October 24, 2021

Homer history found in town hall renovation

Nick Graziano/contributing photographer

Homer Town and Village Historian Martin Sweeney shows movie theater items, from the film house that resided in Town Hall from 1938 to 1956. The items were found on the balcony of the building, which is being renovated.

An early 1950s car cruised down Main Street in Homer. Men sported sideburns and women wore poodle skirts.
In front of the Homer Town Hall was 5-year-old Martin Sweeney, going to see a matinee.
Town Hall was not the building Homer residents know it to be today, as the location for paying taxes and attending board meetings. From 1938 to 1956, it was the Capital Theater.
The auditorium, stage and main entrance of the building were leased for the theater –– all being renovated now, a process that recently uncovered several items Sweeney vividly remembers from the theater’s past.
Up the front steps and through the entrance doors 5-year-old Sweeney went, greeted by vibrant posters, crowds of people and the infectious aroma of the concession stand — once located behind where a statue now sits.
The selection of treats ranged from doughnuts and chocolate-covered peanuts to bottled Pepsi or bottled milk. And of course, popcorn. One of Sweeney’s favorites. At the time about 10 cents.
But before the treats, had to be the ticket. Upon entering the building, the ticket booth was located directly to the right — its window and counter are still in place today.
Sweeney purchased his ticket, acquired his snack and made his way to his seat — either up the stairs to the balcony or down to the auditorium seating. He chose auditorium seating.
Before the feature film a cartoon played, to Sweeney’s delight, then the main attraction.
Stars like Bing Crosby or Bob Hope filled the screen. Their portrayals are still easy for Sweeney — now the town and village historian — to visualize more than 60 years later as he recently gazed at the collection of old movie theater items in front of him.
There was an empty bottle of Pepsi and a bottle of milk — from Midland Farms. Two blue boxes of those chocolate-covered peanuts he always saw at the concession stand. A box that once held Durkee’s doughnuts. A small bottle of Old Mr. Boston liqueur — probably snuck into the theater by a teenager, Sweeney presumed.
And of course, an empty box of popcorn. One of Sweeney’s favorites in the collection.
“It reminds you of a bygone era,” he said.
Those items and more, such as movie advertisements, Time magazines, a strip of film, carbon rods and projectors were recovered during the current renovation of Town Hall.
Most will likely end up with the Landmark Society of Cortland County on Main Street in Homer, Sweeney said.
Homer Town Supervisor Fred Forbes said the town board leaves those kinds of decisions up to Sweeney.
“Everything we find, we give to Sweeney,” Forbes said.
The stage where the movies were once projected will now be office space, and the balcony will be used for storage space. The projection booth is gone, along with all theater seats, too.
While they will no longer represent what once was of the building, Forbes said he is happy to see they will stay and be used in some way.
“Nothing has been done with them since the theater closed,” Forbes said.
The more than $585,000 renovation project will see the 110-year-old town hall modernized inside, rearrange its office space and better accommodate the village of Homer, which moved back into the building last year.
Many items were found when the renovation project began, but several had to be thrown away due to being eaten away by mice. For those that survived, Sweeney said it is amazing they are still in such good shape.
Seeing the items jogs the memory, Sweeney said. It takes him back to his 5-year-old self going to see a matinee at Town Hall. Back to the concession stand, wanting the popcorn — one of his favorite’s. And back to the classic films starring Bing Crosby or Bob Hope.
“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” Sweeney said. “This is an archeological dig. This shows you what people crafted as tools to perform various tasks in their lifetime and it shows you what they had for values and for a lifestyle.”