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Astro

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Can anybody shed light on the history of the Astro theater(s)? I believe it had been closed for some time when I moved here a few years ago.....I think it was being used as a dance club. Would be great to see this theater reopen as an arts cinema! It's in a wealthy area being sandwiched between the Augusta Road area and Parkins Mill area, so seems the economics would be there. Could be cool and would love to see the sign light the sky again. Thoughts?

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I don't know much about it, but I know that it's not something that the Parkins Mill area loves to have in it's backyard... It was a gay something another... Just not something that fits in.

I would like to see it get a new facade and a good tenant. The bowling alley has just spent some money fixing itself up, so it's definitely due.

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The Astro was built probably in the late '60s or early '70s; it's been around since I was a kid. It must have closed in the early 1990s, I'd guess.

That part of Pleasantburg Drive never really thrived as a retail destination, even during Pleasantburg's glory days. Plus, the Astro is not really visible from Cleveland St. or Pleasantburg Drive. No wonder the movie theater never really took off.

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It was a nightclub a few years back, but I seem to remember something about Gville Tech buying it, or wanting to buy it. Not sure if that ever went through.

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I grew up in the Parkins Mill Road area. The Astro, which was built ca 1970-72 (if I remember correctly), actually did thrive in the days when big movie houses were still the norm--meaning the 1970's. The Astro I seated probably 600-700 people, the Astro II was probably 60% that size. For comparison, the old Camelot 1 seated over 600; the Bell Tower 1 probably seated 500 or more; The Plaza Theater on Augusta Road (last I saw, this was a doctor's office) was a bit smaller; and my favorite, the old Mall Cinema (now part of BJU) was probably bigger than all of them. The Mall Cinema showed cartoons before movies well into the 1970's.

The Astro used to get the lion's share of new releases: Star Wars, Jaws are two that come to mind that were exclusively at the Astro, but there were many more over the years. From most of the Parkins Mill area, you could walk to the movies.

The interior of the Astro was actually pretty cool: darkly lit, plush carpet, even on the walls, with a space-travel theme on display all over the place.

What spelled doom for the Astro was the consolidation of movie theaters into regional and national chains, and the trend toward movie mega-plexes, with 10 or more smaller screens. The Bijou on Wade Hampton was the first of that kind in Greenville (built in the late 70's), and slowly the old, large-screen places went out of business.

Back in the mid-90's, the same guy who started (and still owns?) Blind Horse Saloon and Armadillo Oil Co. (can't remember his name) tried putting a nightclub (topless?) at the Astro. I left Greenville about that time and haven't lived there since. Apparently it and maybe some other ventures there have failed. Whether it can be revived in any way I haven't a clue. I doubt it has any future as a movie house. It's just too big.

Incidentally, movie house history in Greenville is interesting. There used to be 3 downtown, all on Main Street. The Fox was where that 5-story open atrium development across from Greenville Commons is now. We used to go there to see Godzilla triple features. The Carolina was on the site of Greenville commons, next to a no-longer existent side-street, if I remember correctly. I saw the Albert Finney musical "Scrooge" there. There was also one called the Paris, also, but it had already gone out of business by the 1970's and was probably torn down early in that decade. I don't remember exactly where it was, but I think it was on the same block as the other two, probably next to the old Ivey's bldg (Ivey's Square?).

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Thanks Exile for the history on this and other theaters! :) A space theme in the Astro....sounds so fun! :thumbsup: Didn't realize the theater was so large. Seems with it's location, it could be a multiple screen arts cinema, complete with retro space theme and all! :P

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When I was in High School The Astro was a night club, they id a teen night, I think it was something like they used to do at Characters before it got shut down.

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Back in the mid-90's, the same guy who started (and still owns?) Blind Horse Saloon and Armadillo Oil Co. (can't remember his name) tried putting a nightclub (topless?) at the Astro.

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John Paul, as in John Paul's Armadillo Oil Company? He is an interesting character. He wears a patch and has a lot of cool stuff in his restaurants (anyone who has been to John Paul's Armadillo Oil Company on Congaree Road has seen the big stuffed bear just inside!). I have actually seen him hanging around the restaurant before. I think there is also one in Columbia. I didn't know that he owned Blind Horse Saloon, but I am not surprised he opened a topless bar. The bathrooms at his restaurants are known for having pictures of scantily-clad women all over the place!

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Wonder why a movie theater was built where the Astro is? It's really not a good location. I assume people expected the McAlister Square- area sprawl to head south on 291?

This is an interesting topic. I remember going to the Towers Four at Bell Tower Mall as a kid. I think it lasted until the late 1980s, well after that sad shopping center died.

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In Clemson Univeristy there is still a Astro. It is 3 small screen that cost $1.50 for a movie, was a dollar up till me senior year in 2003.

The nice thing about it, unlike other dollar theaters its movies are still current often still playing for full price at places in Greenville like Cherrydale and Hollywood 20.

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Wonder why a movie theater was built where the Astro is?  It's really not a good location.  I assume people expected the McAlister Square- area sprawl to head south on 291?

This is an interesting topic.  I remember going to the Towers Four at Bell Tower Mall as a kid.  I think it lasted until the late 1980s, well after that sad shopping center died.

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In its day it really wasn't a bad location. Haywood Road was a three-lane connector with nothing but the Sears service center and the Hale's bldg on it (and maybe one or two others). It ended at Pelham Road--i.e., there was no Haywood-Howell Road.

There was no motor mile on Laurens Road--from Haywood Road toward Mauldin it still had a grassy median. There were no big boxes on Laurens, either. Everything on the left side of the road heading out of town was woodland (part of Hollingsworth's property), and there were relatively few non-retail buildings on the right--like the construction company--Triad?--whose office is still there on Laurens, I think. Fowler's Pharmacy (back toward town) hadn't discovered sunglasses and had a genuine soda fountain to the left when you walk in the door.

Downtown had died (except for Belk, which held on till Haywood Mall was built, Cochran's, Davenports and a handful of other specialty shops), Stone Mfg. was still going strong at 291 and Poinsett Highway. The only significant retail was Lewis Plaza on Augusta Rd. (Augusta Street, I guess, though we never called it that), McAlister Square, Wade Hampton "Mall" (where the Mall Cinema is/was), Pleasantburg Shopping Center, Bell Tower Mall, and the shopping center where the Open Hearth is or was.

This'll clue you into how different the retail scene was in the early 70's: though we lived on Parkins Mill, my mother occasionally took me shopping to the little shopping center on Rutherford near Stone Lake. There was a Bi-Lo where the social services agency is now, and there were also some decent little stores there, along with a hardware store and barber shop. To get good Chinese, you either went to the Dragon Den on P'burg Dr. or to the New China on Poinsett Hwy. For Pizza, it was Pizza Hut or Shakey's (still my favorite after all these years--the building is next to the Blockbuster at Mauldin and S. P'burg), until Pizza City opened.

For ice cream, you had two Baskin-Robbins: one at McAlister to the right of the main entrance and one at Bell Tower to the left of the main entrance; and the Biltmore Dairy Bar at Pleasantburg Shopping Center. In the mid-1970's There was briefly a place called Cap's Corner on N. P'burg that had enormous ice cream concoctions--I mean the kind designed for 10 or more people to share--but it didn't last long.

[incidentally, the Shakey's in Greenville closed down ca. 1980 or 81. I happened upon one in Milwaukee in 1986 and it was every bit as good as I remembered. I didn't see one again till I moved to D.C. in 1997. We ate at one in downtown Bethesda (since closed), and it was terrific.]

So, under these kinds of retail conditions, at Cleveland St. and South P'burg they built this development with a two screen theater, a bowling alley, a Caper House (a convenience store that later became the Pantry) across the parking lot from Star Lanes (which itself has a space-travel theme, doesn't it?), and "Morgan Manor" fronting P'burg Dr., with a Shell station on the corner (the Shell had already been there a long time). Morgan Manor was for a number of years a relatively successful center, with Graham Globe (a satellite of Graham Photo), a lighting store, an optician, and, back in the 1980's, a ski store (bought my first pair of K2's there . . . and my second, come to think of it).

Morgan Manor itself is on the site of an old Barbecue Restaurant that we used to eat at after church. I don't remember the name of the restaurant.

I'll cut the nostalgic rambling. All this to say that, while the location is undoubtedly bad by today's standards, for probably a 15-20 year period, it enjoyed moderate or greater success. And over that time I'd say the Astro itself was very successful.

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Hey Exile, your "nostalgic rambling" is most enjoyed"! :thumbsup::D

Love hearing the history of the city! Especially from the early suburban era. Thanks for sharing....would love to hear more! As a somewhat recent addition to Greenville, I'm always curious about the way the city developed over time.

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Correction: The Biltmore Dairy Bar was at the Lake Forest Shopping Center, which should be added to my little inventory of shopping centers in the early 1970's.

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This forum is really interesting. When was Morgan Manor built?

Growing up in Greenville in the 1970s, I recall that the big places to shop, at least for my family, were McAlister Square (with Belk's, Ivey's and Meyers-Arnold) and Bell Tower Mall (with a Woolco, a Baskin-Robbins and a movie theater). There was also a downtown-ish Sears on Stone Avenue that closed when Haywood Mall opened, but we didn't trek downtown for shopping much, even though some stores such as a Hart-Schaffner-Marx store (Heyward Mahon) held on until the early 1980s. I don't recall going to the downtown JC Penney or Belk's much; both closed when Haywood opened. Downtown didn't really attract much business in those days.

I think Greenville's retail high point was really in the late 1990s, when Greenville Mall was at its peak, downtown was improving, McAlister Square was still holding on and Haywood had been expanded. Sad to see the wreckage from the mall wars of that era.

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This forum is really interesting.  When was Morgan Manor built?

Growing up in Greenville in the 1970s, I recall that the big places to shop, at least for my family, were McAlister Square (with Belk's, Ivey's and Meyers-Arnold) and Bell Tower Mall (with a Woolco, a Baskin-Robbins and a movie theater).  There was also a downtown-ish Sears on Stone Avenue that closed when Haywood Mall opened, but we didn't trek downtown for shopping much, even though some stores such as a Hart-Schaffner-Marx store (Heyward Mahon) held on until the early 1980s.  I don't recall going to the downtown JC Penney or Belk's much; both closed when Haywood opened.  Downtown didn't really attract much business in those days.

I think Greenville's retail high point was really in the late 1990s, when Greenville Mall was at its peak, downtown was improving, McAlister Square was still holding on and Haywood had been expanded.  Sad to see the wreckage from the mall wars of that era.

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Re Morgan Manor, I don't recall exactly, but I'd say sometime between '72 - '74. I think the Astro and Star Lanes were both built before Morgan Manor.

Downtown, in addition to Heyward Mahon, there was also Edens-Estes (clothing), Hales (with the clock that is now outside the Haywood Rd. Store on the sidewalk), the Red Baron (German themed sandwich place, also a location in the Belks wing of McAlister), Tanners and Carpenter's Drug Store. Sedran Furs occupied the building catty-corner from the Ogletree Building. There was an Open Book on that same block, and a sporting goods store whose original name I can't remember, but which was bought by Sam Wyche. There was also a good bike shop on one of the parallel-to-Main streets--near the present bus-transfer station.

Many of our high school dances were at the Poinsett Hotel, which doubled as retirement housing. And, of course, on Saturday nights many people would "cruise Main," which means potentially several hundred people in cars driving up and down the street, hanging out on the sidewalk, and whatever else.

Furman was still playing basketball downtown at Memorial Auditorium, and their Poinsettia Classic (an invitational tournament) lasted into the early 1980's, I believe.

That's all I can remember off the top of my head, but once I run down the list, I realize that to say that downtown was dead is probably not accurate. Life support, maybe, but there were always good reasons to go down there. I'm not a shopper--I go in and get what I want and leave--but even in my teenage years, there was something about going downtown to get a book, or new tennis shoes, or whatever, that I liked. If there was a downtown option, I usually took it. If I had to go to Belk, I went downtown.

Re the wreckage of the Mall wars, if you think about it, Dillards entry into the market was really the beginning of the end for McAlister and Greenville Malls. Dillards first bought Ivey's and converted it, then moved it to Haywood. I don't remember the precise sequence, but they bought J. B. White (G'ville Mall) and converted it--and J.B. White was a good store with a loyal following (as was Ivey's). When they renovated and expanded the Mall, J.B. White actually took over a lot of mall space and incorporated it into their anchor store--a good sign. It was a pretty significant expansion. Of course, Dillards eventually closed down that store, too, since it was so close to the Haywood Store. I don't think there is any doubt that the shuttering of Ivey's led to the downfall of McAlister, and the same is probably true of what happened at G'ville Mall. Complicating things at McAlister was Upton's buying Meyers-Arnold and the subsequent decline at that store, and the liquidation of Montgomery Ward didn't help Gville Mall. But Dillards closings are probably the ultimate causes of both Mall's troubles.

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What an interesting post-- I now remember the Red Baron; I think it survived until the late 1980s, at least.

What was the downtown Belk's like? Run-down or nice? Decent business in the 1970s or not? I was dragged only to the McAlister Square one as a kid in the 1970s.

Dillard's is definitely to blame for the deaths of McAlister Square and Greenville Mall. McAlister Square and JB White at Greenville Mall always seemed to do OK despite Haywood Mall's competition. The Greenville Mall Dillard's seemed like a complete flop, though. I always thought that Saks Inc. should have kept Parisian there and should have bought the old JB White space and opened a Proffitt's there instead of converting that Parisian; that could have given that mall a few more years of life.

I also think that a downtown combination family-friendly retail/entertainment center, perhaps in some of the parking lots on the east side of Main Street, would be a huge hit. If there were a Borders, a Jillian's, an IMAX movie theater and a small Parisian or Belk's, it would do very well. It'd take the city or a large developer to put the pieces together, though- not the store-by-store redevelopment of Main St. that has taken place.

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I think something like that would do well, csedwards.  Why don't you get it started? ;)

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Limited funds and an already heavy workload!

In all seriousness, Greenville's downtown retail resurgence has been store-by-store renovations, following some major hotel/entertainment projects. There hasn't been a significant retail project in ages except the West End Market in the 1990s. Memphis, TN, Louisville, KY, a few cities in Westchester County, NY and elsewhere have had major downtown retail/entertainment projects developed as public/private partnerships. City government could get the ball rolling by reaching out to developers; perhaps the developers of those other projects would be interested, but given retail track records in downtowns (look at what happened to Columbia, for example, in the 1990s), it would take a major push to get this done.

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What was the downtown Belk's like? Run-down or nice?  Decent business in the 1970s or not?  I was dragged only to the McAlister Square one as a kid in the 1970s.

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Not much time, so the short answer is: it was in an old three-story downtown storefront that was wider and deeper than most that remain. The building gave way to Poinsett Plaza--it was probably two down from the old 1st National Bank building that was incorporated into that project. I think the Children's Theater (?) occupied that building before it was torn down.

Anyway, it had creaky floors and an old feel to it, but it was nice. The business was good as far as I can remember. While not every Belk is in first-rate condition, they've always had a fairly high standard in Greenville, and that location was no different. It would have been the logical place to go for anyone coming from the west side of town.

I agree that downtown could use some "mallish" type structure, but, e.g., Memphis's is right next to Beale Street, not far from the Fedex Forum, and is connected to the Peabody. So whatever might go in Gville would have to be significantly scaled down, since it doesn't have that kind of attraction.

Come to think of it, something like that might have been incorporated into the Gateway development--next to the Bi Lo center--had the Feds not wanted to go there.

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Hey Exile and CSEdwards, thanks for all the retail history about Greenville! Really enjoyed reading the post! :D

It's amazing to me a city of Greenville's size had so many downtown stores: Meyers-Arnold, Belk, Ivey's, JBWhite, etc.

I spent my childhood years in Birmingham in the early 60's and at that time the city (not metro), but actual city was around 350K, yet it really only had two major department stores, Pizitz and Lovemans (there was Parisian, but at that time it was only an attempt at a department store, more specialty). The decline of Birmingham's population would be another interesting topic, though in another forum. Greenville must have only been 40K or so in the 60's, so to have 4 or more downtown department stores is pretty amazing.

Anyway, I always remember how it was a big treat to go downtown and shop with my mom at the "Big" stores. Always got candy at the Pizitz candy counter and we would ride the city transit buses a couple of blocks (my mom always did this for my fun, not necessity) because I thought it was so neat that the buses had a "back door". We'd have lunch on the mezzanine of Lovemans overlooking the main floor. Great memories!

Here is a kind of neat website of Birminghams retail history (could be better):

http://mywebpages.comcast.net/bham.rewound/retail.htm

Does anyone know of a Greenville website about it's retail history? I'm interested in this because I live here now, but also just interested in it for any city.

Now I'm rambling.

Please post more about Greenville's retail history.......great reads! :)

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I drove by Morgan Manor for the first time in months recently and it's unchanged from the 1970s- it even seems to have the same stores in it from 1978. CJ O'berg (what is that?) and others.

Who owns Morgan Manor? Why has it never been updated? Why do stores stay there? I lived near it growing up and never set foot in it, and nobody I know did, either, except for the Astro and the bowling alley.

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