Downtown upstairs

Old downtowns had a separate world upstairs, and often another separate world under the sidewalks.

An item in today’s EnidBuzz gives us a glimpse of one upstairs world:

Opened in 1923 as the 900-seat Billings Theatre, built by William S. Billings and his wife Henrietta, who lived in apartments above the theatre. It later became the Criterion Theatre from 1930 to 1939. It was then renamed Chief Theatre and finally in the 1980’s the Cinema Twin. Today it is the Gaslight Theatre.

The Gaslight is a more recent Enid icon, and a rarity in a small city: A live community theater that develops acting talent. It’s been around since the ’60s in various buildings.

One of the commenters filled in another detail:

My parents lived in an apartment above the theatre in the mid 50’s. It had a window where they could watch the movies.

Presumably this had been the Billings family apt. In less civilized places and times the supervisor’s window would have been walled up to avoid free views and accidents.

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A few years ago I discussed another interesting upstairs:

The real difference between then and now is the ease of renting storefronts and rooms with a view. Before 1970, most downtown buildings had an assortment of rentable rooms, often serving as apartments. Malls and restrictive zoning and “fair” housing laws eliminated most of those rooms from the market.

Here’s an example of those rooms from the 1940 Census. This page lists the residents of an unnamed ‘hotel’ at 111 W Maine in Enid, which later became the Cromwells store. When I worked at Cromwells in the early ’70s I often went upstairs to fetch various items from storage, and gradually explored the place. At that time the rooms were no longer rented but contained some leftover furniture. Lee Cromwell had turned one room into a museum of ancient business machines.

The upper two stories of the building were all beadboard, divided into small rooms with a central hall running front to back.

Each floor had one common bathroom and no kitchen facilities. Residents must have eaten in nearby lunchrooms. (Though the census doesn’t list businesses, the details suggest that the ground floor was a cafe in 1940.) Most of the rooms were occupied by older single men. Four of the rooms contained families.

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