The Ayers Theater has entertained Corpus Christi moviegoers for 40 years

For many, movie theaters carry a lot of nostalgia. Sitting in the darkened room, a box of popcorn in one hand, lights flickering on the screen as you’re transported to a different world for about 90 minutes.

Reader Hector Torres contacted me recently to share his memories of Ayers Theater, one of many United Artists theaters in the city.

“I think the Ayers Theater should have been institutionalized because of its specificity for the youth of the time,” Torres wrote. “It was the only theater that showed mostly Walt Disney movies. But it wasn’t just the movie-watching experience that made the Ayers special, it was the fun Saturdays.

“For the price of 35 cents, a child would receive a full entertainment package. First, they were treated to a screening of some sort of series. Like the Space Cadet, the Lone Ranger or Roy Rogers. Then there would be some sort of contest, gum blowing, Hula-Hoop and dancing to the Twist, Loco-motion or mashed potatoes. This was followed by a full-length color cartoon and then the main attraction.

“And during the holidays, like say Halloween, there was a screening of a scary movie and in doing so a live spooky event at the theater that would scare not only children but adults as well. So funny !

Ayers Theatre, known as Ayers Theater when it opened, was part of the United Artists chain of theaters operated by Bruce Collins Sr. of Corpus Christi Theaters Inc. The company also operated the Ritz, Center, Palace, Beach, Grande, Melba, Port, Tower and Amusu Theaters around town.

Ayers, called a suburban theater because it was tucked away in a neighborhood strip mall surrounded by “acres of parking spaces,” opened on September 1, 1947, with a screening of “Miracle on 34th Street.” The 900-seat theater boasted its top-notch sound system, luxurious seating, and the most modern Westinghouse refrigeration and heating system.

The theater was a hub of community activities, not only for screening films, but also for hosting events such as cooking schools and “Tom Thumb” pet parades.

“There are so many wonderful memories about the Ayers that make him priceless. A gem in time,” Torres said. Torres went from theater boss to employee in 1968.

The theater eventually followed the path of many other small movie theaters. United Artists closed two downtown theaters, Ayers Theater and Center Theater, in the fall of 1988. Cine West on Leopard Street also closed two weeks before Center and Ayers. The three theaters operated as “dollar theaters”, showing second-run films. Cine West had two screens, and Center and Ayers only had one screen each; small theaters could not survive as large multiplexes began to appear. The Ayers Theater closed on September 5, 1988, with one last performance of “Willow”.

At the time of closing, employees and local residents lamented the loss of the small theaters. They mainly attracted older residents who lived nearby.

“A lot of these people have been taking buses from the Westside for years,” Westside Business Association president Oscar Flores told The Caller-Times in an Aug. 23, 1988, interview. no longer go to the theatre.”

But the Ayers Theater did not sit empty for many years. In 1990, the Solid Rock Worship Center congregation and Reverend Steve Coronado Sr. purchased the empty theater along with a former plasma donation center and bingo hall at Ayers and Tarlton streets. The congregation still uses the original location with an expanded campus on Yorktown Boulevard, but alumni will always remember the Ayers Theater.

“For me, the Ayers were very special,” Torres recalled. “Because I not only got to experience it as a paid spectator, but also as a worker.”

Allison Ehrlich writes about things to do in South Texas and has a weekly Thursday column on local history.

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