LASL Director Norris Bradbury and actress Linda Darnell, 1950. Courtesy/Los Alamos Historical Society Archives
By Sharon Snyder
Los Alamos Historical Society
Along with the recent announcement of the closure of CB Fox, an old photograph of their location on Central Avenue surfaced. Dave Fox sent the picture of the old Hill Theatre to the Historical Society, and it created a curiosity about movie entertainment from the early days of Los Alamos to the present.
The Hill Theatre, c. 1952. Courtesy/Los Alamos Historical Society Archives
During the Manhattan Project there were two theaters with the attractive names of Theater No. 1 and Theater No. 2. The smaller Theatre No. 1 was used exclusively for movies, while the larger of the two buildings offered other entertainment options. In addition to a movie screen, there was a stage for plays and space for dances, concerts and conferences. It also held a basketball court and was used for the community school’s physical education.
After World War II, Theater No. 1 was renamed The Hill and used as a community theater until July 1, 1950. In 1948 the Centre Theatre had opened with the popular comedy Sitting Pretty starring Clifton Webb, but according to the Los Alamos Herald newspaper, the Atomic Energy Commission felt the need for another “new moving picture house” with the same name as their previous one.
A new building project along Central Avenue included “a very modern sleek structure with room for stores on the second floor and to one side of the main entrance.” The second Hill theater opened Aug. 9, 1951, showing Rich, Young, and Pretty with Jane Powell and Wendell Corey. The prices were 39 cents for adults, 25 cents for students, and 10 cents for children. However, the new “modern” theatre had a short run. It closed in 1955 and was remodeled into a department store, eventually to house CB Fox.
In the late 80s, the Centre Theatre that had existed for many years between the town’s bowling alley and Pierotti’s Soda Bar was remodeled into a tri-plex and renamed the High Society Cinema. It survived until 2001.
Two small theaters vied for success in White Rock in the 1970s. The White Roxy Theatre opened in December 1972 and seated 193 movie goers. Three years later it was sold to new owners and moved up from a 16mm projector to a 35mm in order to increase the selection of films. The closing date for the White Roxy is unknown.
After all those years and different establishments, Los Alamos has a fine theatre with a creative name: The Reel Deal! This popular venue is a family-owned movie theater that opened almost two decades ago. It continues a long and interesting tradition of entertainment in our town but watching movies has not been the only way that people in this area have enjoyed the motion picture industry.
In recent years a number of movies and television shows have been filmed in and around Los Alamos, but perhaps the first filming to engross our town produced the movie Two Flags West in 1950. It was filmed on San Ildefonso Pueblo and the Shipman Ranch near Black Mesa. The story was set in the West during the Civil War and starred Joseph Cotton, Linda Darnell, Jeff Chandler and Cornel Wilde. A list of names in the cast reveals some interesting connections to Los Alamos and the surrounding area, as extras were pulled from the local population. Allen Church, a former Los Alamos Ranch School student and grandson of Ashley Pond Jr., was one of those extras. He remembered taking part in riding scenes but didn’t ever see the stars. However, if you happened to be the director of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, you weren’t bunched in with the extras. You got to meet the star! In a noted photograph, Norris Bradbury seems quite pleased to be photographed with Linda Darnell.
Ah, movies. What a place they hold in our enjoyment of life!
These articles are written by the Los Alamos Historical Society Staff. Many of these articles were originally published by the