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Jefferson Square Theater, 1801 Main Street: 1980s   42 comments

Posted at 6:11 pm in Uncategorized

When I was small, going to a movie always meant going downtown. We didn't do it often, but Main Street had at least four theaters and Five Points had one. The way I remember it, this all began to change with the opening of the Richland Mall Theaters (which deserve their own post). By the time I was in high school and college, the action had mostly left Main Street, with Dutch Square, Spring Valley, Richland Mall and Columbia Mall all having multiplexes (Columbia Mall effectively had two multiplexes).

The Jefferson Square Theater was the last theater downtown to play first-run major movies after the rest of the Main Street theaters had either switched to kung-fu, hard-R grindhouse or closed their doors entirely. "Jefferson Square" itself is still there, more or less at the end of the old Main Street shopping district. The theater building is still there too, though I don't know what's in it today. The last movie I remember seeing there was "Fame" in 1982. Even at the time, it was unusual to go downtown, and we had trouble parking (another part of what killed downtown theaters). I recall being impressed with the setup, which was on a larger scale than a typical multiplex. There was even a balcony, though it was closed at that time. We all enjoyed the movie (it seems to have fallen off the cultural radar now, but was quite a sensation at the time) and agreed that it was a nice place to see it, but we never went back, and I saw some time later that the theater had closed its doors.

I understand now that the Columbia Film Society is trying to move their Nikleodeon Theater from Main Street behind the State House to one of the shuttered theaters on Main in front of the State House. I don't believe that they are talking about Jefferson Square, but it will be nice to see a downtown theater of any sort again.

UPDATE 4 May 08: Added pictures of the current Jefferson Square courtyard.

UPDATE 12 September 2009: Added the Jefferson Square ad for "Two People" from the 15 April 1973 State paper.

UPDATE 21 April 2013 -- Commenter William sends in the picture below saying:

The current tenant DHHS leveled the floor by pumping truck loads of self leveling concrete. I am sending you a pic of the old projection room from about 2 weeks ago [circa 1 March 2013 -- Ted]. When I first went up there parts of the projectors were still there and you could see out the "windows". But as you can see in this pic they have been removed completely and windows blocked.


UPDATE February 16 2014: Finally add the full street address to the post title.

Written by ted on January 29th, 2008

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42 Responses to 'Jefferson Square Theater, 1801 Main Street: 1980s'

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  1. I saw *something* there as a kid, but I can't remember what. My mom also used to work in the building, so I was familiar. The theater space was listed on Loopnet for sale for a long time -- not sure if it's still there or not. The Nick will be on the Lourie's block as part of what they're now calling the Mezzo arts district.


    8 Feb 08 at 9:11 pm

  2. I saw "The Player" (with Tim Robbins) there in June of 1992 with my now husband. I am sad when I drive by there now that I can't take my kids to movies there!


    21 Apr 08 at 1:20 pm

  3. That's later than I thought it lasted. Wonder what the last movie there was..


    21 Apr 08 at 9:27 pm

  4. I thought a left a post here,
    but, evidently, I only thought
    about it .. my father worked
    at JS in the early 70's when
    C&S bank was the anchor
    tenant .. I attended many
    movies there including the
    "Poseidon Adventure"
    and other "Irwin Allen" type
    movies, but the most unforget-
    table was the Columbia premier
    of a little known director, Steven
    Spielberg’s .. Close Encounters
    of the 3rd kind .. it was $4.00
    in 1977, and that was a ton
    of money for a struggling
    8th grader, but .. Wow, seeing
    that in the predecessor
    to THX .. (what ever it was called)
    it was amazing .. RIP
    the waning days of the golden
    age of theatre


    30 Apr 08 at 10:51 pm

  5. The last movie I remember seeing at Jefferson Square was Red Dawn in 1984


    4 May 08 at 7:20 pm

  6. I worked at DHHS for a while, which is what occupies the building C&S was in and the Jefferson Square theater. I think the theater "proper" is the mail room. I remember going to a movie there in 1992, but I don't remember what was showing. It was an indie movie. I also remember it being a S&M type rock club, maybe called The Edge? I remember Marilyn Manson playing there around 1995 or 1997. My office space was above the theater. I remember it being pretty loud when they were soundchecking.


    12 May 08 at 2:43 pm

  7. I'd bet it was pretty loud in Camden if Marilyn Manson was soundchecking.


    13 May 08 at 12:27 am

  8. ooh---! I saw E.T. here!!


    18 Jun 08 at 10:22 am

  9. One night in high school, 1971 or 72, my date's nose was out of joint because JS was charging the unprecedented price of 2.50 for some big movie that had just come out.

    My brother managed that theater in the late 70's when he was in college. We went to everything free during those years.


    24 Jun 08 at 8:21 pm

  10. I went there pretty often. Saw "Dune" there, and I think the last time I went I saw "The Last Temptation of Christ." There were protesters with signs across the street.

    Manifest Discs & Tapes original tiny location was also across the street at an angle.

    In its heyday as a date destination there was a cool restaurant above the entrance to the theater called The Creperie, during the brief cepe craze that swept the country.

    You had to walk past a men's hair salon to get to it -- King's Row? King's Quarters?

    WAY back, before they built Jefferson Square, there was a place that sharpened saws there and a place that did electroplating (maybe it was the next block). Something from a different era.


    25 Aug 08 at 4:42 pm

  11. I know there was a small appliance repair store on Main somewhere around there. It was called "Rotcherou" or something like that, and it got forced out when its building was torn down. But I don't *think* it was Jefferson Square, but a block or so North. I think they ended up on Taylor near the Township and are now gone. (They were famous with my parents for keeping a clock of ours several years, though to be fair we did take other stuff there later so perhaps there was a reasonable explanation for why they couldn't get the parts).


    26 Aug 08 at 12:08 am

  12. ted - it was Rotureau Electric Co. William T. Rotureau was my Scoutmaster and was a truly wonderful man. Volunteered countless hours and money to help Troop 301 and the BS Troop at Carolina Children's Home.

    Guess that's why he didn't have time to fix that clock.


    26 Aug 08 at 4:58 am

  13. Well, that makes it even more likely there *was* a good reason for the clock thing then, and for why my folks took other stuff there.


    26 Aug 08 at 9:28 am

  14. The Jefferson Square Theater was the last built of the Irvin-Fuller chain. They also owned the Ritz and the Fox further up on Main.

    Terry Edwards

    15 Jan 09 at 10:19 pm

  15. Sometime in the early to mid 90's Jefferson Square announced that it was closing and showed a string of classic movies for its final run. I attended the last show, which was Apocalypse Now.


    30 Jan 09 at 9:36 am

  16. Irvin-Fuller at one time owned most of Columbia's movie places. On Main St. they had the Palmetto (my personal favorite), the Carolina, the Ritz, later the Plaza III, The Fox, the Dutch Square and Spring Valley Theatres, besides JS


    30 Jan 09 at 12:19 pm

  17. Sometime in the '80s, the Irvin-Fuller theaters became "Roth" theaters, so presumably there was some kind of buyout/merger. I think the Roths were around til the early 90s or so.


    30 Jan 09 at 12:54 pm

  18. I saw "Quest for Fire" there with my mom and dad. I don't remember the year, but IMDB shows it as having a 1982 release date.


    30 Mar 09 at 11:47 am

  19. Fame came out in 1980 while the television series premiered in the fall of 1982.

    James Greek

    16 Jun 09 at 4:52 pm

  20. I worked at Jefferson Square until it closed. Still have a cardboard marquee card "Now Showing At Jefferson Square". What a great place to work. They often did things like show James Bond movies trying to boost sales as we often had "no shows" where no one would show up to watch the movie. Not that we minded, we would often play cards, read, get homework completed during this time.

    I remember going down to the basement to pop popcorn. We would spend 3 or 4 hours popping up about 7 or 8 trash bags full of popcorn. We, at one point found a lot of movie clips from various movies that had been played there. We ran across Close encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc. The basement was filled with various movie junk.

    Towards the end we had to call the police on occasion to remove the homeless who had paid to watch a movie and then would pretend to fall asleep.

    On Sundays, they used the theater as a church. This church only had about 20 members, so renting out the place must not have been too expensive.

    Worked there a good number of years. Actually, I worked there with my now wife, sister-in-law and brother-in-law.

    Billy Hains

    21 Aug 09 at 12:59 pm

  21. If you can send a scan or photo of that marquee card, I'll be glad to add it to the post! (closings at columbiaclosings dot cmo)


    21 Aug 09 at 1:28 pm

  22. Hey Ted,
    No problem, I'll get a picture of the marquee card sent over this weekend.

    One last thing I remembered about working at Jefferson Square. Not sure how many people remember when they filmed the movie "The Program" in Columbia, but at nights this movie company rented out our theater to watch the footage they had shot. It was really cool to see this as well as meet the director and a actor or two. The one actor I clearly remember meeting, was the big guy that was on steroids in the film. We had already started running the film one night and had locked the theater doors so that no one would just wonder into the theater when I heard a really loud pounding on the door. I look out and see this huge guy standing at the door, he says he works for the movie company and wants to be let in. Anyway, he turned out to be a nice guy after my initial scare.

    And I just want to let you know that this is a great site. It really brings back so many memories for me. I still make it back to Columbia once a year. And I always make sure to eat at Rush's at least once.

    Anyway, I'll get that picture over to you this weekend,

    Billy Hains

    31 Aug 09 at 11:29 pm

  23. Thanks Billy!


    31 Aug 09 at 11:39 pm

  24. The three films I remember seeing at JS were "They Only Kill Their Masters" "Le Mans" and the remake of "A Star Is Born"

    My Dad wasn't too wild about taking me to the first one, as it was rated PG, but I won the tickets in a radio contest and was adamant about going.

    The clear globe light bulbs at the entrance were pretty cool looking at night.

    Lou B

    15 Oct 09 at 7:19 pm

  25. I saw "Times Square" here. I was the only person for about a half-hour. I also went to see a "futuristic musical" called "The Apple" in 1980, set in the far distant future of 1994. When I went to the box office several days after it opened, the guy told me that I was the first person to have shown up, that they had not actually shown it yet, would not be showing it that night, and probably would end up not showing it at all.


    15 Oct 09 at 7:51 pm

  26. I saw "Betsy's Wedding" here with a lady friend of mine. As I recall, the theater had one of the best, for the time, surround sound systems of any theater in Columbia. There was one scene that was in a restaurant. I felt like I was actually IN the restaurant! This was my first and last movie experience here.
    If I had known the sound was that good, I would have went to see "Round Midnight" when I first moved to Columbia in 1987. I remember seeing it advertised here at that time. Wow talk about feeling you were in that smokey jazz club! Oh well, I just watch it now on my home theater. But it is not the same.


    4 Jun 10 at 12:03 pm

  27. When I was in college at USC, I used to try to see movies at the unlikeliest times to avoid crowds. So, I went to Jefferson Square's theater one Tuesday afternoon to check out this new horror flick,THE OMEN. No crowds. There was no one at all in the auditorium. The soundtrack was playing, but the projectionist had the projector bulb off, presumably to conserve it: he switched it on as I took a seat. I watched the film all alone (is that scary enough) until a few people trickled in for the evening show. I considered asking them to stop the show briefly while I visited the rest room, but didn't. A memorable experience.


    1 May 11 at 12:16 am

  28. The interior of this place was truly classic, definitely something from an age gone by. I think I saw Close Encounters there, but for some reason the one film that sticks in my mind was seeing Dune. I thought this WAS where the new Nickelodeon was going - and when exactly is that actually supposed to happen? Seems like it's been in the plans for a 'Columbia age' now...


    25 Aug 11 at 2:59 pm

  29. I saw "Dune" there too in college. Man, what a disappointment!


    25 Aug 11 at 3:46 pm

  30. @Ted- Have you seen the 4-hour "mini-series" version of Dune that was made from scenes not used in the theatrical version? It is far better. Both versions are available on a two dvd set.

    @Blaine-Nick is moving into the old Fox with in the next year. At one time there was talk of turning JST into an arts center, but nothing came of it.


    25 Aug 11 at 4:38 pm

  31. I saw the first "Alien" here. I think I broke the chair when the scene with the alien bursting from the astronaut's stomach came on.


    16 Jan 14 at 8:37 pm

  32. my friends and I used to take the city bus into town when we were around 10 years old . saw many movies between the Fox, the Miracle and the Jefferson Square .
    all through the 70`s .


    30 Mar 17 at 12:14 pm

  33. Isn't it amazing the total independence we had as children in the 60s and 70s. Today's parents would be thrown in jail for allowing kids to ride a bus on their own.

    As astounding as it might seem to a lot of you younger readers my friends and I would catch a train and make the 100 mile trip to catch STL Cardinal baseball games before we were teenagers. Thinking back now I am surprised we were allowed to do this but the times were vastly different.

    Joe Shlabotnik

    31 Mar 17 at 2:52 am

  34. This is one of those places in Columbia that still brings up great memories. Just wondering what is in this space now. Anyone?


    31 Mar 17 at 7:53 am

  35. Joe, you might enjoy reading the discussion on the Aiken Blockbuster page in which several of us were reminiscing about that type of stuff...


    1 Apr 17 at 12:03 pm

  36. Thanks, Andrew. Good stuff.

    Joe Shlabotnik

    2 Apr 17 at 5:14 am

  37. In response to skysguy I believe that Jefferson Square is now mostly an office complex as I had lunch with an aunt at the now closed Palmetto Grille a few times and that's what the building appeared to be when we were there...


    9 Sep 17 at 8:47 pm

  38. I remember seeing Tora, Tora, Tora, there, I saw Earthquake, The Sting and my most memorable of movies was going to see Carrie, and when we left out the side exit, none of the lights along that corridor worked...
    Asking a question about Jefferson Square... what was the name of the barbershop that was above the theater? Anyone remember it or the name?

    George Burley

    1 Feb 18 at 9:15 pm

  39. George I also remember seeing Tora, Tora, Tora, The Sting, and also Deliverance at the Jefferson Square theater. I also remember getting my hair cut at the shop above the theater. I don't remember the name of the place but my mom said it was way too expensive to go back.


    2 Feb 18 at 8:00 pm

  40. I managed Jefferson Square Theater in the mid 1980s. Started as Asst Mgr, then became Manager. What a great job to have while in college. It was a "Roth Theater."

    Great memories while there:

    "No shows"
    dating the concession girl
    free popcorn
    all the coke you could drink
    playing the one video game machine while the movie ran.

    I made $200 a week.
    I remember the way the place smelled.
    I have recurring dreams about the place. All good.

    When i left, my asst mgr Tim Soots became manager.
    He married one of the concession girls, Angie.

    In 1992 or 3 I went to the night club that it became. What a trip.

    Lot of Nostalgia.

    So hello to those that saw a movie there and those that worked there.

    Hay Tawnya, hope Columbia is doing you well.

    Kevin in Augusta

    Kevin Wilson

    21 May 18 at 4:46 pm

  41. Among the many movies I remember seeing there was the "No Nukes" concert film, in 1980. Turned me on to many of the artists playing (Jackson Browne, James Taylor) but none more than Springsteen. Went to see him perform for the first time several months later, in February 1981, at the Carolina Coliseum (I think the ticket was something like $12). I've been a fan ever since.


    28 Mar 19 at 11:16 pm

  42. In 1971 my father, brother and I saw "Tora Tora Tora.” I was 7 1/2.

    John Coates

    19 Jan 22 at 10:43 pm

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