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SECO, 1914: Rockville’s First Movie Theater

Around the turn of the century, people began to think about places filled with seats where movies could be shown. Budding exhibitors took existing stores, gutted them, decorated the fronts, and installed seats. They added screens, sat a piano player under the screen and built tiny booths for the primitive projectors. With a staff made up of friends and family as cashiers, doormen, ushers, and projectionists, they were ready to make their fortunes.

The Seco, Milo, Arcade, and Villa Theaters presented movies in buildings on the main street in Rockville, Maryland from the 1920s through the 1960s.

Suburban Electrical Company (SECO) 1914

This image of the Suburban Electrical Company (SECO) shows how it looked in 1914. The upper story of the building was the living quarters of Mr and Mrs B. F. Hicks. The building was later acquired by W. Valentine Wilson, who tore it down and replaced it with the “SECO” Theater. The ground floor was made into a moving picture theater. Posters can be seen displayed on the front of the building. Photo by Lewis Reed.

The SECO theater in Rockville was opened for silent films and vaudeville shows around 1915 in what had been a general store dating back to Civil War days by W. Valentine Wilson. Prior to its opening, impromptu showings of films were held around the county at various stores and commercial buildings. It was perhaps the earliest movie house in Montgomery County and drew patrons from as far away as Mt. Airy in Frederick County.

Mr Wilson had operated an electrical business in the building and the SECO got its name from that business, the Suburban Electrical Company. The earliest ad for the SECO is in the Montgomery County Sentinel of October 22, 1915:

Shows four times a week – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Our Monday night feature shows are the finest ever exhibited in Rockville and the management will continue to give nothing but the best of film service to the town.

On Saturday, October 23, we will feature Sally Crute and Augustus Phillips in a strong three-reel drama entitled, “Her Vocation,” with two other reels of laughter and side-shakes. … You never waste time by enjoying SECO moving pictures.

The SECO ran 10 films days after the first-run theaters in downtown Washington and had protection over the rival Takoma, Tivoli, and York theaters. A July 1916 advertisement read, “Paramount pictures at the SECO Theater three times every week, Monday, Thursday, Saturday, starting at 7:30 P.M.”

By the mid-1920s, the SECO had moved to 509 Commerce Lane. Sidney Lust took over the operation of this theater between 1931 and 1935 and renamed it the Arcade Theater. He installed a sound system in the Arcade for $2,250 in 1932 and closed it down on April 21, 1935. He opened the new Milo later that year.

North side of East Montgomery Ave Rockville, 1914

North side of Commerce Lane near the courthouse. Right to left: H. Reisinger Bakery, W. Hicks General Store, Suburban Electrical Company (SECO), and a two-story dwelling. Note the trolley car on the left. Photo by Lewis Reed, 1914.

Wilson also owned the SECO in Silver Spring that opened on November 7, 1927. Costing $60,000 to build, Silver Spring’s SECO had 500 seats and featured a 12×16 ft. screen and a projection system “said to be the latest word in motion pictures machines.”

Several Rockville businesses closed their doors during the depression. Some suffered from modern competition, and the economic downturn finished them off. Val Wilson’s 1929 purchase of a new organ to accompany silent movies at his SECO Theatre was the final straw for an enterprise losing ground to the “talking pictures” or “talkies”.

Valentine Wilson's Seco Theater in Rockville after its move from Montgomery Ave to Commerce Lane

This image of W. Valentine Wilson’s Seco Theater shows how it looked after its move from 402 Montgomery Ave to 310/509 Commerce Lane. Date unknown. (The Robert A. Truax Collection)

From The Evening Star, Washington, DC 25 Jul 1935:

One of the most modern theater, store and office buildings in this section of the country will be opened here September 1 when work is completed on the new Milo Theater on the site of the old Lincolnway Inn.

The structure is being erected by Rufus E. Milor of Rockville, contractor and owner, at a cost of $100,000, and it will contain two stores and 14 office rooms in addition to the theater, which is named for the owner of the building. The two stores, Peoples Drug Store and Sanitary Grocery, Co. will flank the theater lobby.

A two-story building with a modernistic, white limestone front, the new structure will be an attractive addition to Rockville’s business section. In addition to the main structure, Milor is building a new restaurant on an adjoining lot.

A paved parking area large enough to accommodate 300 cars will be opened at the rear of the main building.

Sidney B. Lust, owner of a chain of theaters in and around Washington, will operate the Milo. A stage to take care of any vaudeville requirements will be built, and the theater will seat 750.

Arcade Theater Rockville

The Evening Star, Washington, DC 12 August 1934

Milo Theater, Rockville

The Milo Theater (120 Commerce Lane) was designed by John J. Zink and named after its owner, Rufus E. Milor. It opened in October 1935 and lasted until 1969. Sidney Lust operated it until 1955. The name was changed to the Villa in 1956. Google Image

The theatre continued through to the late 1960s. Seating about 700+, in the mid 1950s, the name was changed to the Villa by new owners. The old movie house has since been torn down years ago, and the site built over. In a 1914 Theatre Guide, the Rockville Opera House was found listed, with theatre seating on the second floor of the building.

Villa Theater 120 Commerce Avenue

A 1963 photo of the Milo Theatre when it went by the name of the Villa. Google Image

Sources: Motion Picture Exhibition in Washington, DC: An Illustrated History of Parlors, Palaces and Multiplexes in the Metropolitan Area, 1894-1997
Newspapers.com online archive
“Maryland’s Motion Picture Theaters” Images of America Series

108 Years Ago at Rockville High School

Montgomery County High School 1906

1911 Originally known as Montgomery County High School, later as Rockville High School. Photo by Lewis Reed

In honor of this year’s commencement, here is a look back at some 1910 class photos from Montgomery County High School that were taken by Lewis Reed. This is a collection of group photos of school children, some with the teacher, taken in 1910 from Montgomery County High School (Old Rockville High School). I wanted to share these photographs, because they offer a visual history of a part of Rockville’s past taken more than 100 years ago.

Most of the photos are labeled with only the year, so if you have corrections to the names or can identify other individuals, please contact me or leave a comment below. Several students have been identified by the Montgomery County Historical Society, which I have included.

In this era, students from grades one through eleven attended the public school at Montgomery Avenue and Monroe Street. Named Montgomery County High School with the addition of upper grades in 1892, as the school board opened other facilities it became Rockville High School and then, in 1935, Richard Montgomery High School. Students came to the school by train, trolley, and later by school bus from all corners of the county.

Step back in time into a much simpler past and get a look at class photos of Rockville High School students from over 108 years ago. As always, click the photos to get a better look. Some of the expressions on these students faces are priceless!

Montgomery County High School 1910

Old Rockville High School class c. 1910. Photo by Lewis Reed

Back row: Edward Story, Lena Ricketts, Tom Young, Louise Larcombe, Miss Ford, Fred Hays, Lucius Lamar, name unknown, name unknown.
Middle Row: name unknown, name unknown, Jesse Wathen, Jesse Higgins, name unknown, name unknown, Mary Hyatt, name unknown, name unknown.
Front Row: Maude England, Rebecca Lamar, (first name unknown) Garrett, Helen Pumphrey, (first name unknown) Lehman.

Montgomery County High School 1910

Old Rockville High School graduates 1910. Photo by Lewis Reed

Back: Harry Beall, Katherine Hughes.
Middle: names unknown
Front: Edith Prettyman, (first name unknown) Darby

Old Rockville High School Baseball Team 1910

Old Rockville High School First Baseball Team 1910. Photo by Lewis Reed

Front: Billy Beck, Tom Young, Ed Storey, Harry Beall, Roy Warfield.
Back: (first name unknown) Hicks, Lucius Lamar, name unknown, name unknown, Jesse Higgins, name unknown, name unknown, Fred Hays, Roger Whiteford.
Holding pennant: Griffith Warfield

Montgomery County High School 1910

Montgomery County High School 1910

Montgomery County High School 1910

Montgomery County High School 1910

Montgomery County High School 1910

Montgomery County High School 1910

Montgomery County High School 1910

Montgomery County High School 1910

 

Here’s How Rockville’s Trolley Era Looked Over 115 Years Ago

This special post is a collection of early trolley car photos that were taken by Lewis Reed in the early 20th century. Trolleys existed in American cities before the Civil War, but a line did not connect Washington, DC to Rockville, Maryland, until 1900.

The agreement between the town of Rockville and the W&R Railway Co. ran for 35 years. From 1900 to 1935, street cars plied the track from the Washington terminus at Wisconsin and M Streets, N.W., up Wisconsin and then Old Georgetown Road, over a steel trestle just before the cars approached Georgetown Prep, through dense woods at Montrose and onto the Rockville Pike, through Rockville on Montgomery Avenue, to Laird Street, and back again.  The cars could be driven from either end.  In 1929, W&R ran 24 trips a day between 6:30 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. to connect Rockville and Washington. Major stops along the line included Georgetown, Alta Vista, Bethesda, Montrose, Halpine, the Fairgrounds, Courthouse Square, and Chestnut Lodge. Six switching stations and side tracks enabled street cars to pass as they went in different directions.

Below are a collection of photographs taken by Lewis Reed that shows what the old trolley cars looked like, highlighting what riding the trolley car was like in the early 1900s. From wood-paneled exteriors with ceiling fans to advertisements, here’s a nostalgic look back at Rockville’s Trolley car era through the lens of Lewis Reed. (click on photos to enlarge)

D.C. Trolley Car Barn Wisconsin Ave

Western Avenue car barn for the streetcars that served the Georgetown-Tenelytown-Bethesda-Rockville line. Photo by Lewis Reed

A car barn is the streetcar equivalent of a garage for buses. It’s a covered facility in which streetcars were stored overnight, cleaned and given light repairs before the next day’s run. The car barn for the trolleys at the time was the second Western Avenue car barn for the streetcars that served the Georgetown-Tenelytown-Bethesda-Rockville line. It was located at on west side of Wisconsin at between Harrison and Jennifer. It was demolished and later replaced by a purpose-built bus garage which is still in use by WMATA. The National Capital Trolley Museum was instrumental in helping to identify the car barn in the photo above.

Leroy King described the street car below as one of Washington Railway’s majestic “Rockville” cars, at 4 switch in 1908. Note multiple unit jumper box under center front window.

Trolley to Rockville

Passengers board car #596 heading to Rockville in 1908. These distinctively styled cars, popularly know as ‘Rockville’ cars, were also used on Washington Railway’s Maryland line. Note the ‘people catcher’ or ‘lifeguard’ in the front. Photo by Lewis Reed, 1908

Traveling in snow was sometimes hazardous to trolley cars, as evidenced by the trolley pictured below which derailed the train tracks and plowed into a telephone pole at Montrose Road and Rockville Pike. Lewis Reed was there to capture the accident from two different perspectives using a five-by-four box camera which produced images on a glass plate.

In populated areas, street cars kept speeds to 12 mph (6 mph at intersections), but in open country they could get up to 40 mph.

Trolley Wreck - Montrose & 355

Derailed trolley at Montrose Road and Rockville Pike. Photo by Lewis Reed

Derailed trolley car

Derailed trolley through dense woods at Montrose Road and Rockville Pike. Photo by Lewis Reed

Rockville Trolley Car

Rockville Trolley Car 592. Photo by Lewis Reed

Rockville Trolley, ca. 1910

A trolley heads south from Rockville toward Tenallytown through open farmland. This view appears to be looking north and shows the area south of where Montrose Road intersects with Rockville Pike. The Pike is in the background. Photo by Lewis Reed, 1910

Trolley tracks on Rockville Pike

Trolley tracks on Rockville Pike south of Sherrer Farm. Note that one of the young men is holding a bicycle. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1911

The Archival Producer for television’s most-watched history series, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE on PBS, found the photograph of the 1920’s trolley interior on this blog and asked permission to use it in the documentary, “The Great War,” a six-hour, three-night event, that premiered April 10-12, 2017 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into WWI.

All of these prints were originally made from a glass plate negative, an early photographic technique which was in common use between the 1880s and the late 1920s. The early 1900s were considered by many to be the golden era of early photography, because of its new availability to the public and somewhat simplified production methods. Many of Lewis Reed’s early photographs are now part of the Montgomery County Historical Society photo archives.

1920s Trolley car interior

Interior of 1920’s Rockville trolley car. Photo taken by Lewis Reed

Panels for advertising line the edge of the ceiling on both sides of the trolley. Instead of AC, the interiors were cooled with wooden ceiling fans.

1920s Trolley interior

Rare peak of the inside of a 1920’s trolley car and passengers featured in PBS documentary “The Great War”. Photo taken by Lewis Reed

Rockville Trolley Line 1900-1935 - Peerless Rockville 2002

Rockville Trolley Line 1900-1935 – Peerless Rockville 2002

Sources: Rockville Pike History – City of Rockville
History of the Street Car Lines of Montgomery County

Rockville 1912: Vinson’s Drug Store

Vinson's Drug Store 1912 Rockville

1912 – Vinson’s Drug Store, Rockville, Maryland. Photo by Lewis Reed

This 1912 photograph taken by Lewis Reed depicts Vinson’s Drug Store in downtown Rockville. This post is a part of the blog feature called, “Rockville’s Past Through the Lens of Lewis Reed”. Lewis Reed was a well-known photographer in the county and many of his early photographs are now part of the Montgomery County Historical Society photo archives. I wanted to share this photograph, because it offers a visual history of a part of Rockville’s past taken more than 100 years ago.

Previous to Edgar Reed’s enlistment in World War I, he had been employed as a clerk by R.W. Vinson Drug Store for eight years. In 1919, Edgar became a partner with his brother, Lewis Reed, in the firm Reed Brothers Dodge.

The drugstore was built in the 1880s and was run by Robert William “Doc” Vinson from 1900 until his death in 1958. A document on the Rockville website says the drugstore was also a popular gathering place for city politicians, and that President Woodrow Wilson once personally traveled there to buy Wolfhound tablets. The building was torn down in 1962, and replaced with an office building during Rockville’s “urban renewal”.

Source: County Seat to Satellite City of the Nations’ Capital: 1931

 

Derailed Trolley: Montrose Rd & Rt 355

Derailed trolley - Montrose & 355

Derailed trolley at Montrose Road and Rockville Pike. Photo by Lewis Reed

This special post is a part of the blog feature called, “Rockville’s Past Through the Lens of Lewis Reed”.  I wanted to share these photographs, because they offer a visual history of a part of Rockville’s transportation past.

Traveling in snow was sometimes hazardous to trolley cars, as evidenced by this trolley which derailed the train tracks and plowed into a telephone pole at Montrose Road and Rockville Pike. Lewis Reed was there to capture the accident from two different perspectives using a five-by-four box camera which produced images on a glass plate.

In populated areas, street cars kept speeds to 12 mph (6 mph at intersections), but in open country they could get up to 40 mph.

Derailed trolley - Montrose & 355

Derailed trolley through dense woods at Montrose Road and Rockville Pike. Photo by Lewis Reed

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