I was in downtown Cloverdale recently and stopped across the street from the old Clova theatre. It is remarkable to see part of your past not only still standing but still operating. A bit of research shows that it’s been there for 66 years, one of the few independent cinemas left in the lower mainland.
Back in the old days (I seem to be saying that more often these days), there wasn’t a lot of choices for movie-goers in Langley. The Langley Theatre sat in the 20400 block Fraser Highway beside the Texas Hotel for many years until part of that block was demolished in the late 1950s.
The Timms family opened the theatre in 1917 and it passed through many hands, at one time combining live entertainment on the stage before the movies were played. In later years, prizes were handed out for the best performances and the winner’s photo appeared in the local paper next to the ad showing what was playing the next week.
Many a soggy Saturday afternoon, two or three of us would pay a dime to get into the matinee and still have some change from our paper route money to buy some popcorn or licorice. For us, the westerns were always a big draw, or maybe an Elvis movie would attract a crowd.
There was no raised seating, and sure enough the big tall guy or the girl with the high hair would invariably choose the seat right in front of you. There were rumours of rats running across the stage but I personally never saw any. From time to time we got to jeer at the projectionist when the film broke or the sound went out of sync with the film.
Later, when we had wheels, there was the Hillcrest Drive-in theatre, just west of town up on the hill. Just getting in was an event. If there was a popular movie running, you had to get there early or sit in the back row. About every second speaker in the back row was broken, which was annoying if a bunch of you had actually gone to watch the movie. If you were alone with your girlfriend, a broken speaker in the back row wasn’t such a big deal.
The minute the sun went down everyone would start honking their horns for the movie to start, then complain when we couldn’t see the screen for the first few minutes because it wasn’t dark enough.
The lot was renowned for its pot holes and one night after the movie Vanishing Point played, some jerk peeled out spraying rocks and gravel, breaking headlights and windshields. But being a small town, we all caught up to him at the Dog & Suds later on.
The Clova was a good second choice and we would always check the papers to decide where we were going to go. Now the owner realizes he soon must convert from film to digital or go out of business. The availability of film prints has shrunk to two or three choices a week and the Clova exists by offering the venue for fundraisers while it struggles to survive against the big corporations.
From across the street, I smile at the memories the old movie house brings back. “What are you doing this weekend?” “Going to the Clova and Chinese food afterward.” Now, that was good night out. At least that’s what McGregor says.