger, who established the first cinema circuit in London with his Electric Theatres (1908) Ltd. His cinemas were each called Electric Theatres, and the name became generally used for a time. Another name for early cinemas was, of course, a bioscope.

More to follow.

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