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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

NATS Committee announces Farmers of the Year 2024

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To – David

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Young sailors stand on the shoulder of a Master and Commander: Charles Bartlett Hyde

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From The Publisher

PublisherFrom The Publisher

When the San Cas group closed down Palace Theater a few years after cable television had invaded Belize in 1982, the significance of the moment on the Southside of Belize City was totally enormous.

Bird’s Isle came on the scene in the early 1970s, I guess, and having survived all these six decades or so, Bird’s Isle has become iconic. If you shut down Bird’s Isle, it would be a moment of massive impact socially and historically.

But the thing about Palace Theater is that there was a show every night of the week, Belize City was much smaller back then, and this Palace was the centerpiece of Southside night life. Every night there was a crowd of Belizeans out there on Albert Street at Palace, between Bishop and King Streets. The crowd was mostly Creole, the Southside being hugely Creole in ethnicity during the Palace era.

Let me tell you a few stories about Palace, where the operations manager during my youth was the late Cyril Gibson, a relative of mine.     

When Hurricane Hattie abruptly turned south from its northward direction on October 30, 1961, we students of St. John’s College were sent home late that morning. In my family’s case, we travelled to Central Farm early that night and spent the hurricane there. A couple decades ago, my late Uncle Buck’s common-law, Miss Marie, told me that she had gone to Palace Theater to see a “double-header” – The Fly and The Return of The Fly, on the night of October 30, 1961. So that when she exited the theater around midnight, the weather had already started to deteriorate ominously.

The fact that Mr. Cyril chose to stay with his schedule (he lived just a few blocks down Albert Street from the theater) is evidence, I think, of the relative casualness in the Belize City population with respect to Hattie. In the first place, there had been a couple of hurricane threats in the weeks before, threats which turned out to be duds. Secondly, Hattie had already gone north of us. The late Catholic Bishop, Right Rev. Dorick Wright, ended up being rescued in a coconut tree after his mother downplayed the Hattie threat and decided to stay at home with her children. Bishop Wright’s mother and his siblings ended up perishing in Hattie.

Palace Theater’s Sunday matinee at 5 p.m. ended when it was dark, so most (or many) young people of my generation, I believe, experienced their first serious interaction with the opposite sex at and after the Palace Sunday matinee.

The first time I ever asked a girl to dance was at the Mina Grant Day Nursery behind Majestic Theater one weekend evening. You know how it is, brothers, some young lady will catch your attention at a dance because of her energy and style. I was flying solo, did not know the young lady, and took a chance. I got shot down. There was egg all over my face. The rejection stayed with me the rest of the evening and the next day, and perhaps even after that. I felt like nothing, nobody.

Well, the following week I was at a Sunday evening Palace matinee with a couple SJC friends and, somehow, I ended up sitting behind the same young lady. I don’t remember the details, but I know that she extended her hand over her seat for me to hold it. This was Palace, baby, a place where sensational things occurred.

I remember being in classes with guys who were a couple years older than I, on the average, so I was always trying to catch up socially. I think perhaps some girls thought I was older than I was, but in any case, a young lady from one of the Protestant high schools began to make a strong challenge on I. Scared as I was, I had to respond, and ended up walking with her on the Foreshore after a Sunday evening Palace matinee.

These are moments in your life you will not forget, and Palace Theater was a part of the unforgettable moments of many, many of our lives.

For me, the most famous and popular Palace movie ever was Sign of The Pagan. Every night it showed, the movie, starring Jack Palance as Attila and Jeff Chandler as the centurion, was a sellout. Sellouts brought the scalpers into play. The scalpers would be neighbourhood tough guys who made a living by buying out the tickets for movie sellouts and selling them to the public at exaggerated prices. 

Then there were the Brooke Bond tea and Rainbow condensed milk free matinees, where Rex Allen and his horse, Koko, were the stars. Once you collected enough Brooke Bond and Rainbow labels, you could get a free ticket when these special matinees were shown. The scalpers were, again, very much in play, and there was a police sergeant we knew as “Casa,” who was supposed to keep order in the lines and prevent the scalpers from taking advantage of young innocents like me. 

But Casa was a fraud. One time I was standing innocently in the line to exchange my labels for tickets when he lashed me with his cane. I suppose his job was very stressful, and the scalpers either intimidated him or cut him in for a piece of the action. It doesn’t matter to me which. All I know is I got lashed for trying to change my Brooke Bond or Rainbow labels for a free matinee ticket.

Television drove Palace out of business. Belize City was not the same without Palace. Today, we can add Augusto Quan and Hofius and other historic businesses. Change is the way of the world. But, Palace sank into oblivion without a sound. Everyone was excited about cable television. 

Much the same nostalgia on my part applies to Mike’s Club. Mike’s was historic. But, it was roots. That is why, I suppose, the media treated Mike’s demise with a kind of disrespect. This Belize City you see today is something very, very different from the Belize City of my childhood and youth.   

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