One of the earliest exhibitors of motion pictures was William T. Rock, better known to
the trade as "Pop" Rock, who was for years the president of the Vitagraph Company
of America, but who has now retired. Mr. Rock related the story of his beginning in
the picture business to a representative of the Moving Picture World:
"My start in the picture business was made in 1896; it was this way: Raff & Gammon
of New York, had the state rights for the Edison Vitascope machine. They asked me
to take some of their Vitascope territory, the only state available being Louisiana. I
took that state for $2,500. The Vitascope was the Armat machine which had been
perfected by Edison.
"I took my machine and started for New Orleans. Bill Reid was my operator. I made a
contract with the West End Park for four weeks and we packed them in, renewing my
contract and continuing to play the West End for several season.
"July 18, 1896, my partner, Walter Wainwright, and I took a storeroom in New Orleans
at 623 Canal Street. We fitted it up as a showroom with chairs and a projection
booth. We ran this show from July to October. We also showed pictures in Jake
Greenwald's theater. Our profits on the summer's business were about $2,000 for
each of us. We were the only state right owners out of about forty who made good
with the Vitascope. I attributed our success to the fact that I knew something about
electricity and Bill Reid knew how to handle film.
"I was always on the lookout for new film which was scarce in those days. I
remember getting a lot of pictures from Charles Urban. That was about the time
when my show at West End was threatened by competition at another park. But I got
the pictures and the other fellow had to close at the end of his first week.
"When we got ready to leave New Orleans in the fall of 1897, I had about 600
subjects. Of these, I traded 300 to some people in Texas for a lot of diamonds.
Returning to New York, we played everything all the way up."
|The article below was published in "The Moving Picture World,"
a trade journal for the film industry, in 1916. -- Nancy
|Pictured above, Vitascope Hall, on the corner of Exchange Place and Canal
Street, in New Orleans, is believed to have been the first theater in
the U.S. actually designated for use as a motion picture venue.
|Ad for Vitascope Hall, ca. 1896: "The Vitascope is no longer at the West
End, but is now at the above, where daily exhibitions will be given with
an entirely new series of pictures. See Niagara Falls and Shooting the
Chutes. From 10 a.m. till 3 p.m. and from 6 p.m. till 10 p.m. After
breakfast visit the Vitascope. Admission 10 cents."
|The original vitagraphers, "Pop" Rock, Albert E. Smith
and J. Stuart Blackton.
|Update - July, 2020
Great news! A marker has been placed on the corner of Canal Street and Exchange
Place to commemorate the location of America's first movie theater. The folks at the
New Orleans Entertainment Coalition shared the news and the photos!
|Update! Historic marker is now in place to note the
location of America's first seated movie theater.
See photos at bottom of page!