Through the remainder of the sixties, Janesville had two downtown theaters and two outdoors, one near the northwest city limits and the other about seven miles south of town. First-run Hollywood movies with big stars usually were screened at the Jeffris or Myers. The latter sometimes had special matinées featuring monster classics like The Bride of Frankenstein that attracted droves of kids. I remember going to one Myers horrorama that featured a coffin in the lounge area off the lobby—can't recall who was resting in peace. Outdoors often screened sensational fare such as American International Pictures224 releases, Mondo225 movies, and youth-ploitation films, including Wild In The Streets mentioned earlier.
My fondest memory of the Myers is going to see Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet with a date.
For one romantic night we were teens of the times taking in an ageless tale about tragic young love in the dark of the ornate Myers as if nothing existed beyond those nineteenth century walls. In every way, it was accidental and couldn't be repeated, and I didn't think much about it then—how special it was...
Commercial gravity wells
The Jeffris and Myers operated into the seventies but the commercial gravity wells created by the interstate, particularly where it crosses Highway 26, eventually overwhelmed other commercial forces.
Aerial photographs of the city recorded in 1956 and 2010 show what happened.
The cloverleafs at Highway 14 (Racine Street) and Highway 26 (Milton Avenue) pulled commerce out of downtown and deposited it near large and busy interstate intersections. The Rock River was Janesville's most important means of transportation when settlers arrived in the 1840s; now its dammed water, no longer passable, was shallow, muddy-brown-green...barely moving.
Chain restaurants, hotels, and stores and associated parking lots popped up along the Highway 26 corridor first, a little west of the interstate, probably due to its proximity to Milton and cities north, and soon were connected by a grid of frontage roads. I worked at another (Team Electronics) while taking a break from college and then the Janesville Mall opened in September, 1973;226 within a few months, UA Cinema, a multiscreen theater, began showing films.
DemolitionFalling first was the Myers, demolished in August, 1977,227 after almost 90 years of entertaining Janesvillians.
Fire destroyed much of the Jeffris on March 27, 1983.228
Cinema Treasures, a website that reports on movie theaters, has visitor comments that indicate the Jeffris was rebuilt to some extent and reopened as the Park Place Cinema. It closed in 1989229 and evidently was demolished in 2007.230
The entrance wall was still standing when I visited in 2015, but it did little more than partially hide the depression full of bricks and shattered concrete that litters the space where so many crunched popcorn and watched movies, and I went on my first date as a seventh grader and enjoyed my first kiss the next year.
Now it is just one more of the vacant buildings and lots scattered across once vibrant downtown Janesville.
The county seat's streets that were so important and crowded as recently as the middle sixties are bleak and lonely thoroughfares lined with abandoned buildings and empty retail spaces. On my visit, I saw few pedestrians.
It's a shocking change.
Creston Park, once the vanguard, is hardly recognizable in its dilapidation and even the Janesville Mall is declining as shoppers abandon old-line stores in favor of new standalone outlets such as Walmart and Home Depot.
A nine-screen emporium called Rock Theaters (1620 Newport Avenue) opened in 1992 several parking lots west of Milton Avenue and south of Highway 14 and closed just 18 years later.231 Cinema Treasures describes it unglamorously as, "...just your regular concrete block box sitting in an industrial park behind a strip mall." 232
Now Janesville's only theater is Wildwood Movies 16 (3100 Deerfield Drive) located east of Interstate 90 not far from the intersection of Highways 14 and 26, about the same distance from downtown Janesville as it is from downtown Milton.233 (It's sign proclaims "Movies 10," but the website states "Movies 16.")
Mr. Lalor would be amazed that this twenty-first century movie palace offers almost as many attractions every day as all the theaters he managed, including the Hi-Way 26 Outdoor, did in a month.
But, it's a place few patrons, especially kids, can walk to. It's dependent almost entirely on the automobile.
The Jeffris, April, 2015.
©Ted Schaar 2015
The Jeffris, April, 2015.
©Ted Schaar 2015
Northeast Janesville 1956. Courtesy of the US Department
of Agriculture and Robinson Maps Library, UW-
Madison Department of Geography.
Northeast Janesville 2010.
Courtesy of Rock County, Wisconsin.234
Click for larger versions of 1956 and 2010 aerials.
Larger versions show the truly amazing movement of
commerce from downtown Janesville to the inter-
state interchanges between 1956 and 2010.
Myers demolition images are Janesville Gazette
photographs found at Gazette Xtra.235
Click for larger versions.