Revisiting Brac’s first movie theatre

Owner Gaston Grant, standing in front of the old movie theatre and general store, holds an old movie reel found hidden behind one of the theatre walls. - Photo: Sister Island News Agency

A two-storey building on White Bay Road in Cayman Brac’s West End holds decades of movie magic history.

Many decades ago, it housed the island’s only movie theatre. It may have been closed more than 45 years ago, but it still holds many fond memories for its owner Gaston Grant, 81.

The theatre was opened in 1949 by Grant’s father Briton Bodden Grant.

Grant inherited it when Briton passed away in 1998 at the age of 82.

The construction of the building, which included Hanson Theatre and BBG Hanson General Store, was a big accomplishment for his father, Gaston Grant said.

The theatre was located on the top floor and the general store, which sold basic merchandise to the public was on the ground floor.

Briton named the general store after his wife Hannah, Grant said.

Grant said he wants to preserve his father’s memory, but is still toying with ideas. The building has become dilapidated and he believes it may need to be demolished. Whatever replaces the building, it won’t be another cinema, he said.

“Everyone has televisions now, that’s what killed the movies in the first place,” he said.

Grant said his father fell in love with the idea of showing moving pictures on the wall after watching his father showing them in their home and charging people sixpence.

He would show a moving picture of a rooster from a tiny projector that people called a ‘magic lantern’. To get people to return the next night, he would turn the rooster up-side down and tell people they were watching a ship.

“People came to watch it too,” Grant said with a laugh.

This two-storey building in West End, Cayman Brac, housed the island’s first movie theatre. – Photo: Sister Islands News Agency

He said his father started showing movies on his front porch with a 16mm projector and fold-up screen. Eventually, when he had collected enough money, he built the building.

“Growing up in West End, Cayman Brac, in the early fifties, the theatre played a major role in the lives of the citizens of the country,” said resident Carley Parchman, 78.

He said he would buy ice-cream, patties, candies, popcorn and other light snacks at the shop downstairs before heading up to watch the movies.

The main entrance to the theatre was a wooden staircase leading up from the side of the building. The stairs were rebuilt in cement years later, Grant said.

The projector room was on an open stand at the top of a flight of six steps leading up from the theatre floor.

The movies, which were shown every night of the week, were delivered every three weeks by Parcel Post from Trinidad.

At the time, movie admission was 2 shillings.

The first movie Grant remembers his father showing was ‘Fiesta’, a 1947 musical drama about an aspiring bullfighter, starring actress Esther Williams.

He laughs when he recalls a grandmother telling her granddaughter to “let’s get out of here” before that bull gets away and kills everyone in the theatre.

He said Sundays were reserved for a Billy Graham special or a Christian movie.

Mostly westerns, such as ‘The Durango Kid: Blazing the Western Trail’ were shown throughout the week.

Grant and his brother Geddes helped their father operate the projector each night.
Brac resident Ward Scott said he went inside to examine the old theatre with Grant recently to check out the building.

Rummaging through the old building, Scott discovered an old movie reel which he found hidden behind one of the theatre walls.

He pulled it out only to discover it contained old footage of a horse race filmed at the Tropical Park Race Track in Miami, Florida.

“It is a film, much like how a person would do a video today. The race is Number 9 on January 11, 1966. It is a silent film and after getting it restored, I hope to post it on an up-and-coming Cayman Brac YouTube channel,” Scott said.