Got a quarter? Let's go to the Tooga! They're showing that new Raquel Welch movie!
But I'm getting ahead of the story. Before the Tooga, there was the Royal Theater.
The Royal Theater was built in 1927 at the northeast corner of Commerce Street and Georgia Avenue. C.W. Maxey and his sister, Mrs. L.C. Turner, were the owners.
Based on the marquee, this photo was shot around 1941.
This photo showing the interior of the Royal Theater was taken for a newspaper article that appeared in the Chattanooga Free Press on Thursday, April 6, 1939 entitled Summerville Lions Celebrate Successful Child Aid Drive:
"The Summerville Lions Club climaxed last night a drive for funds to feed underprivileged school children with a moving picture show in the Royal Theater. Prizes were given in novel contests, all awards being donated to the club. The Lions have fed 90 children daily at school since January 3rd, following mill shutdowns which caused considerable hardships."
Leaders of the drive were (L-R) theater owner C.W. Maxey, Jimmy Matthews, H.M. Woods, G.J. Boling, chairman W.E. Turner, and T.J. Espy, Jr.
The Tooga Theater under construction, around 1947. Two men from Ellijay built the Tooga while operating the Royal. Once the new theater was opened, the Royal Theater was history.
1948 Yearbook ad: There's always a good movie at the Tooga Theater. A Tankersley and Hampton Theater. Luther Smith, Jr., Manager.
Here's L.C. Smith to fill in the rest of the story:
My father, Luther C. Smith, Jr., was the projectionist at the old Royal theater before World War II. When the war broke out, my dad went into the navy. He was stationed at Deland Naval Air Station in Florida and was assigned to the recreation department. Since he was a movie projectionist in civilian life, they made him Chief Projectionist at the naval base. When the war was over, Dad returned to Summerville and became the manager and projectionist at the Royal.
When the Tooga was built in 1947, my dad was hired as the manager. In the mid 1950s, Farmers and Merchants Bank president Daniel Lee McWhorter and my dad went into a partnership and bought the Tooga and Penn Drive-In theaters.
My dad and mom, Beth Smith, worked at the Tooga in the beginning. My dad managed and my mom helped in the box office selling tickets. My mother was a nurse and worked for Dr. Spivey and Dr. Goodwin for many years and would fill in at the Tooga when needed.
Some of the other people who worked at the Tooga over the years were Lowell Gorman, projectionist; and Bob Huggins and John Henry Dean, custodians and maintenance. Many others worked as projectionists or at the popcorn and drink stand.
There were many benefits to being the son of a movie owner, not to mention I never had to pay to see a movie, indoors or outdoors. That made it easy when I dated as I could choose the Tooga or the Penn Drive-In. Guess which one I always chose?
Saturday was a big day at the Tooga with the old westerns and a late show. One Saturday in the early 1950s, two western actors named Don "Red" Berry and Al "Fuzzy" St. John made a paid personal appearance. Neither of these western stars was very friendly and they did not want to be there. My mom showed both of them the door.
My dad's only business was managing the Tooga and Penn Drive-In, but he was into many things. He helped organize and was a member of the Summerville Volunteer Fire Department, helped organize the Civil Defense Unit for Chattooga County, and was a reserve police officer. As Dr. Marlon Payne said at my dad's funeral, "He was a great organizer, but once he got things organized, he would move on to something else." My dad got into photography and wrote articles for the Chattanooga newspapers.
The Tooga in the Summer of 1973.
Back to Greg....
One of my most vivid childhood memories was going to the Tooga in 1960 to see whatever happened to be showing that evening. I was about seven years old at the time. Walking into the theater, someone handed me a cardboard flyer showing the upcoming movies for that month. At the top was a small hole with which you could hang the flyer on a nail.
The movie showing that night turned out to be Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. I watched most of that movie with one eye shut and the other looking through the hole at the top of the flyer.
Later at home when it was bedtime, I made my mother sleep in my bed and I slept with my dad!
If you have a memory or photograph of the Tooga or Royal you'd like to share, feel free to contact me.
Photographs courtesy of L.C. Smith.
(Royal Benefit photos courtesy of Gene McGinnis.)
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Copyright 2011 Greg W. McCollum. All rights reserved.