In our last column, Larry Oberly and this writer visited both the Ritz Theatre in Coplay and the Roxy Theatre in Northampton.
The Ritz is now but a memory, but the landmark Roxy continues to bring joy to its many patrons. Today, we are speaking to Mr. Thomas Schwartz, a former excellent student of this writer and former elementary teacher in the Northampton School District. Tom was an usher and doorman at the Roxy for three years.
The Roxy was built by Harry Hartman in 1921. It was called the Lyric. Sold to a Philadelphia firm, it was redecorated in the art deco style, which Mr. Richard Wolfe, current owner of the Roxy, has preserved. The theater was renamed Roxy on its grand opening in August 1933. Mr. Wolfe has successfully led the Roxy since 1970.
Mr. Schwartz started at the Roxy in the 10th grade. His sister Marie ran the box office.
He recalled, “As usher, we were paid $8 a week. Door rate was $12 a week. A ticket was a bargain at 65 cents. We all wore uniforms, but we convinced our manager, Mr. Shuck, to change to white shirts and ties. He agreed. After a show completed its run, it was up the ladder and change the marquee.”
The colorful marquee is listed on the historical register.
On Tuesday night, Tom and his fellow ushers would cart out dinner plates, silverware and crockery for ladies’ night. The Northampton Area Historical Society has some of the dinnerware at its Siegfried Museum.
He also recalls when the Roxy hung the sign “Air Conditioned Theatre,” a major improvement. On occasion he would go up to the roof and reset the unit.
The Roxy had two projectors using carbon rods for the lighting. Reels were flawlessly changed every 20 minutes. The projectionist was Tory Cummings, a talented man who was also a printer at R&S printing, a few steps from the theater.
Tom remembers something our readers never experienced. Each day he would go to the closet for a trusty broom and sweep the cement dust from the pavements- a daily chore. He knew cement. He resided near the Dragon Cement Plant in Northampton’s first ward.
“Sunday was children’s day. The theater was packed. They enjoyed Disney classics. Some parents gave their children money for a second show,” he said.
At closing, a police car stopped at the Roxy, and the young doorman boarded the car and took the night’s proceeds and deposit key to the Cement National Bank.
I asked Tom about sellouts.
He replied, “We had a number of standing-room-only sellouts. I recall ‘Operation Petticoat’ with Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Joan O’Brien and Dina Merrill.
“‘Elvis’ ‘Blue Hawaii’ was a big hit. We kept bringing the film back. The fans loved ‘the King.’”
Mr. Schwartz remembers his years at the Roxy and his interactions with all the patrons. This experience built a foundation he used in the classroom, and he became an outstanding teacher in the district.
In completing this series, let’s all thank Mr. Richard Wolfe, the dedicated owner of the Roxy, for continuing to operate this historic landmark in the Lehigh Valley. Stop in, say hello and continue to support the Roxy.
See you again in two weeks.