By Jasmine Willis
DANSVILLE – It captivated an entire village when the marquee first turned on to display the lights, camera, and action a century ago.
Star Theatre was born on June 4, 1921 when the Golden Age of Silent Films were a must-see and the idea of celebrity was an enchanting concept. The Martina Family operated the theater for decades until it closed in 1985. James Martina owned theaters all over the Southern Tier. Vince Martina was the last to operate the theater in that family. Vince Martina operated the Mount Morris Theater and Wayland Bowling Alley as well. It reopened on Oct. 28, 1994 with The Schmidt Family. Edgard Schmidt took over and made it his second home ever since until he passed in 2019 from cancer.
On June 5 this local theatre celebrated a giant milestone with the community. Star Theatre held historic tours, played Charlie and the Kid (1921 film) for .27 admission price, played Cruella at normal admission prices at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., and had a basket raffle with proceeds donated to Cancer Comfort Project in Edgar Schmidt’s name.
Small-town movie theaters have been the magic in everyone’s memories for generations. We can recall our grandparents telling us stories about watching the Saturday Pictures for a dime. Everyone had a date or two in the balcony of the local theater. Some even were lucky enough to get a summer job at the ticket or snack booth. No matter how old you are we all have warm memories connected to a hometown theater.
Star Theatre is no different in how it changed lives for generations to come. In the midst of her greatest struggles the community always rallied to save her from the brink of extinction. She remains the shining star that lights up 144 Main Street in even the darkest of times.
Star Theatre Manager David Furioso and his wife Lois took to giving tours and keep the stories alive.
“When the theater had closed down my dad thought it was sad. It had been shut up for eight years. He decided to open it back up with help from the whole family. Edgar moved home to help run it in 1994. Vince (Martina) was one of the first to come and see movies in the theater when we reopened. He was very supportive of our family,” Lois said. “Back in the old days the ticket booth had a snack machine right next to it. There was always a running joke on if you would get your cup or popcorn first. This was before we had the snack stand now. The seating for the theater came all the way to the top where the snack booth is now. We had exits in both walls where you see the murals now on the building. That is why the bricks are a different color. You would come in the same doors you come in now and leave through those exits. It was the only way to get out of the theater. We had very tiny bathrooms next to these doors for the men and women.”
There was a lot to be done to renovate the building when the Schmidt Family took over in the early 90s. They changed the marquee with help from Nancy Nice. The entire inside got a makeover with a new snack and popcorn booth that took out some of the rows for seating. The old exit doors got bricked off and new bathrooms were put in place. Some beautiful murals were put on the sides of the building that have become rather iconic to the theaters image.
Lois Furioso said the second and third floor still house the original club houses and meetings rooms of the old era. The Protector’s Club room was always held on the second floor. The original woodwork is still present. The old hooks for the firemen gear are still there. The third floor held a dance hall and old-fashioned community center that still looks captured in time. She hopes to have them both refurbished in the future.
Furioso said she is very touched by the amount of support she got from the community for the basket raffle that honors her brother. In keeping with what her brother’s passion was for the theater she plans on keeping his vision alive. There have been events, private shows, and school functions that keep the theater operational during the hardships of Covid-19.
“We will be doing an old film to mark the decade every month. This is another way we can celebrate the 100 years all year long. We played a 1920s movie this month. Next month we will play a 1930s film. We will keep up with the decades each month. We thought that was a fun way to celebrate our theater,” she said.
David Furioso said the Covid-19 shutdown was hard on the theater as it was closed for nine months. They had to bounce back once there was a green light to open again. He said when he returned to open the doors, he found the machines had stopped working. It took a whole other month to get the equipment needed to restart the theater in full swing.
He gave a tour of the projection room to show the intense detail that goes into putting a movie on for the community to enjoy. Gone are the days of the film reel. The high-tech gear requires more work and all parts need to be in full compacity to make the movie run. It is all connected to one giant piece of equipment. This provides the ability to play the movies, DVDs, and music before the film starts. In order to get the rights to play anything on the big screen you need a key from the studio. You can only play the film for a certain amount of time before that key runs out.
The Covid-19 restrictions are not as severe anymore. It used to mean you had to only allow 50 people in to a theater with masks. Now vaccinated people can come in without a mask as long as they show their vaccination identification. They can take a photo of it to show on their phone or use the NYS Vaccination Pass App. Non-vaccinated people still need to wear a mask in the theater.
The Letson Family has bought out the entire theater to show Overcomer on July 22. Anyone who wishes to come will be able to watch the movie for free and only need to pay for snacks and drinks.
Chuck Hughes worked at the theater when he was younger. He recalled his grandfather James Martina working hard to run the place. Hughes went on to have a lengthy career at Wham TV. He is one of many who owed this small theater the roots for a successful life.
Star Theatre remains a cornerstone of the community. Here is to another 100 years of movie magic and making dreams come true.