Clare County Review & Marion Press Columns

Postcard from the Pines: Let’s all go to the movies

Sun Theater – Sin Town also Billy the Kidd

The Oscar Award show Sunday night was good entertainment, considering last years’ unsettling events. One popular movie sweeping seven top Oscars reminded us of other big winners like Gone with the Wind, Cleopatra, Jaws, Star Wars, and Silence of the Lambs and so on. That led us to a conversation about what a good, movie-going experience was like, from beginning to end. And that reminded us of how long it has been since we’ve truly gone out to the movies.
Full disclosure; we have not seen a movie in the theatre for more years than I care to admit. We had a date to see the third Harry Potter movie at the Pines in Houghton Lake. Better things got in the way and before we could see him, Harry had climbed on the night bus and moved on. We returned to our lazy ways and totally surrendered to the ease of satellite television and the likes of HBO and Netflix. They make it way to easy to see any movie we wish, at home, dressed in our comfy clothes and seated in our favorite chairs. Best of all, there is always the pause button when an Intermission is needed. And then there is the cost. Going to the movies is not for the faint hearted. For those who recall the days of the $2 matinee and 50c popcorn, it is a total shocker.
When we were kids, most towns our size had a movie theatre. It was easy to go to the movies. At one time a kid did not need more than their own two feet and a friend to walk with, or the transportation of a bicycle to make it to a movie. The best was a parent who was willing to drop off and pick up. Either way, we were fortunate kids, for in Marion, Michigan, we had the Sun Theatre.
Built in 1938 by the Martin family, the Sun wasn’t nearly grand as the larger Lyric in Cadillac with a balcony inside and an ornate marquee on the street, or the Ideal Theatre in Clare. The Ideal was no larger than the Sun but held a prime, eye-catching spot on Clare’s main thoroughfare, McEwan Street.  Its deco-style enamel panels and many flashing marquee lights made a visit there an event.
Both of these theatres were destinations for movie loving Marion folks. Mom and grandma drove to Clare to see the lengthy Ten Commandments when it came out. Those two kids didn’t get home until after midnight, causing my dad considerable worry. I have vivid memories of a fast and scary ride in heavy fog to see Hawaii at the Lyric in Cadillac. My cousin Jack was the pilot.
In 1961 Jack’s wife Barb took several of us to see the Disney movie, Flubber. It was a huge movie, in part because of its special flying car effects. Every kid wanted to see it. Flubber was not slated to bounce into our town, or Cadillac, for several weeks. Clare’s Ideal was the first nearby theatre to show it, so off we went.
We stood in a long line composed of kids, teens and the adults who got them there. The line stretched down the street, around the main corner and along US 10. This was the first time I had ever been to a movie so popular that we stood in line just to get tickets for the next showing. After what seemed like a long wait, the theatre and Flubber was ours. As with any good movie experience, we found that once the lights went out and the picture came up, it didn’t matter where we were.    
Marion movie goers enjoyed the Sun for nearly 40 years before a heavy snow load ended its career. The Sun became a warehouse for the furniture store next door. The great bank expansion of 1978 took the 1905 bank building, the Sun and the former bakery next to it. Today we drive through the Sun lobby every time we turn into the bank driveway.  
The Lyric has changed and expanded through the years. It has become a glitz and glitter free, multi-screen establishment. The classy Lyric has been gone so long that most movie goers know it no other way.
Fortunately for the folks in Clare, the Ideal is currently undergoing an extensive renovation, looking to join other classic theatre survivors in making the movie experience something special once again.

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