Do you remember…Criterion Theater?

James (Jimmy) Zartaludes operated the Criterion Theater for nearly a half a century. In later years, his son, Jerry, worked there taking tickets and giving you a stub, being an usher, and in dire situations, a bouncer, of sorts.

I spent many a Saturday afternoon watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster that I had waited eagerly to see. On rare occasions, when my Father let me out of work, I would watch a Thursday afternoon matinee, known as “Jimmie’s Good Ole Day” for a mere 35 cents. You could see the Saturday matinee or the evening show while enjoying popcorn and a Coke for under a dollar.

The lobby was ornately decorated with art deco wall lights and a magnificent tapestry carpet, albeit, a little worn. There were movie posters of current and upcoming shows adorning the walls. To the left, before you entered the Auditorium, was the concession area. There, you could buy hotdogs, corndogs, pickles, popcorn, candy, and a wide variety of fountain drinks. My friend, Daryl Howard, particularly enjoyed the “Knockout,” which was a Coke with pickle juice. UGH!

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To the right were the restrooms, and the entrance to the balcony. When I was rather young, I enjoyed the balcony. Being the reprobate that I was, I enjoyed throwing ice and paper airplanes from the balcony, occasionally incurring the wrath of the usher. Sadly, the balcony was closed a few years later. There was something mentioned about a structural problem. I rather think it was because of the young lovers who wanted a modicum of privacy that the balcony afforded.

I remember some great movies. “The Birds,” an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, which by today’s gory standards would be considered dull, scared the daylights out of me when the birds started attacking Tippy Hedren.Would she survive the onslaught of those avian demons?

Then there was the “Pit and the Pendulum,” a horror movie based on an Edgar Allen Poe novel by the same name. We watched with bated breath to see if the protagonist would get sliced in half.

Of course, movies that my Mother would forbid me to see tantalized me. The one that comes to mind was “The Carpetbaggers.” After a stern lecture on the evils of sinful movies, she reminded me that decent young gentlemen did not watch such trash. I sneaked in and watched it anyway.

The James Bond movie franchise began in 1963. To a 13-year-old boy, James Bond was really cool. “Dr. No” was the first movie, followed by “From Russia to Love.” The next movie in 1965 was “Goldfinger,” which was a treasure trove of nifty gadgets and replete with a slew of sexual innuendos, which I found as a sophomoric 15-year-old, quite titillating. When Honor Blackman, the female co-star of the movie announced her name to James Bond, we giggled until we couldn’t breathe!

How could I forget watching the Spaghetti Westerns starring Clint Eastwood, such as “Hang ‘Em High,” “The Good Bad and the Ugly,” and “A Fist Full of Dollars”? By then, I was driving, and subsequently, the drive-in was my venue for watching movies (and other extracurricular activities).

In 1980, the Criterion closed its doors, and shortly thereafter the auditorium was demolished, making way for a parking lot. Today, Water Street Tattoos at 10 South Water occupies the building that was the lobby and offices of the Criterion. The sights, sounds, and the wonderful smells wafting through the theater will remain with me always.

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