Lucien Descoteaux

Note –  8/16/16:  This research was initially completed in 2006 as part of a Film History class taught by Jeff Klenotic at UNH Manchester.  Each student was charged with researching movie theatres of a specific era in a town of their choice.  I chose to research theatres in Manchester, NH from 1933-1948.  It’s very possible that more recent research has proven some of what I had written to be incorrect, or that some of the theatres that were still standing have since been torn down (please leave a comment if this is the case!).  Also, upon reading these pages again, I’d like to apologize for my spelling and grammar.  2007-era Chris apparently needed an editor. 

Additional note – 9/24/17: I’ve removed some incorrect information from this page about Mr. Descoteaux and his family. Many thanks to his daughter Janet for the comment. I’ll add that the bulk of my research on Mr. Descoteaux was taken from old census records, and may not be completely accurate.

Theatres Managed by Lucien:

Lucien Descoteaux was born in St. Sevre , PQ Canada on January 1, 1897. He immigrated to Manchester sometime in the early 1900’s. By 1932 he lived on 131 Orange Street in Manchester, NH with his wife Roseanne Descoteaux (Guilmette). By 1935 they had moved to 721 Beech Street, and by 1939 they had moved to 707 Chestnut Street. Together they had seven children, Theresa, Rene, Louis, Rita, Beatrice, Janet and Celia. Again, this data was derived from old census records, and may not be completely accurate.

During his time in Manchester, Mr. Descoteaux managed three smaller movie houses. His managing duties (as far as I could tell from the research i’ve done) began with the Empire theatre in October of 1931. He remained its manager until it’s first closing (one of many) in December of 1946. He also managed the Globe Theatre on Elm street, at least from 1938 to it’s close on June 13, 1943.

The third theatre he ran was the Rex Theatre on Amherst Street. This theatre was the first (and only as far as i’m aware) owned chiefly by Descoteaux. For the time it had many modern features (namely air conditioning, despite its small 550 seat capacity). It is believed that he ran the theatre up until February of 1962, which is allegedly that last day it was open. He died on August 26, 1968.

All the theatres owned by Desocteaux could be considered second or third run theatres. It was uncommon for any of them to play features that were newer than 4 months old. The houses sometimes shared pictures, and would often receive a film another had played previously. It is interesting to note that I could not detect any sort of hierarchy between the theatres, they all seemed to share their films equally.

The height of Descoteaux’s management in terms of number of theatres was from 1940 to 1943, where he was managing the Globe, Empire and Rex concurrently. During this time it was common for their advertisements to appear in the same column and with similar design in the newspaper. The Rex was promoted the most and usually given the biggest heading, although it didn’t seem that it necessarily played more desirable pictures (Editor’s note, 2016.  More research needed here to confirm).

I like to think that Lucien operated his theatres as a slightly down-market version of the State Operating Company (who operated nearly all the higher end movie palaces in Manchester). Desoteaux (by my estimation) had the largest number of 2nd/3rd run picture houses under his belt at the time. This second run empire of Lucien Descoteaux is one that has largely gone forgotten in the city’s history, but it is a story that I think bears remembrance and further research. Unlike many of the movie palaces that outclassed Descoteaux’s theatres, the majority of his theatres still stand (as of 2006). The Rex and Empire both lived on into the early 90’s, still playing movies nearly half a decade later, while the more opulent theatres of the past either lay dormant or destroyed. To study the exhibition of films in Manchester without placing emphasis on the less appreciated theatres, you are marginalizing the importance of certain kinds of films and certain kinds of people. Largely an immigrant, working class town, not everyone in Manchester could afford the State, Palace or Strand. Second run theatres like the Rex, Empire and Globe were accessible, and while the seats might not have been as comfortable, the movies were just as good.

8 Comments

  1. Phyllis Demers

    I am a writer doing research on my grandfather, Lucien Descoteaux. I have to do most of my work from my home, near Princeton, N.J. I am anxious to touch base with you.

    Thank you. Phyllis Ann Demers
    Granddaughter of Lucien Descoteaux

    Please feel free to call me anytime and I will return your call at my expense. *Numbers removed for privacy*

    Reply
  2. Thomas W. Demers

    To: The “Unbreakable Comb”

    I’d like to express my sincere gratitude for such a wonderful piece of historical research. Over the years I’ve only been told bits and pieces of my grandfather’s history in the theater business in Manchester, NH. Your research related to my grandfather has more than gratified my curiosity
    beyond anything I could have imagined from just a simple mouse click.

    Thank you! Thomas Wilfred Demers

    Grandson of Lucien Descoteaux

    Reply
  3. Howie Howe

    A further comment on the Empire Theater and the chain of small community theaters – The Bruno family owened the Empire Theater,
    and two other second run houses in Manchester, of which only one other building still stands. One of the theaters was located at the corner of Bridge and Main Sts (around where ST. Mary’s bank on the West side is), and the other standing building was last a Chinese Restaurant at the corner of Granite and Second St.

    It was common for this chain to lease three movies, and then move them from theater to theater over the next few weeks. Remember, this chain dates back to 1912, and back then not many owned cars, so they depended on the street cars, which happened to pass in front of all of these.

    By the 1990’s it was almost impossible for any second or third run houses to opeerate – the multiplexes needed many movies for each location, and they woudl hold onto them until they were played out. I rna the Emprie from June 1989 to June 1997, and after six months I had to stop showing movies because even at $500 for the week, charging only $1 to get in, I was lucky to get 100 people for any movie.

    Reply
  4. Jon Hopwood

    When I got out of the Army and moved to San Francisco, there were many second and third run houses still operating in the early 1990s. Neighborhood houses, in neat old buildings, usually with a balcony walled off to make a second theater (which itself could be split in two to make three). They seemed to have all perished by the millennium. You could see a second run feature so much more cheaply, and it was pleasant as the audiences would be sparse (it was the time when audiences were becoming really obnoxious). I guess the sparsity die them in, as well as the rise of the overbuilding of the googoolplex, with its 12 or 16 or 20 screens. To say nothing of the advent of the VCR and later the DVD. With the quality of the DVD coupled with the 1st generation of Hi-Def 32-inch plus TVs in the new millennium, you could create a theater experience in your own home.

    Reply
  5. Janet Demers

    I am lucien descoteaux’s daughter,soon to be 84. I’m not sure all that you have said about my father is accurate and glad that my daughter phyllis has also done reaseah. My father did not come here with family. He came alone. His family all remained in canada

    Reply
    • Chris Reinhardt

      Many thanks Janet, for the comment. Apologies that I got some of your father’s history wrong. I’ve removed the bit about his coming to Manchester with family, and also added a disclaimer to the top of the article.

      Please let me know if anything else i’ve written is inaccurate or should be removed. Thank you again for commenting, I really appreciate it!

      Reply
      • janet demers

        I appreciate all of your research and think it well done

        Reply
        • Chris Reinhardt

          Thank you!

          Reply

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