Friday Flashback #129

Last week’s Friday Flashback — showing a snowy Post Road sidewalk from 1993, with the Fine Arts Theatre prominently featured — sent alert “06880” reader/ amateur historian Fred Cantor scurrying down the internet wormhole.

He found Cinema Treasures, a website devoted to 51,000 movie theaters from around the world. (“Because you’re tired of watching movies on your laptop,” the tagline says.)

There’s a page devoted to “Fine Arts 1 and 2” — though the photos show only the original theatre (now Restoration Hardware), long before it was subdivided into a pair of cinemas. (Later offspring included Fine Arts 3 in the back — now Matsu Sushi restaurant — and Fine Arts 4 down the block, across Bay Street from Design Within Reach.)

One image is from 1939. It shows the theatre entrance, flanked by an unnamed restaurant and Vogel Electrical Service.

Other photos show Fine Arts after a major 1940 renovation. Here’s the exterior. It looks like the neighboring businesses are gone.

Here’s the new, modern interior:

But the money shots are these 2. They show the Art Deco lounge.

Cinema Treasures is right. The Fine Arts was definitely better than watching movies on your laptop.

17 responses to “Friday Flashback #129

  1. I’m sure many people remember when the movie houses showed a main feature, a secondary film, coming attractions, a newsreel and a cartoon. And for a kid, admission was 25 cents. During evening showings, parents would park baby carriages, with babies in them, in the outer lobby. Occasionally an attendant would announce that a baby in this or that kind of carriage was crying and a mother would leave her seat to tend to the child. Lots of good memories of a by-gone era.

  2. John F. (J-period) Wandres

    I was one of those “kids,” though during World War II. Saturday was market day in Westport, for we families that lived in Weston, before Peter Vetromile’s Weston Shopping Center. I got a WHOLE dollar to go to the Fine Arts to see the feature, newsreel, comics and the latest chapter of the serial. Tickets were 50-cents, which left me enough to buy a couple of candy bars at the store next to the movie house. My favourite serial was “Don Winslow of the Navy.” (which, subliminally, probably got me to enlist in the navy after graduating from Staples in 1953.) The only thing I couldn’t figure out was where the actors went after the movie was over. I waited and waited in my seat for them to come from behind the screen and walk up the aisle and out of the theatre. This triggered an automatic alert from desperate parents as to where their child had gone, and a pissed-off movie house manager who came from his office and hustled me out to the sidewalk. O-Well?

  3. As I told Dan, seeing those interior photos drew a blank; I had zero recollection of the Art Deco furniture and glass block, or of the fireplace.

    And, just a reminder for those who like tangible remembrances of Westport in the days of yore: the Staples Tuition Grants Committee has an online store with products featuring vintage Westport photos, including one of the Fine Arts—with100% of the royalties going to the scholarship set up in the memory of Chou Chou Merrill: https://www.zazzle.com/vintagewestportstg/products

  4. I was not a movie fan as a kid but I went to all the theaters around – in Norwalk, the Palace, Empress, Rialto, and the Norwalk and in Fairfield, the Community. The one thing all these theaters had that the original Fine Arts never had was a balcony.

    • Didn’t the Fine Arts later have a balcony? I recall one from the ’60s.

      • Well, maybe. I’m beginning to realize I can’t remember everything. But I don’t recall ever sitting in a balcony there. Maybe someone else can add something.

        • Yes, Dan — I was young kid in Westport in the 60’s and distinctly remember a balcony. The teenagers all necked up there and I remember having discussions about that with my parents. I was allowed to go to the movies with friends starting in 4th grade.

  5. Shannon Nordlinger

    Thanks for the great story, Dan. I had completely forgotten about the theater behind Baskin Robins. Did the one up the Post Road come along much later? My husband can’t believe Westport used to have so many movie theaters and now has none.

    • Thanks, Shannon. I don’t think the one further east on the Post Road (where Pompanoosuc Mills was — now it’s Bassett Furniture — was affiliated with Fine Arts. It was called Post Cinema. It was around the same time — so yes, Westport once had 5 movie theaters!

      • It was part of the Nutmeg Theaters which included them all plus ones in Norwalk, Wilton and Fairfield. It was my father’s business.

  6. Rosemary Bentley Milligan

    The Fine Arts did have a balcony, I remember it from the late 1950’s and early 60’s.

  7. Nancy Powers Conklin

    I also remember a balcony at the original Fine Arts Theatre. I used to go up to the upstairs area, I guess where the art deco furniture once was, and look out on State Street watching people walk by, as I waited for the movies to start. There was some furniture up there but, nothing as elaborate as the art deco stuff in the photo.

  8. “What some popcorn Hun’ ?, butter on it too? “ there was a sweet lady
    That sold popcorn at Fine Arts Theatre, and she would repeat that phrase
    Over and over. There was definitely a lounge upstairs when I was in 6th
    Grade. I recall red carpet and fancy chairs, ladies and men’s room.
    Bedford Elementary had to have a special meeting because some parents complained that too many 6th graders were meeting up.going to matinees, and holding hands.

  9. Among many other movies, I remember seeing “A Hard Days Night” at the Fine Arts in 1964—and not being able to hear a word of it over the screaming!

  10. The Fine Arts on Saturday afternoons in the 1950s and early 60s was always jam packed with kids and no parents. There was an usher, any one remember him? It didn’t matter that the movies were hardly memorable, though I do remember some scary Sci-Fi movies, i.e. The Thing and Them. And then after the movies one of the mothers of the friends I went with would often take us to confession at Assumption Church, not that there was a connection!! I do remember the fancy upstairs and I seem to remember a balcony. And for many of us we have fond memories from junior high days of the painful rite of passage of a boy being brave enough to put his arm around your shoulder. The Fine Arts, was sorry to see it go.

  11. My dad ran those theaters from just after WW2 until he sold it, along with the Norwalk theaters. Wilton Cinema, and County Cinema in Fairfield in 1969. Lots of fond remembrances as a kid, and later as an usher during the summer. One more theater in Westport was in what is now Bassett Furniture, the Post Cinema. Only the Cinema Norwalk still shows movies, now as the Garden Cinemas.

  12. Patricia Driscoll

    Jane, I remember an usher from the 1960’s. He walked with a limp and he would walk you to your seat lighting the way with a flashlight. I imagine he was frustrated with the pea shooters, popcorn box missiles and general chaos of the Saturday matinees. He had a hard job:-)

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