Old Towne Cinema, more than an old building

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Avondale Estates’ Old Towne Cinema: a 91-year-old building, formerly home to The Avon, Our Way Cafe, Metro Dance Company, and now, a music venue. Although the cinema sat vacant after Nickel and Dime recording studio closed in 2009, the building’s aura never faded in the memories of previous tenants and Avondale citizens.

THE AVON 1950-1960s

The Paynes remember 25¢ sci-fi, horror films

Mary Payne and her husband moved their family of four boys to Avondale in 1954. For her clan of kids, walking half a mile to meet friends at The Avon theater became a Saturday tradition.

Her second oldest son, David, vividly remembers going to The Avon on Saturdays in the late 1950s.

Each movie began with classic, Mickey Mouse cartoons then moved on to a 10-minute news of the day segment before the feature film.

“When we were kids, I mean, heck – in the old days, it was 25 cents to get in,” David said. “Ten cents for Raisinets, ten cents for a Coke, and for 50 cents, you could get all the snacks you wanted, and more to spare.”

“They would spend more money on popcorn and goodies than to get in the theater,” Mary said with a laugh.

(L to R) Terry, Mary, Richard, Denis, Michael and David Payne moved into their house in Avondale in 1954. Here, during the mid 80s, everyone hangs out in the basement – a room that once functioned as a pub. While decorations still adorn every nook and cranny, the pub has slowly emptied. “We used to have all these model airplanes and cool stuff, but we’ve been slowly taking the important things out for the family,” David said. “Still, there’s been a lot of fun had down in that pub. Believe me.”
(L to R) Terry, Mary, Richard, Denis, Michael and David Payne moved into their house in Avondale in 1954. Here, during the mid 80s, everyone hangs out in the basement – a room that once functioned as a pub. While decorations still adorn every nook and cranny, the pub has slowly emptied. “We used to have all these model airplanes and cool stuff, but we’ve been slowly taking the important things out for the family,” David said. “Still, there’s been a lot of fun had down in that pub. Believe me.”

From noon on, the Avon would play the day’s featured movie, which was usually a sci-fi or horror film. After World War II, the theater showed several movies about atomic bombs and nuclear war.

“All these sci-fi movies based on the atomic bombs and radiation were coming to the Avondale theater, and as kids, we couldn’t wait for the next one,” David said.

Horror movies remained David and his friends’ favorite genre, even though they sometimes fled the theater “scared out of [their] britches.”

“We saw the original Frankenstein there, and I remember distinctly going to this little tiny bathroom that was always gross and throwing up everywhere,” David said. “Oh, it scared me to death! I puked up my popcorn.”

Mary recalls David and his friends “all coming home in a hurry” if they were scared enough.

“We went up there and watched that guy turn into a wolf – that one scared the bejeezus out of us,” David said. “Those were good movies, all of ‘em.”

David compares Avondale during the ‘50s and ‘60s to “Leave it to Beaver”’s innocent Americana charm, but he still managed to create mischief.

“We’d go in Avondale’s drugstore before a movie, and between you and me and us girls, we would occasionally shoplift these wonderful pies,” David said. “This old marine would chase us down to Avon, and we would hang around the corner until the movie started.”

Mary and David said the theater was a great break for mothers.

“Parents give you a buck or less, and you walk half a mile to the theater, and nobody worries about you getting picked up and held for ransom or anything,” David said.

This once-weekly hangout spot isn’t a small town staple anymore.

“There aren’t many places in the community where you can actually walk to the movies as a child. It would be nice to see it come back and see someone do something with it,” David said. “I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes just thinking about the stuff that we did back then.”

 

OUR WAY CAFE  Late 1980s

Eva Roswall started serving simple meals in lobby

During late 1980s, Eva Roswall was a travel agent. Her boyfriend, David Wiley, built swimming pools and managed the band Problym Child.

“We went to Jamaica for a week, [and] when I came back, I saw that the building was empty, so I snooped around and found a [vacancy] notice from the landlord,” Roswall said.

Without telling David, she went to the bank to borrow $3500 for the deposit. After striking a deal with the company owner, Newburger-Andes, she drove home to her house in Decatur to tell her boyfriend that she’d rented the Towne Cinema.

“He always wanted to be there. He loved his music, and he loved his bands, and I thought, well, I can have office space in the front, and we can live upstairs,” she said.

Eva Roswall, owner of Our Way Cafe, loves to fix customers a plate of her favorite dishes, a tradition dating back to the restaurant’s name. “The reason we’re Our Way Cafe is kind of like a big joke. When I had my little steam table, I would tell [my regulars] what I wanted them to eat,” Roswall said. “One of the guys had a sign shop, and he made a sign that said ‘Our Way Cafe’ and I hated it because it sounds pretty rude, but every time I’ve tried to change it, people won’t let me. I still have the original Our Way Cafe sign on the patio with the address of the Towne Cinema.”
Eva Roswall, owner of Our Way Cafe, loves to fix customers a plate of her favorite dishes, a tradition dating back to the restaurant’s name. “The reason we’re Our Way Cafe is kind of like a big joke. When I had my little steam table, I would tell [my regulars] what I wanted them to eat,” Roswall said. “One of the guys had a sign shop, and he made a sign that said ‘Our Way Cafe’ and I hated it because it sounds pretty rude, but every time I’ve tried to change it, people won’t let me. I still have the original Our Way Cafe sign on the patio with the address of the Towne Cinema.”

“It became the place where, before you could play at the Masquerade or anywhere else, you had to get a following together,” she said. “When we didn’t have money, other clubs would raise money for us to stay open so that the young bands had a place to grow their following.”

And tender lovin’ care didn’t stop with the cafe’s support of upcoming artists.

“TLC was a back up band [at the Towne Cinema], and then Babyface turned them into an overnight success,” Roswall said. “They were just the backup singers, and then they were so good.”

While Wiley could manage his band with a performance space and recording capabilities, the couple agreed that they needed “something to make money everyday.”

“We were Trackside [Tavern] regulars, and they had great sandwiches, so we decided that we would open up a sandwich shop,” Roswall said.

Neither one of them were restaurant experts, though. Roswall had briefly worked at Shoney’s and Steak and Ale, but that was the extent of her experience.

So they started off small.

“We had 16 seats, a hot plate,” she said, “and for the first year, we made sandwiches and potato salad and coleslaw and baked beans, and we delivered in the business section of Avondale.”

Every Wednesday through Saturday, Eva served lunch until bands filed in at 4 p.m. – her cue to close up shop. Any other day, the sandwich café was open for lunch and dinner.

After a year, they purchased a stove. After the second year, they “actually got real equipment – it was a little steam table” and Roswall started to serve hot food.

Her little sandwich shop, only made to pay for new studio equipment, evolved into Our Way Cafe. Twenty-eight years later and in a location just up the street, the restaurant is still serving lunch and dinner.

 

METRO DANCE  Early 2000s

Tricia Froedge installed mirrors to create a studio

Tricia Froedge grew up dancing in Avondale, and kept it in the Estates. By 2001, she was teaching dance to a small group of high schoolers at Avondale’s First Baptist Church.

“One day I said to my dancers, ‘you know, my dream has always been to have my dance company in the old theater,’ and so I thought, that day when I really make it, with all the money in the world, I can really do that,” she said.

Two weeks after declaring her dream, she knew it was time for a bigger studio.

“I called city hall, and the only space available [for rent] was the theater. I was like, ‘huh, okay, that’s not a coincidence,’” she said.

Not much later, she’d called the realtor and was moving in with her company of 14 teenage dancers.

Tricia Froedge, right, hangs out with her friends upstairs in the dining room area of the theater. The festive decorations indicate a nearing winter showcase for the Metro Dance Company, one of their three annual dance shows. “It was great because I’d [sit in the] built out little kitchen and eat breakfast or lunch, looking out at the traffic going by,” she said. “Then, I’d just go downstairs and teach my classes or walk down the street to the pizza cafe.”
Tricia Froedge, right, hangs out with her friends upstairs in the dining room area of the theater. The festive decorations indicate a nearing winter showcase for the Metro Dance Company, one of their three annual dance shows. “It was great because I’d [sit in the] built out little kitchen and eat breakfast or lunch, looking out at the traffic going by,” she said. “Then, I’d just go downstairs and teach my classes or walk down the street to the pizza cafe.”

She walked in with excitement, a vision and a three-month plan to build her program at the theater. Girls from her existing company made flyers and passed them out in the hallways of Decatur, Woodward and Druid Hills high schools to rally recruits.

While her dance program embraced locals of all ages, ranging from two to 60, her goal was to instill confidence in her students.

“My reason for teaching dance is that people go home feeling better about themselves,”  she said. “I think when you feel good, you do everything better.”

During her time at the Towne Cinema, she taught classes varying from lyrical to hip hop, and jazz to cardio dance.

Outside of the three Metro Dance company shows, the theater hosted several rounds of Battle of the Bands, held Decatur’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue, and became home to budding artists.

“I noticed that my driving force became teenagers because I recognize they’re very smart, creative people,” she said, “ but if there’s not a concrete space for them to go to, they get kinda bored and start drinking Robitussin at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

“[My time at the theater] really showed me how positive the arts are for people,” she said, “and if you allow different forms of art to come together, you feed off of each other and you thrive.”

 

Photo courtesy of Tricia Froedge

Photos by Mary Margaret Stewart