Isis Theatre Maintains Family-Friendly Traditions More Than 100 Years Later
Writer / Angela Cornell
Storytelling has been a favored art form for thousands of years. Every culture around the world honors stories. One that has been around for millennia is of a princess, Io, who caught the eye of the king god of the Greek Pantheon, Zeus. In order to keep his affair with her from the jealous attention of his wife, he turned Io into a white heifer. Nonetheless, Io still had to run for her life and eventually made it to Egypt, where she was restored to her human shape and transformed into a well-beloved deity, Isis. As an Egyptian goddess, she patronized many aspects of the natural and supernatural, including the moon and magic.
It was this tale that inspired the name of Winamac’s Isis Theatre in 1913.
“The name was created through a contest,” says owner, Ernie Armstrong. “Isis Theatres used to be a small chain, actually, throughout the Midwest and as far as Denver.”
However, as far as he knows, the one in Winamac is the last one in the country.
“I’ve tried to find some and do some research, find some memorabilia if they’ve shut down, and I haven’t had any luck,” he says.
For Armstrong, Isis Theatre is the continuation of family legacy.
“My father was the owner before me,” he says. “He worked here when he was a teenager, and after 45 years total, he passed away. The man who owned it before that was like family as well.”
Armstrong appreciates being a part of a movie theatre that has been a gathering place in the community for more than a century.
“We have a very strong community base,” he says. “Even when we’re playing the same movie for multiple weeks, we have certain people that we will see every weekend. Sometimes, it’s not even just for the movie. They’ll come out on Friday or Saturday night just to get their popcorn and beverages. They’ll be in there one way or the other.”
The concessions — especially the locally grown popcorn and red cream soda— are well-loved by Winamac’s silver-screen enthusiasts. Theater-goers also appreciate the theatre’s art deco style, including the original light fixtures and seats.
“We took it back to the original décor,” Armstrong describes the renovation that occurred five years ago. “Many people remember that, when they were really young kids. They remember the color scheme on the walls and things like that. Our goal has always been to keep it as original as possible.”
Although the décor takes guests back to the Roaring 20s, the gear is state of the art.
“We always try to have the best theatrical experience we can provide,” Armstrong says. “We keep up with the latest equipment, whether that’s the projectors, servers and sound equipment. You’re not coming in here to see a second-rate production. You’re going to get the same experience you would whether you went to AMC multi-plex or you came here.”
When it comes to choosing which movies to play, Armstrong tries to stick with family-friendly films.
“We generally try to play family titles,” he says. “That’s what we try to stick to. Whether it’s a Disney cartoon or whatever the biggest family title is that we can get our hands on. Being a single-screen, we can’t play multiple movies at once with the studio contracts. We have to be attentive to the schedule to make sure we’re booking in the proper order.”
Although Isis Theatre tends to gravitate towards films for younger audiences, movies from other genres are frequently shown as well.
“We always try to play the big movies, like the Marvel franchise, the Fast and Furious franchise,” Armstrong adds. “We stay away from R-Rated films and adult films.”
For Armstrong, the most rewarding part of running Isis Theatre is being able to maintain a community tradition of the silver screen.
“It’s a thrill to watch kids come in here and be excited to see a movie on the big screen, especially in today’s day and age with technology,” he says. “Also, having the opportunity to carry on the legacy of the theatre. It’s not always easy, it’s not always fun. But there’s a certain aura and legacy that precedes it, being as old as it is.”
Isis Theatre is located at 122 N. Monticello St. in Winamac. The box office opens 30 minutes before the show begins. To see the theatre’s movie schedule, visit them online at isistheatrewinamac.com or call them at 574-946-3713.