Bill Mancinik’s recollections never fail to entertain. His column on the Athens Theatre evoked many strong memories, not the least of which was the War Bond Drive to see Gone With the Wind at the Athens.
The line of people extended from the theater all the way to West New York Avenue, all waiting to plunk out $18.75 for a seat. No small sum in the 1940s.
But for my generation, it was not the Athens that drew us to gather on Saturday afternoons. It was the Dreka Theatre on East New York Avenue. In fact, for more than 26 years, New York Avenue provided DeLand’s youth with adventures far more exciting than the current illegal turns.
Back then it was a two-lane red-brick street lined with a canopy of oaks dripping with Spanish moss, flanked by streetlamps that lent a certain old-world charm.
The corner of New York and Garfield avenues is where we all went on Saturday mornings. By ourselves. The public library on the corner (now a dental office) had once been the home of Seward Baker. It was where we gathered for “Children’s Story Hour” on Saturday mornings.
It was a long walk for my little legs from my home on the corner of West New York and Clara avenues all the way to Garfield Avenue. Perhaps the remarkable thing is that my sister Margaret, at age 9, and I at 6, could walk those blocks so safely and without a care, as could every other kid in town.
For Children’s Story Hour, we would sit in a circle on the floor, and the librarian, Edith Selter, would read to us and tell us stories. She was a remarkable woman who would transport us through literature and our imaginations into other worlds.
From that day forward, I have loved the special fragrance associated with a bookstore or library. The musty scent of old paper and the distinct smell of leather bindings summon the sweet memories of Miss Selter’s special gift.
Closer to home, on the corner of Florida Avenue and West New York, where The Blind Pig pub is today, was Mr. Daniel Gainin’s shoe-repair shop. On top of Mr. Gainin’s shoe display counter were at least a dozen glass jars of penny candies that were virtually eye-popping.
The sugar candy cigarettes with a pink “lit end” were a real favorite. A dime filled a bag with red and black licorice whips, red wax “lips,” tiny wax bottles of flavored sugar water, and bubble-gum jawbreakers as big as small plums. This would set you up for an afternoon at the Dreka Theatre, which was the next stop on our subway to adventure.
The Dreka Theatre, halfway between the Boulevard and Alabama Avenue, was a baroque mini-palace decorated with parapets and elaborate tiles. Opened in 1922, the theater was on the east side of the Dreka Building, the first reinforced-concrete building in Volusia County. Today you can enjoy a fine meal in the Dreka Building at The Table Restaurant, or attend a church service in the former theater space.
The movie house eventually came upon hard times and closed. Its flamboyant front was removed; the sloping theater seating was filled in to level it, and scarcely a vestige of the original building remains.
In its day, it was an ornate mecca without equal for B movies. It was DeLand’s best Saturday-afternoon babysitter. For 9 cents (a weird amount, I confess), a kid under 12 could count on a double feature showing a Charlie Chan mystery or a “Tarzan of the Apes” adventure, plus a cowboy Western — I always hoped my heartthrob William Boyd would be playing “Hopalong Cassidy” — plus two cartoons with Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse or Popeye the Sailor, plus a weekly serial such as Flash Gordon Goes to Mars or Mark of Zorro, designed to leave us breathless and coming back week after week to see how the hero escaped the jaws of death!
How great is that? For 9 cents, our parents knew precisely where their kids were from 1 to 5 every Saturday afternoon for at least two generations.
Then, after World War II, there was a new game in town just one block away, where today sits City Hall. Taking over where the USO left off, the city fathers gave DeLand’s teenagers a place of their own in the Chamber of Commerce: Teen Town!
This precious piece of real estate came with a chaperone to keep our giddy selves in check: Mrs. Virginia Sullivan. This mother hen watched over her flock. It was as simple as that.
On the ground floor were tables for pingpong and board games, Monopoly and checkers prevailing. Upstairs was the dance hall with a jukebox and a piano.
Jitterbugging and boogie-woogie ruled the day, and Bill Housand with partner Cornelia Hargreaves were DeLand’s answer to John Travolta in our hometown version of Grease.
The boys twirled and scooped the girls between their legs and over their shoulders; the girls spun in broomstick skirts, bobby socks and saddle oxfords. We fell in love, and out of love. And we grew up.
— Bohon’s grandfather, Cary D. Landis, who came from Indiana to DeLand to start a law school for Stetson University, was among the founders of the Landis Graham French law firm that still serves Volusia County today. Her father, Erskine Landis, also was a lawyer with the firm.