MERIDEN — Before Townline Square made the Meriden-Wallingford line a hub for retail shopping, the Route 5 site was home to a locally-owned movie theater with a long history.
With a burgundy lobby carpet, alcoves under oyster blue dome ceilings and a ribbed aluminum marquee with classic letters — the Meriden Twin Theater drew audiences for nearly 40 years.
Paul Tolis opened the theater on South Broad Street in August 1949 with a single screen and the hope of making it the “most modern, attractive and comfortable motion picture theater in Connecticut,” according to Record-Journal archives. The theater boasted air conditioning and a parking lot that could accommodate 600 cars.
The Meriden Twin also featured indirect interior lighting, a stage-mounted screen, and was reportedly one of the first theaters in the country to feature Dolby stereo sound. The first feature was “The Monty Stratton Story,” starring James Stewart. It cost the theater a rental fee of $45 per week. Tickets were 45 cents.
As the popularity of TV grew in the late 1950s and ’60s, attendance at the theater declined. Paul Tolis’ son, Charles Tolis, began managing the theater with his father in the ’70s. As a small, privately owned cinema, Charles Tolis looked for ways to compete with theater chains and cable television.
In 1976, Charles Tolis told the Record-Journal a film’s success in sales was not always dependent on the movie itself, but whether the Meriden audience was interested.
“Movies are nothing but a reflection of society, of what’s going on. They give people a form of expression,” he said.
At the time, the Meriden Twin had to compete with four other theaters in Meriden, and in 1978, renovations resulted in two separate screens.
In 1981, the theater almost closed after the city issued a summons to enforce an ordinance requiring movie theaters to hire off-duty police officers. The ordinance was later eliminated.
By that time, the father and son had fallen on hard financial times, they said, due to film distributors taking a larger percentage of box office sales and other competing theaters, such as Colony Cinemas on Route 5 in Wallingford, which had 5 screens.
Although he feared the competition that the multiplex posed, Paul Tolis said he still took pride in the “enduring romance” of his theater.
“Nowadays, with the cinder blocks and the cold lobbies and no decor, the theaters are like a fast food operation,” Paul Tolis said. “It’s different to come to a place like this.”
In a final effort to stay open, the Meriden Twin began a video rental service. The hope was that films on videotape would increase the audience’s desire for a full-scale silver screen experience.
In 1988, the numerous attempts to save the theater failed and the family announced it would close. The last film shown at the Meriden Twin was “Switching Channels,” starring Burt Reynolds, Kathleen Turner and Christopher Reeve.
Paul Tolis died one month before the last show. In October 1988, the building was demolished to make way for Townline Square.