Trans-Texas Theaters, Inc. Papers
An Inventory to the Collection
Trans-Texas Theaters, Inc was formed in 1952 by Louis Novy, his son, Harold Novy, his daughter Lena (Novy) Podolnick and his son-in-law, Earl Podolnick. Novy, a Russian immigrant who moved to Austin in 1917, was the former manager of Interstate Theater Corporation's (ITC) Austin-based theaters. Founded by Karl Hoblizelle of Dallas in 1905, ITC originally managed vaudeville acts and theaters. In 1930, Hoblizelle sold the company to RKO/Paramount, but when they went into bankruptcy in 1933, he bought the theater holdings out of foreclosure and restarted the ITC as a movie theater company. By the mid-1940s, ITC owned many movie theaters throughout the state including nearly all of Austin's including the Paramount, the Capitol, the Queen, the State, the Varsity, and the Austin. The monopoly was broken in 1948, when the Supreme Court (United States v Paramount) ruled that movie producers could no longer control the distribution and exhibition of their motion pictures. As a result, ITC was forced to sell many of its theater holdings. In 1952, the newly formed Trans-Texas acquired the Queen and the Texas Theaters. One year later, it added the Capitol. Other early acquisitions included the Chief and Burnet Drive Ins. Following the death of Louis Novy in 1958, Harold "Buster" Novy took over as president until his death in 1960. At that time, Earl Podolnick took over the company and continued operations until 1979, when it was sold to American Multi Cinema (AMC). The Podolnicks retained ownership of the properties. Trans-Texas also operated theaters in Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Wichita Falls, and Fort Worth. At its height, the company owned and operated fifteen theaters across the state.
New Theater Constructions
During the 1960s and 70s, the Podolnick's Trans-Texas was responsible for blazing the trail with several theater "firsts" in the Austin community. The city saw its first new movie theater open in nearly 30 years with The Americana, which had its grand opening on April 28, 1965. "Rounders," starring Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda, was the premiere opening movie. This was the first new construction for the Trans-Texas Theater chain in Austin. It was the only theater in Austin to boast "Airflow Rocking Chair Loge" seats. a 6-channel stereo sound system and a curved screen for better viewing. Hundreds came out for the premiere opening. Shortly after opening, the Americana was selected as the site for the state premier of Columbia's "Cat Ballou" starring Jane Fonda and Nat King Cole. The American closed on April 5, 1987, when AMC decided to not renew its lease with the Podolnicks. The reasoning behind their decision was "that you can't have one theater with one movie when there are multiple runs all over town." The Americana was the last single screen theater when it closed. The building reopened as the Yarborough Branch Public Library in January, 1999.
The Southwood, another Trans-Texas project, opened on February 17, 1967, on Ben White Blvd in the new Southwood Shopping Center. This was the first theater built in south Austin since the Austin Theater in 1939. It was designed by Leon Chandler and very similar in appearance to the Americana. It was a first-run theater with 1000 seats. The theater also had a stage in front of the screen to accommodate live performances. The interior accommodations boasted "the most modern of theaters," and the exterior construction included the unique 12-inch square ceramic tile walls. "Monkeys go Home," starring Maurice Chevalier, was the first film shown.
The city's first four-plex, the Aquarious 4, was introduced in 1971 as a "revolutionary concept in motion picture exhibition" by the Austin American-Statesman, a full two years before its grand opening. Located in southeast Austin at 1500 Pleasant Valley Road, it was designed by Earl J. Nesbitt, Jr. and boasted Austin's first fully automated projection booth. A large painting of Aquarius by Austin artist Richard Manz graced the lobby. It opened in 1973 with the double billing "Slither" starring James Caan and "Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies." The Aquarius closed in 1996 and later reopened as a mini-mall, the El Gran Mercado.
Louis Novy, or Leaser Nowordworski, (b. March 12, 1891) was an immigrant from Blakystock, Russia (now a part of Poland). In 1912, he arrived in Galveston with little money in his pocket and unable to speak English. During the oil boom in Ranger, Texas, he and his brother built a theater that was successful enough to encourage him to pursue theater management as a career. He came to Austin in 1917, and in 1919 became the manager of the Hancock Opera House. When Karl Hoblitzelle of Dallas resurrected the ITC to manage theaters across the state, Novy, a friend of Hoblitzelle's, was named the manager of the ITC's Austin operations. His son Harold Cyril "Buster" also worked for the ITC, becoming manager of the Capitol in the 1940s. Novy was known for always lending money to soldiers stationed near Austin. Novy was awarded a war finance silver medal by the United States Treasury War Finance Committee in recognition that the Paramount Theater had sold 8.4 million war bonds between the years 1942-1945. He died August 5, 1958.
Earl and Lena (Novy) Podolnick
A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Earl Podolnick (b. February 8, 1916) graduated from UCLA with a business degree in 1938. He met Lena Novy (b. August 9, 1917) while both were students at UCLA in 1936. They married in 1940. His father-in-law, Louis Novy, convinced the couple to relocate from Los Angeles to Austin where Novy was manager of ITC's Austin-based operations. In Austin, Earl's first job was as an assistant manager for the State and the Queen Theaters. Four months later, he was managing the Capitol Theater, as well. He served in the US Navy from 1943-1946 as a radar and communications officer aboard the USS Hughes. Earl and Lena had three children, Blossum (b.1943), Marina (b. 1949) and Jay (b. 1952). In 1952, he and Lena, along with Lena's father Louis and her brother, Harold "Buster" Novy, formed Trans Texas-Theaters. Earl served as the company's first vice president. Following the death of Louis in 1958 (the company's first president) and Harold "Buster" Novy in 1960 (the company's second president), Earl and Lena assumed full ownership of the company. Together, they reorganized it and renovated all of the theaters. They were known for working very closely together as a team. They were both also quite active in the community. The couple participated in a variety of civic organizations. Earl served as president of the 20/30 Club, Austin's United Fund, and the Texas Drive-In Theaters Owners Association. He also served in the Advisory Board of Seton Medical Center, as well as boards for the First Texas Film Commission, the UT School of Communications and Temple Beth Israel. He was a 32nd degree Mason. Lena worked actively for the Heart Fund and the March of Dimes. She also belonged to the Sisterhood of Temple Beth Israel and was a board member for Hadassah, an organization in support of the Hadassah Medical Center at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Other memberships included the Texas Women's Federation and the Perry Club for Girls. Earl Podolnick died on November 15, 1992. Lena died eleven years later on May 18, 2003.
In 1997, members of the Allandale Neighborhood Association along with former council member Brigid Shea and local celebrity Cactus Pryor unsuccessfully petitioned The Library Commission and the Austin City Council to name of the Yarborough Library Branch, formally the Americana Theater, the Podolnick-Americana Library in honor of Earl and his many outstanding civic contributions. The branch, which opened in January, 1999, was named for the U.S. Senator from Texas, Ralph W. Yarborough.
The collection is composed of 209 digitized items - photographs, clippings, printed material and correspondence spanning the years 1937-1976. Items were scanned and grouped into folders either by subject or format. Approximately half of the collection is derived from loose, unorganized items stored in a scrapbook (110 images, 1951-1976) and include photographs, news clippings (articles and advertisements), printed material (programs, tickets, invitations) and a very small amount of correspondence. There are a number of photographs depicting grand opening events for The Americana, Southwood and Aquarious 4 theaters, grouped in folders by theater name. The Novy folder contains 18 images, mostly photographs, related to Louis Novy during his years as manager for Interstate Theater Corporation's Austin-based operations. The majority of these were taken during the 1940s and depict various group and publicity stills from events such as the premiere of It's A Joke Son, which took place at the Paramount Theater in 1947. Novy, locally known for his support of U.S. troops, was involved in various fund raising campaigns during World War II. The folder also contains an award for "Patriotic Cooperation" dated July 2, 1945, given to Novy by the U.S. Treasury Department's War Finance Program. Clippings, 6 images, contains a scanned cover Motion Picture Exhibitor Magazine, dated February, 26, 1964, which features Earl Podolnick, who had recently been elected President of the Texas Drive-In Theater Owners Association. There is also an article from the September 7, 1964 issue of Box Office Magazine which covers the 17th anniversary of the newly renovated Chief Drive-In Theater. Scrapbook contains 110 photographs and printed programs related to the Podolnicks' attendance at conventions held in Dallas for the Texas Drive-In Theater Association, which Earl was elected president of in 1964. There is an assortment of articles, advertisements and photographs related to the construction, ground-breaking and grand opening of the Aquarius 4 Theater, which took place in May, 1973. Other material includes photographs for opening events of the Americana and the Southwood theaters. There is also a small number of photographs and clippings from the 1940s related to Louis Novy and an April 16, 1972 article from the Austin American-Statesman in which veteran projectionists discussed the history of the local movie business. The Podolnicks contains 6 images of various photographs of Earl and Lena spanning the 1960s through the 1980s and include a couple taken with celebrities Bette Davis and Walt Disney during the 1960s.
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Trans-Texas Theaters, Inc Papers (AR.2012.004). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donor #: DO/2012/007
Donation Date: February 12, 2012
The collection was initially acquired for display in the Austin History Center exhibition: The First Pictures Shows: Historic Austin Movie Houses which ran from March-August, 2012.
Material was received with no original order including material loosely housed between pages of a scrapbook. All original items were scanned and returned to the donor, Jay Podolnick, son of Earl and Lena Podolnick.
Finding aid created and encoded by Susan Rittereiser in December, 2012. Updated by Susan Rittereiser, April, 2017.
Detailed Description of the Collection
Digital scans (jpegs) may be accessed on DVD (Digital Collections Box) in the Reading Room. Original high (tif) and low resolution (jpeg) scans are located on the shared drive at: N:\Archives\Archival Collections\AR.2012.004