History of Milford Movie Theaters

Nov 4 2018 /

What was once Milford’s first Walmart before becoming a call center for Sitel may soon be a state-of-the-art movie theater in Milford, according to Arthur Helmick, owner of Middletown’s Westown Theater and Newark’s Main Street Theater.

“I have the building under contract,” Helmick said. “My intention is to turn it into a movie theater. Right now, we are doing our due diligence to determine how a movie theater would be received in Milford and what it would entail to retrofit the building for that use.” The last time movies were shown in a theatre in Milford was in the 1980s when the Milford Plaza Twin Theaters, owned by Paul Wilson, closed.

Milford has been the home of many different movie theaters over the years and visiting the movie theatre was always a treat in the town. The first theatre opened in 1918, Warren’s Palace Theatre, which opened on the west side of downtown, just north of the Mispillion River. Nixon’s Palace Theatre, which opened in 1922 followed Warren’s when William Warren opened the Plaza Theatre on the South Milford Plaza, near Causey Mansion. Both theaters showed silent movies, including those featuring Harold Lloyd, a popular silent movie star. The Plaza Theatre was the largest building in Milford and was used for more events than just showing silent pictures.

 

 

In 1923, the Tall Cedars of Lebanon sponsored a musical concert of eight well known recording artists for the Victor Talking Machine Company. The Victor Talking Machine Company was a national musical recording company and when stars like Henry Burr, Albert Campbell and Billy Murray visited Milford it was an incredibly important event.

The movie theatres used flyers to promote upcoming movies and events that were scheduled. When movies were shown, a newsreel and a comedy or cartoon would be shown prior to the feature film. The cost to get into the movie was $0.28 for adults and $0.10 for children. On Saturday nights, the feature film was often a western preceded by a vaudeville act.

From the 1920s through the early 1960s, Milford High School held graduation ceremonies at the Plaza Theatre and it was also used for amateur presentations. In the early 1940’s, the theatre became part of the Schine Circuit Inc., a group that owned theaters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey and other states in the east. Although ticket stubs for the feature film “Juke Girl” starting Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan refer to the theatre as the “Schine New Plaza Theatre,” it was still referred to by Milfordians as the Plaza Theatre.

A visit to the movie theatre was always a treat. Milfordians were excited when the town’s first silent movie theatre, Warren’s Palace Theatre, opened in 1918. It was located on the west side of downtown Walnut Street just north of the river.
A visit to the movie theatre was always a treat. Milfordians were excited when the town’s first silent movie theatre, Warren’s Palace Theatre, opened in 1918. It was located on the west side of downtown Walnut Street just north of the river.
On September 23, 1946, most of Milford turned out to watch as the Plaza Theatre burned. It was one of the most spectacular fires in the city and was long remembered by local firemen, according to Milford Historian, David Kenton. In 1946, after the destruction of the Plaza Theatre, the Shore Theatre opened on October 28 in the old Armory Hall on Southwest Front Street.

“Every year the Lyman H. Howe Travelog movies were shown there,” reads the diary of Milford historian, Robert Bell Pierce, according to information gathered by the Milford Museum. “The packed house never seemed to tire each year of breathlessly awaiting the film’s climax, when a shot gun was fired back stage to coincide with the firing of two enormous battleship guns aimed directly at the audience.”

The Schine Theatre reopened in 1948 after extensive renovations and photos from the era show the beautifully restored balcony as well as rows of modern seating. Two cameras were necessary to show the entire movie without interruption. In the summer, merchants gave free tickets to matinees so that people could enjoy cartoons and a feature movie in the air-conditioned theatre.

In 1976, the Schine theatre closed for good and remained empty for many years until the Jesus Love Temple purchased the building. It has been used as a church for more than 30 years and the façade was recently updated.

When the Milford Plaza Shopping Center on Dupont Highway was opened around 1974, one of the first tenants was the Milford Plaza Cinema. Patterned after what was known as the Jerry Lewis theatre design, the cinema offered two movie theaters in a strip-mall setting. The first movie shown at the cinema was “Paper Moon,” starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. The theaters closed in the early 1980s and were replaced by retail space.

One of the most requested businesses the citizens of Milford ask for is a movie theatre, which is why the Second Street Players felt that adding the equipment to show movies would be an economic benefit to the city. They hope to offer movies throughout the year when they are not presenting live performances at the Riverfront Theatre. The proceeds from the movies will help to secure not only the expenses that come along with running and maintaining the theatre but also ensure that the Second Streets Players are able to continue their tradition of performing and encouraging arts in the local community.

** All Photos archived at the Milford Museum located at 121 S Walnut St. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am until 3:30pm and on Sunday from 1pm until 3:30 PM. Admission is free and group tours can be arranged by calling 302-424-1080.**

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