December 4, 2022
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Backtracking: In our times: Entertainment mixed with somber news in Sidney during October 1957 | Columns

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Our current U.S. president has recently expressed his concern of possible nuclear “Armageddon,” given the ongoing Russian-Ukraine War.

While many share the concerns, we move along and still enjoy leisure time.

The same was true in October of 1957 in Sidney. Residents of the village were likely a bit more concerned than others in the region, because Sidney was home to a major defense plant, making it a higher priority for a possible enemy attack in the midst of the Cold War.

As The Oneonta Star of Oct. 17 reported, “A simulated bomb burst at the Scintilla Division of Bendix Aviation Corp. yesterday afternoon touched off a full-scale test exercise for members of the ignition firm’s plant protection and emergency organization.

“More than 125 Scintilla employees participated in the mock exercise directed by E.M. VanName, divisional security officer.

“The emergency exercise was set up to test operational activities of all eight sections which make up the Scintilla plant protection and emergency organizations, Mr. VanName said. Reviewing the exercise, which started at 3 p.m., he expressed complete satisfaction with the measures in which all assignments were carried out.

“Mr. VanName pointed out that at the close of the plant’s first shift at 3:30 p.m., Scintilla parking lots were emptied of more than 1,000 cars, which were out of the vicinity within ten minutes.”

While prepared as they could be for an attack, Sidney area residents carried on their lives with leisure activities and some new developments that month. Some areas of entertainment had been lacking, no thanks to fires at two venues.

As readers of the Oct. 17 edition of the Sidney Record-Enterprise learned, “The opening of the new Twentieth Century Bowling Center culminates more than half a century of bowling in Sidney.” The new center was built on the same site at 1 East Main St., after being destroyed by fire in January 1957. It is known today as East Main Lanes & Lounge.

“It was 1937 or 1938 when bowling first started at the original Twentieth Century alleys. The building had been originally used by A.B. Martin as a wholesale grocery. It was bought by William Webb and the late Harry Lewis and renovated, starting with four alleys. Then the next year they built an addition on the side and installed two more alleys. Mr. Webb ran the alleys, and eventually bought Mr. Lewis’ interest, building a club on the second floor for dart games, cards, etc.”

It was sold to Frank Mazzarella in 1953. Before the Twentieth Century Center, bowling had been played in several village locations near the downtown area.

Elsewhere, the Record-Enterprise of Oct. 31 reported more positive news on the entertainment front.

“On March 20 of this year the Sidney Smalley Theater was badly damaged by fire and re-opened for only a few days, then closed down. We have been without a movie theater for seven months.

“Arrangements for the purchase … from the Smalley interests was completed yesterday. The new owner is Peninsula Amusements Corporation.” Harold deGraw was president, owner of the Oneonta Theatre. deGraw had previously managed two Schine theaters in Oneonta, a local part of a large theater chain. There remained a fair amount of cleaning and renovation to do at the Sidney theater, but at last came the grand opening, Thursday, Nov. 21. 

As the Record-Enterprise told readers that day, “Every cent paid for admission to the movies on Thursday will go to Foreign Student Fund of Sidney High School.

“The school band under the direction of Charles Clark, will play a few rousing selections outside the theater before the show starts.

“The feature picture is ‘God Is My Partner,’ and it is a drama lightened with considerable comedy, the kind of picture suited for any member of the family.”

The Foreign Student Fund netted $600 from that opening night.

This weekend, honoring icons in October 1922.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Wednesday columns address local history 1950 and later. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.



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