Archive for June, 2010

When bicycles and theatres meet

The 1910 Majestic Theatre

The 1910 Majestic Theatre

Houston has had its fair share of notable people who were instrumental in its movie theatres. The list includes architects, builders, owners, managers, philanthropists, and visionaries. Architect Alfred Finn and businessman Jesse Jones built a number of theatres in the twenties­–along with hospitals, office buildings, and the San Jacinto monument. Dallas theatre man Karl Hoblitzelle founded a theatre empire by the name of Interstate. Will Horwitz ran a small but influential chain of local theatres, but this was eclipsed by his humanitarian efforts during the Great Depression. The list goes on and on.

These people were well documented over the years in the local media, so it was easy to include their stories in the book, Cinema Houston. However, there have been many others who played a part, and whose stories have been forgotten. This was perhaps the biggest obstacle in working on the book. Even now, there are still stories that surface that–had they come to light a few years earlier–would have been part of the book.

Here is one that has recently surfaced, courtesy of Massachusetts writer and historian David V. Herlihy in his book, The Lost Cyclist.

In the late 1880s, Frank Lenz of Pittsburgh, a renowned high-wheel racer and long-distance tourist, dreamed of cycling around the world. He finally got his chance by recasting himself as a champion of the downsized “safety-bicycle” with inflatable tires, the forerunner of the modern road bike that was about to become wildly popular. In the spring of 1892 he quit his accounting job and gamely set out west to cover twenty thousand miles over three continents as a correspondent for Outing magazine. Two years later, after having survived countless near disasters and unimaginable hardships, he approached Europe for the final leg. He never made it. His mysterious disappearance in eastern Turkey sparked an international outcry and compelled Outing to send William Sachtleben, another larger-than-life cyclist, on Lenz’s trail. This untold story culminates with Sachtleben’s heroic effort to bring Lenz’s accused murderers to justice, even as troubled Turkey teetered on the edge of collapse. (from the liner notes)

The Houston connection to all of this is in William Sachtleben, who later moved to the city to become the Manager of Karl Hoblitzelle’s second Majestic Theatre, and later played a part in local Interstate operations when the third Majestic on Rusk opened in 1923.

David Herlihy will be in Houston on Thursday, June 10 for a special book signing. 7 p.m., Blue Willow Book Shop, 14532 Memorial Drive.

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Cinema Houston celebrates a vibrant century of movie theatres and moviegoing in Texas’s largest city. This weblog is a companion to the Book, Cinema Houston: From Nickelodeon to Megaplex (University of Texas Press, 2007), and website, www.CinemaHouston.net.

David Welling is a writer and artist who lives in Houston with his wife and two children. His lifelong interest in movies (and the places that show them) led to the writing of Cinema Houston, which included fifteen years of research, and its subsequent website.