I enjoyed writing about the little movie theatres from my recent trip to Spain so I thought I’d do some new ones of theatres I love and have watched films at. I should start with the theatre that had the most impact on me as I was growing up and starting my love affair with movies. That theatre would be the Allred in Pryor Creek, Oklahoma.
Pryor Creek is a small town of about 9,000 mostly regular folks that lies 45 minutes northeast of Tulsa. Like most small towns, there’s not a lot to do around town. One of my favorite things about growing up in such a small place that was unlike the towns that surround Pryor Creek—we had a movie theatre. Trust me, that was a big advantage that we didn’t have to drive 45 minutes to see a movie.
Built in 1917 in the Art Deco style, the Allred that I knew and loved was a twin screen theatre that was likely very different than the original construction. I wish it held on to more of the original elements but someone chopped up the main auditorium pretty good at some point. The lobby does have a nice curving wall that lead into tiny restrooms with original tiled floors (which were there the last time I went there). The theatre still has the island ticket window in the middle of the marquee and any old theatre worth their salt should make use of that ticket island just off the street. If that island is just for show and sits there empty—you are cheating your movie going experience.
As a kid I was always entranced by the marquee—a solid red block ALLRED with blinking lights along the undercarriage of the marquee. I’ve seen a lot of places in cities and towns across America/Europe but one of the most magical, beautiful things to me is a lit up movie marquee on some small town main street. There’s something about the lights and the night and the fact you are about to enter a room with strangers and become lost in a story that makes me fall in love with the feeling time and time again.
I saw hundreds and hundreds of films at the Allred growing up. I saw horror films (Friday the 13th Part 2) and comedies (Airplane!) and thrillers (Jaws) and action films (The Road Warrior) and science fiction (Flash Gordon) and cartoons (The Lady and the Tramp) and R rated films I shouldn’t have been watching (Up In Smoke) and movies that I would revere until the day I die (Raging Bull or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). I saw everything I could.
When I moved away from Pryor Creek after high school the theatre had started to fall on hard times. The beloved marquee would be partially lit, chairs were broken or missing entirely from the row and the floor would be sticky with mysterious substances I hoped was crushed candy and popcorn. There was just the omnipresent feeling of no one caring from the management.
The theatre was then taken over by Gene Oliver whose family had an intimate history with the theatre as they owned it in the early 1960s. Oliver has attempted to bring the Allred back. New sound systems, new screens, new seats and even an “annex” a few doors down from the original theatre.
I’ve got a lot of hope that the Allred will make other people fall in love with cinema the way it helped cast a spell on me. As long as that marquee is lit up and movies are flickering across the screen there is always that possibility. Pryor Creek didn’t have a lot of things that I loved growing up but I now realize how lucky I was to have at least had the Allred.