I don’t know what the dollar show was like for you guys growing up, but for me, there were two theater choices in South St. Louis. One was the Kingsland, a massive brown-black building with crumbling balconies, moldy curtains, and a snack bar that sold cigarettes. I saw Free Willy there with some girls from school, and they all embarrassed me at the end by chanting “FREE WILLY, FREE WILLY” during the credits. The Kingsland was eventually torn down to build an Aldi’s.
The other option was the Avalon, a yellow brick refrigerator-box shaped building on Kingshighway, where my friend Kyle worked selling tickets when he was like 13 and my mom refused to drive through the demilitarized parking lot. Although movies at the Avalon only cost a dollar, people constantly snuck in through the side door, because I guess the pilly seats and septic unisex bathrooms contributed to the ideal atmosphere for doing heroin during the movie. At the Avalon, I watched the Lion King, Aladdin, Rookie of the Year, and at least one movie starring Pauly Shore. I also went to a midnight showing of Rocky Horror there. I didn’t get it.
I still have dreams about the Avalon, actually, as well as the Famous-Barr department store – a super retro pink granite-front fortress where my grandma got her hair done and then took us to the in-store restaurant for burgers when my sister and I weren’t stealing the store wheelchair – across the street. Famous-Barr was torn down to build a Walgreen’s. Of course. A fucking Walgreen’s. They’re those panicky dreams where I have a million things to do but keep getting distracted and the brakes in my car don’t work.
The Kingsland was torn down a long time ago, and the Avalon has been sitting decrepit and abandoned for more than 15 years. My friend Brennan used to live in the same building as the guy who inherited the Avalon from his father, and the guy was apparently a nutcase who intended to wait until the neighborhood recovered to sell the building for a fortune. The neighborhood is never going to recover, non-St. Louisans, and even if it was, it might have been prudent for the owner of the building to do basic repairs while waiting for a buyer instead of letting the roof cave in, the foundation crumble, and the entire place to become a sanctuary for pigeons and hobos. But he didn’t, and it’s a shithole, and now either he sold it for the price of the land or the city decided to quit fucking around and just tear it down.
And it’s kind of sad. I’m not usually one for nostalgia, especially in this case where I once sidestepped a passed out junkie in the bathroom and was honestly lucky not to contract scabies from the seats. But in this case, seeing a giant hole ripped down the middle of the Avalon on my way home from work (my first way home from work, as I got all the way to my door before realizing that I didn’t have my key and had to drive all the way to the Central West End during afternoon traffic to get Graham’s) was disappointing. The movies were the first place my parents let me go out with my friends. It barely cost anything and they didn’t employ ushers to kick people out after just one show. I don’t know if it’s work lately or hormones or maybe the way I’m kind of sort thinking about leaving St. Louis, but today, that partially demolished theater o’ crap made me a little sadder in general. If that Sarah McLachlan commercial comes on later, I don’t know what I’m going to do.
(That’s a lie. I’m going to change the channel and then spew Internet hate about that crunchy bitch and her pictures of sad puppies and kittens.)