Frank T. Montgomery
... and the Memphis Majestic Movie Theatres

 
 

 

Frank T. Montgomery, known as "The Moving Picture Man of Memphis" became the most successful operator of high grade movie houses in the country.  He was famous throughout the U. S. but his territory was basically confined to the South.  His theatres were devoted exclusively to moving pictures (no vaudeville acts) and he said, "The patron is always aware that he is in a Montgomery playhouse because it is just different."

In 1908 he purchased The Theatorium from Charles Dinstuhl and renamed it "Majestic #1".  It became the first of many Memphis theatres owned by Frank T. Montgomery.  At one time, he owned from 4 to 8 Majestic Theatres - depending on the source.   With Frank came the beginning of class and quality by ordering new films and purchasing the best of equipment.  His theatres had better lighting and gave the patrons better ventilation.  The ladies were also pleased when Frank decorated the exterior and interior of his theatres with plants.  In addition, he engaged an orchestra instead of the usual lone piano player.  This old "carny man" had class.

 

Click on small photos to see an enlargement


For years Frank T. Montgomery traveled with a circus in the summer and with theatrical companies in the winter.  On one of his journeys in 1900, he happened to see a poster on the front of a theatre advertising "Black Diamond Express, " a moving picture exhibition.  He convinced himself that the experience would be worth the 50 cent admission.  Immediately Frank saw the potential of the motion picture business.  It wasn't long befpre he was on the road himself with a picture outfit.  During this period it was necessary to buy films outright from the manufacturers - so success varied.  Frank ended his traveling in Fort Worth, Texas in 1905.  Now he knew he had to open his own moving picture theatre - laying claim to the first in the United States to operate a theatre devoted exclusively to the exhibition of motion pictures.

 

F.  Montgomery


Frank's first theatre in Fort Worth was, of course, rather crude in comparison with modern theatres.   His films consisted of those he had managed to collect from time to time while on the road.  With this limited supply of films he quickly saw the finish of his enterprise.  He tried to rent other films, but without success and knew he'd have to take to the road again.  While on a stop Memphis, he discovered candyman Charles M. Dinstuhl had recently opened a picture theatre next to his candy store on Main Street.  He also discovered the exciting news that films for Dinstuhl's theatre were supplied by the first film exchange in San Francisco.   

Chas M Dinstuhl

 

Upon returning to Texas, Montgomery found that movie theatres had sprung up in every nearby town.  He secured a new location and ran a profitable business until the old "carny restlessness" returned.  And Frank sold out at a profit, headed to Memphis and immediately bought out the Charles Dinstuhl Theatre, named "The Theatorium",  changed the name to Majestic #1, and announced he'd present nothing but motion pictures - no vaudeville.  Everyone rolled their eyes and agreed that Montgomery "was crazy."

The Theatorium 1919

Theatorium Building


 


 
Welcome ...
 


 

After buying the Theatorium Theatre from Charles Dinstuhl, Frank began purchasing other Theatres on Main Street in Memphis.   His habit of naming them Majestic #1, Majestic #2,  Majestic #3, has caused great confusion for historians.    When he sold Majestic #1 and purchased a new one, he might name it "New Majestic  #1".  And he seemed to almost change the theatre numbers at will.  We are aware of at least 4 different buildings named "Majestic #1" and #2.  The old Strand Theatre at 138 S. Main was originally a Majestic #2.  Another #2 Majestics at 146 S. Main across from the Gayoso Hotel became quite famous in postcards and photographs.  It had a beautiful electrical sign.   >

 

Majestic Electrical Sign

#1...1915 #1 bldg - today Majestic #2 Majestic #2 Majestic #2 Majestic #2

When a Majestic Theatre had apparently "run its course", Frank's company would change the name to Empire and the cost to operate it would not be as great as under the Majestic name.  By 1923 only 1 Majestic was listed in the Memphis Directory - the one at 145 S. Main.   And only 1 Empire.... 

New #2 Majestic #2 - Strand Majestic #2 - Empire#2 Majestic #3 - Empire #1 Majestic #4

Majestic-Bijou


But the most famous of all the Majestic Theatres was at 145 S. Main.   It was and is, a beautiful terra cotta building which has now been renovated and named  the "Majestic Grille".  Silent movies are still shown continuously at this very popular restaurant.    Ironically this movie house was never converted for sound films.  When silent movies lost their appeal, this house closed.  Later Julius Lewis occupied the building for many years, and then the  Blue Light Studio. 

  Majestic #1 Rare view of the interior

 



Madame, How would you like to sit behind the hat you're wearing...
 


 

Frank became a master of advertising.  Two of his classics have survived - a business card-address book and a button.  He purchased top of the line "Mirror Screens" for his theatres, while others hung up sheets.  And he was the first movie house to have a balcony.

Business Card-Address Book Mirror Screens Billboard 1913 Button...circa 1910

Frank Montgomery's business was named "Majestic Amusement Co" and was headquartered on the 2nd floor of the Majestic #2 at 146 S. Main.  On the photo "#2-1915", it's possible to read "Majestic Theatre No 2" across the awning of the building.  In 1919 the Majestic Amusement became "Memphis Enterprises" and in 1921 it became "Consolidated Enterprises."  All Majestic and Empire Theatres were co-owned by President R. C. Tarlton and Secretary C. T. Bridges. By 1929 all theatres had closed and Frank had moved on.

#2 - 1915 Majestic -entrance and 2nd floor.  

1912 Ad 1917 Ad 1919 Ad Memphis Greets You 1916 Consolidated 1921

Button C. 1910

Billboard 1908

Billboard 1910

   
 



If annoyed when here, please tell management...
 


 

Frank T. Montgomery had enjoyed a very successful business in Memphis which attracted offers from other cities.  He was prepared to accept one in New York, but got side-tracked in transforming a theatre in Jacksonville, Florida.  After that he established theatres in Atlanta, Savannah, Columbia, S.C., and Dayton, Ohio.  In Atlanta, he built and opened in 1911, one of the finest motion picture theatres in the country, and named it "Montgomery."   The name changed to Georgian in 1915...and then to Odeon in 1916...and to Tudor in 1918.  It closed in the 1920s and became Zachery Men's Store until it was demolished in the 70s.

 

New Age 1913

Atlanta's Montgomery

Montgomery circa 1911

MontgomeryAuditorium

Montgomery Auditorium

Texas Herald 1911

Fla Tribune 1911


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 Frank's theatre in Dayton, Ohio opened in 1912 and was named Montgomery's Dayton Theatre.  Later the name was changed to Majestic...and then to Rialto.  The theatre closed in 1950.

Montgomery's Dayton

Dayton's Rialto

Dayton's interior

 

Montgomery always opted to make his theatres better.  His houses were cleaner and brighter, his music more artistic and entertaining.  Not only had he developed a new standard in motion picture houses, he developed a new style in advertising - all which created a demand in the public's mind for quality.   They expected it in a "Montgomery House."

Very little information has been located about Frank's personal life.  He was born about 1870-71, a native of Kentucky.  He was married, but as yet, no information (or name) about the wife has been found.  We also have no information on the death of Frank T. Montgomery.


 



Kindly remain seated...
 


 

Memphis . 1900 - 1920

What was Main Street like during the run of Frank T. Montgomery and the Majestic Theatres?  Fortunately we have good references available in the thousands of postcards from the period.  And we have been able to locate so many of the theatres in these old postcards simply by carefully searching every building.

 

Main Street Circa 1900

1899 Peabody on Main 1906 1906 1907 1910 - Night

1910 1910 1910 1911 - Night 1912

 



3 Minutes Intermission while changing pictures...
 


 
Typical Moving Picture Theatres . 1900 - 1920

< What did a Motion Picture Theatre look like?  The Nickelodeon was the first indoor space dedicated to showing motion pictures.  It was usually set up in converted storefronts.  At the beginning they were simply small rooms that held no more than 50 - 100 people in movable straight-back chairs.  The screen may have been no more than a hanging white sheet.  There would be a lone piano player for music.  They weren't meant to last,  but they flourished from 1905 to 1915. 

Typical exterior Typical exterior Typical early theatre Early theatre

Because the first Nickelodeon's featured "peep show" entertainment, the movies originally were considered "improper".  It took major efforts before "proper" women would attend movies.  Better theatres had to be built - which  would seat two hundred or more in regular theatre seats and have fixed screens.  There would be an orchestra for accompaniment. 

Early theatre. Slides at beginning of film Screen and Orchestra

Screen and Orchestra

 
 



Ladies, Kindly remove your hats...
 


 
Moving Pictures from 1900 - 1920

What films did patrons of this period see?  It was surprisingly good fare.  The " Great Train Robbery" (1903), although only 12 minutes long is considered the first important movie.  The  "Birth of a Nation" (1915)was a tremendous success and it's still considered one of the most important films ever made.

  Great Train Robbery 1903 A Christmas Carol 1910
   

Frankenstein 1910 Wizzard of Oz 1914 Birth of a Nation 1915 Alice in Wonderland 1915
Moving Pictures had become a huge business.  By 1920, the big movie palaces were being built in every city  in the country...

Captain Kate 1911

After the Ball 1914

Intolerance 1916

Mother's of France 1917

Daddy Long Legs 1919

Daughter - 2 Worlds -1920

One 5 reel film from 1913 "Tess of the D'urberville" was based on the book by Thomas Hardy.  It was considered a masterpiece and was the favorite motion picture of Frank Montgomery.  He wrote about it  in Motion Picture World (below).  Sadly the film is lost and the two postcards below are the only scenes left.  It was filmed again in 1914, and that version has also been lost.

Frank's comments about "Tess..."

Tess of the D'urberville - 1913 Tess of the D'urberville - 1913

 



Don't forget your umbrella and other parcels...
 


 
Projection equipment . 1900 - 1920

What did the projection equipment look like?  Projectors used in the 1900ís were very noisy. To hide the sound of the projector, theater owners hired a pianist or organist, or sometimes even a full orchestra, to play during the showing of the movie.  (Most films came with a prepared list of sheet music for this purpose).

   
     

Early projectors and projection rooms...


 

    

Frank T. Montgomery was featured regularly in the National Billboard Magazine.  He also purchased ads when he was looking to hire musicians for his theatres.  Reading through this selection of Billboard articles is a journey through Frank's life.  You can see how he moves around ... A LOT!  From Memphis to Texas, to Florida, to Georgia.  Frank was married, but as yet, no information (or name) about his wife has been found.  We also have no information on his death.

   
Billboard 1904 Billboard 1904 Billboard 1906 Billboard 1907
  

Billboard 1908 Billboard 1908 Billboard 1909
 

Billboard 1909 Billboard 1909 Billboard 1909
   

Billboard 1909 Billboard 1911 Billboard 1913 Billboard 1913
 

Billboard 1914 Motion Picture World 1914 Motion Picture World 1914 MPW 1914
   

Motion Picture World 1916     Billboard 1917

 



Please applaud with hands only...
 

 
 



Frank's rise as a theatre Impresario can be followed in the Memphis Directories - from his first Majestic Theatre in 1908,  to all the Majestic Theatres ...and finally back to one Majestic after he had moved on.

  1908 1909 1910 1910 1912

1913 1915 1916 1919 1920 1921 1923 1924
 

Theatre Science Magazine . 1914  This major article about Frank T. Montgomery, appeared in the 1914 Theatre Science Margazine.  It is the nearest publication to a biography that has come to light.

 

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Credits

 

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Intermission ...