Throwback Thursday – Bowling Green’s First Movie Houses and their Famous Motion Picture Man

The motion pictures of old Hollywood made their first appearances in Bowling Green over a century ago. It was 1911 when Warren County’s first movie house opened. Called the Columbia, its home was on Main Street. Mr. John Post Masters, who was named the city’s Leading Citizen of the Year by 1942, managed the Columbia. This is the story of “Bowling Green’s Motion Picture Man.”

Born in 1885, J.P. Masters was employed by the Crescent Amusement Company in Nashville by his early twenties. An opportunity to manage the first motion picture theatre in nearby Bowling Green brought him to town in 1911 when the Crescent Company opened the Columbia. Moving pictures were an absolute smash. The demand for more seating and movies was so high that Crescent opened the Princess and Diamond Theatres within the next 10 years.

Masters eventually managed all three of the city’s motion picture houses by the 1940s. He often volunteered in the community and even helped used the theatres to help raise war bonds at the onset of the Second World War. He was known for being able to adopt the latest technology at his theatres, while also embracing audience safety and security during a time when movie projection technology was known to be flammable and caused many theatre fires around the country.

Known as the “Man who made the nickel famous,” entry into the first houses was just five cents and eventually grew to a quarter. Masters opened the Capitol Theatre, called the “show place of southern Kentucky,” featuring floating comfort seats and the newest western electric mirrophonic sound system as audiences swarmed the theatre.

Masters had the privilege of meeting some of the greatest names in Golden Hollywood’s history—Cecil B. DeMille, Steve Cochran, and Gene Autry. Masters retired in 1960, after nearly 50 years in the theatre business.

The Princess Theatre sign still sits on Main Street, and the Capitol Theatre is back up and running with shows and films.