Some of the most fascinating places in Morehouse Parish have been lost to the passage of time. These buildings exist only in photographs and memories.
Bonita’s Village Theater is such a place.
More than 50 years ago, citizens came here to escape the pressures of everyday life and to be transported into a world of heroes and villains, adventures and suspense, drama and comedy.
Lois Robertson of Bonita said she and her husband, Oren Robertson, built the Village Theater around 1948 and operated it until 1950. The theater stood on what is now a vacant lot next to Big A Auto Parts on Bonita Avenue.
“When [Oren] came back from the service, he decided to put in a movie theater,” said Robertson. “He had a little one in Bonita when we first met.”
Oren Robertson’s first theater was converted from a small barn his father owned on a back road, she said. The couple decided to build the second theater, with more seating space and a balcony, on the village’s main thoroughfare.
“We went to New Orleans every four to six weeks to rent the films,” said Robertson. “Then people would come up to Bonita and leave [the film reels] on our doorstep.”
Dramas, comedies and westerns were shown on designated nights of the week. Tickets sold for just 25 cents for adults and nine cents for children 12 years under.
“We sold popcorn for 10 cents a bag, but we never did sell cold drinks,” said Robertson.
She does not remember the exact films they rented and showed at the Village Theater. However, the period from 1948-1950 turned out such classics as “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Rear Window,” “Ben-Hur” and “Some Like It Hot,” just to name a few.
Robertson said Saturday nights were the busiest times for the box office.
“I remember it was hard to get through town on Saturday nights because of all the cars lined up along the street,” she said.
Robertson said her husband once booked the cowboy character actor “Fuzzy Q. Jones” for a weekend appearance at the Village Theater.
Fuzzy’s real name was Al St. John. He was the nephew of comic Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and appeared in no fewer than 355 films from 1912-1952 alongside such silver screen legends as Mabel Normand, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, according to the Internet Movie Database.
“He had a lot of energy,” said Robertson. “But I was selling tickets at the time and didn’t see his shows.”
The Robertsons decided to sell the theater in 1950 because the new technology of home television was beginning to catch on.
“I remember we had gone to New Orleans and we saw the televisions there,” said Robertson. “Oren said, ‘I think this is a good time to get out of the theater business.’”
Page 2 of 2 - They sold the Village Theater to a new owner, who later sold it to a third owner. Robertson said she is uncertain how long the theater continued to stand before it was demolished.
Oren Robertson moved on to a career in teaching and became principal of Carver Elementary School in Bastrop. He later retired as principal of the first through eighth grade school in Bonita.
Lois Robertson said she was already teaching when her husband entered the field, and also worked as a librarian in Bonita.
“I’ve taught every grade except sixth,” she said.
Did she ever miss owning and operating the cinema?
“It was fun. I miss it very much,” she said. “I haven’t been to a movie in I don’t know how long.”
The last film she saw was several years ago, at Cinemark’s Tinseltown megaplex in West Monroe -- a very different experience from the intimate theater experience of yesteryear when friends and family paid 25 cents to see the show together.