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The projector from the Gralyn Theater

Click to enlarge.

1981Street photo from 1981...

Nelson Winters, was the Town Historian in Gouverneur in 1988, when he wrote the following article for the St. Lawrence County Historical Association journal, The Quarterly.

In the August 6, 1919, Gouverneur Northern Tribune was an announcement that a new 1000 seat movie house, without a balcony but having raised sections and box seats on each side, would be built at 119 East Main Street under the ownership of J. Clare (Claire) Carpenter, a World War I veteran and son of a local hardware merchant. Mr. Carpenter named the new movie house Gralyn in fond memory of a Miami, Florida hotel of the same name where he enjoyed a winter vacation in 1914 with his parents. The Gralyn would present both motion picture and stage entertainment. First mortgage bonds in the amount of $25,000 carrying a 6 percent coupon were offered to local investors and others.

The grand opening scheduled for late December was delayed until January 30, 1920, due to construction and financial problems. The first presentation was a road show musical comedy, "Maytime." As the theater was only partially completed and poorly heated, the zero temperature outside that night made the title ironic.

After opening night regular evening prices were 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children under 12 years.

Low admission prices prevailed as late as the 1960s, when books of 5 cents and 10 cent coupons exchangeable for $1.20 worth of tickets could be purchased for $1.00.

Less than two years after its debut, the new theater encountered insurmountable financial difficulties, and in December, 1921 former country treasurer G. Murray Holmes of Gouverneur was appointed receiver. At the bankruptcy sale in June, 1922, Mr. Walter Perrin, one of five bondholders with $32,000 interest in the property, was the successful bidder for the building, furnishing, and entrance for $25,000.

In August of the same year, according to records in the office of the St. Lawrence County Clerk, James Papayanakos of Watertown purchased the Gralyn for $33,000. He finished construction of the building and redecorated it. Extensive improvements— indirect lighting, acoustic drapes, cushioned seats, carpeted aisles— were made. Mr Papayanakos was one of the first theater owners to install videophone sound in 1929, and shortly after came sound on film. He was also one of the first owners in the United States to install stereophonic sound wide screen. Prior to the advent of "talking pictures," the large stage, orchestra pit, and dressing rooms accommodated frequent road shows,l vaudeville, and local amateur productions. Perhaps the most memorable of the last category was the 1935 production of The Red Lady, put on by the Gouverneur Luncheon Club,which raised $1500 for the new VanDuzee hospital. The Gralyn was also the site of Dean High School graduation exercises until about 1937.

ticket
The Gralyn marquee in 1988
marquee

During the silent picture era, pianist Venita Fuller and violinist Orela Kenyon provided musical accompaniment appropriate to the type of move on the screen. For some of the early years Roy Cross operated the projector and Charlie Belie was custodian. Later on, Charles Bartholomew, Kenneth Abel, Gregory Foy, and John Clark served as projectionists. Marion Fortune and her four sisters succeeded one another as box office cashiers. Leon Whalen was right hand man to the Papayanakos brothers for many years. The area today occupied by the box and business offices was originally the office of insurance agencies represented by Bligh A. Dodds and Clarence I Bokus.

The Gralyn was sold in 1957 to Jomay Enterprises of Albany, NY. From 1957 to 1974 Frank Bergau was an officer and part owner of Jomay Enterprises and later James Papayanakos Gouverneur Theaters, Inc. of Albany. He acted as local general manager and introduced the concept of occasional evening "art movies" combined with buffet style refreshments and discussion.

James Papayanakos died in 1960 and Mrs Papayanakos in 1974. William and Reta Hulbert of Lowville, New York bought the Gralyn in 1974. The Hulberts sold it to Eldon Conklin and John Smith, local businessmen, in 1986. For the past few years, the Gralyn has been open only Friday through Sunday.

Chronological Ownership
According to Abstract of Title

1920 J. Clare (Claire) Carpenter
1922 Walter Perrin (for bondholders)
1922 James Papayanakos
1926 Harry Papayanakos (brother of James)
1937 Sylvia Papayanakos (widow of Harry)
1944 James Papayanakos (half interest)
1949 James and Annette Papayanakos (full ownership)
1957 Jomay Enterprises (Albany, NY)
1959 James Papayanakos Gouverneur Theaters Corp. (Albany, NY)
1974 William and Reta Hulbert
1986 Eldon Conklin and John Smith

(photo at left) James and Annette Papayanakos
Photo was scanned from the original 1988 article. Does it look pasted together? Notice her shoulder and the sharp lines around his shape.

The Gralyn Theater served the community from 1920 to 1989. It was demolished in 2000. The projector at the museum was one of two. If you are curious about how it worked, watch this video made by someone who was selling a Simplex Model E-7 on eBay.