15. Mennhennett / Rowena Theater Building

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    The first is the two-story Mennhennett / Rowena Theater building, where diSciacca {pronounced “duh-shock-uh”} is today.  This theater building was equipped with all the most modern amenities available in 1920, seating 600 patrons and complete with a heating and cooling system.  The Mennhennett name comes from the first owner, who opened the Chandler Theatre in 1922 and also was the proprietor of the original theater in the Monroe building.  At age 16, Pete Fletcher was the only projectionist in Chandler.  He started at the new theater on Boston Street as an usher when it first opened in 1920.  He remembered it was air-conditioned and segregated for many years.  As he put it, minorities “had to sit on the west side, [the] middle and east side was for white people.”  He remembered the manager, Al Stauss, was the piano and organ player in the silent era and how beautiful and intricate the organ was.  The manager had living quarters in the building.  The name was changed in the 1920s to the Grenada Theatre.  One resident, who was born in 1921, recalled going to the theater when they had silent movies.  She said, “We would go in there, and Mrs. Nelson, the lady that owned the theater, she would sit at the piano, and when the horses would go riding, she would [play the piano fast] carry on, and then slow down.  And we only paid a dime to go into the movies back then, and they had a concession stand right before you would go in, and you’d get a pop for a nickel, an ice cream cone for a nickel.”

    In 1932, the building was purchased by Joe and Alice Woods, who named their theater “Rowena,” after Joe’s mother.  You’ll find a photo of the outside of the Rowena Theater on the sixth page of your guidebook.  The Rowena was designed to be the most elegant in town.  In the early days, Joe Woods operated the projector and Alice would sell the tickets.  Alice Woods recalled in later years that many prominent guests of the San Marcos Hotel came to see movies there.  She told the Phoenix Gazette in 1984, “back then they actually dressed up in tuxedoes and gowns to dine at the San Marcos.  Then afterward they would all parade down to the Rowena.  My husband would have the loge in the back roped off so that it would be reserved for them.”  Among the guests were actors Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, baseball commissioner Kennesaw Landis, boxer Gene Tunney, and artist Fritz Werner.  For a time, architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his students were regulars.  Alice recalled, “I remember them going to the Rowena Theater and my husband would say, ‘Oh yes, that tall man with the beanie on his head and all his boys with the beanies on their heads were at the theater today.’”  Some Chandler residents remember sitting in the Rowena on December 7, 1941, when the lights came on and the bombing of Pearl Harbor was announced.

    In 1939, Joe Woods had a new sound system installed that rivaled the finest theaters in the country.  That same year, guests to the Rowena might have enjoyed such classics as The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland, or King Cong, with Fay Wray. The Woods family closed the Rowena in 1960 and focused their attention on the Parkway Theater on San Marcos Place.

     

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