BREMERTON — As moviegoers prepare to file into the newly-restored Roxy Theatre for the first time in decades, many long-timers can't help but think of "Cabbie."
No one spent more time at the one-screen movie-house on Fourth Street than Clarence Anton Baur, initials C.A.B. — hence the nickname. As the theater's manager for 40 years, Baur kept meticulous watch over the Roxy, often perched at its front door in suit and tie.
The theater, which has been mostly closed for 30 years and fell into disrepair before its purchase in 2015 by local developers, reopens Friday night with a sold-out showing of "The Greatest Showman" at 7 p.m. It's part of a special Kitsap Sun Story Walk celebrating the theater's history.
Baur was involved with much of that history.
He maintained a level of class within the theater to match its "Streamline Moderne" art deco facade. Fresh flowers greeted customers within its opulent lobby. Ushers, armed with flashlights and dressed in stewardess-like uniforms, whisked moviegoers to and from seats. Lemon custard ice cream, the Roxy's signature flavor, flowed from the concession stand, along with the smell of popcorn and butter — real Dairygold butter, not the fake stuff Baur resisted until the day he retired.
Baur came to the Roxy to manage it not long after “The Devil and Miss Jones,” featuring Jean Arthur, opened on May 31, 1941.
Alma Bockelie was a young teenager at the time. She recalls lines around the block, vivifying Fourth Street.
"When the Roxy came into being, it was like everything came to life around there," she said.
A movie then was an experience, start to finish, on a screen that rarely stopped running. First, an ad from Bremer's or J.C. Penney's, perhaps, followed by a news reel, comics and previews of other films.
Bremerton in the 1940s had numerous theaters — The Tower down the street, The Rex and Rialto on Second Street, The Grand on Callow Avenue. The Admiral Theater joined them in 1942.
The tall and slender Baur kept a tight ship. He watched employees closely and troublemakers were dispatched from the theater, no questions asked.
"There was no nonsense with him," recalled Connie Baker-Saunders, who worked the box office in the mid-1970s at $1.90 an hour. "If I was out of balance (with finances), it was a big problem."
Those who got to know him best saw a softer side.
The Roxy was a place where many romances began, including Baur's. At the theater's Christmas party one year, after midnight, an impromptu game of "spin the bottle" was played.
It was no secret Cabbie had a crush on an employee named Lillian. The bottle stopped on Baur.
"He gave me a kiss like I've never had since," Lillian says proudly. The couple was inseparable from then on.
More love stories followed. Wayne Nelson, who started working there in in 1966, was smitten a few years later by a girl named Barb working the snack bar.
He was "immediately taken by her bright eyes and beautiful smile.
"She just exuded happiness," said Nelson, who asked her on a date. They have been married nearly 48 years.
The studios would bust out promotions for the big movies at the Roxy when Baur ran it: a towering rocket in front of the theater for a biopic of scientist Wernher von Braun; costumed knights for "Ivanhoe," a medieval England epic in technicolor; a fawn for the premier of "Bambi."
When Baur would head off to work at the theater on holidays, he'd often think of the sailors.
"'They might not have a family,'" Lillian recalls him saying. "'But they'll always have the movies.'"
Toward the end of his run, Baur resisted films he felt were too violence or raunchy to play on the big screen.
"I quit at just the right time," in 1981, he would frequently tell Lillian in retirement.
The Roxy closed in 1988, when its owner, Portland-based Luxury Theaters, stopped turning a profit. There was also the matter of a roof that partially collapsed roof following a deluge one night.
Several attempts were made to revive it. Calvary Chapel bought it for $125,000 in 1999, but it fell into foreclosure in 2012.
Three years later, a developer took a chance on it. Bremerton's Sound West Group bought the theater, along with much of the surrounding block for residential redevelopment. The company's homegrown executives were nostalgic about the building, but they also felt it could bolster the chances of bringing the block back to life.
“It’s one of the most amazing assets in all of downtown Bremerton,” Sound West Group Principal Wes Larson said of the Roxy. “I think it’s got a lot of potential.”
Since then, $1 million has gone into the theater, including refurbishment of its interior, new marquees, screen and sound system.
Among the theater's most precious artifacts: a 6-by-23-foot photographic mural of the Navy's Pacific fleet, taken in 1908 by legendary local photographer Asahel Curtis. The mural, a few steps below the theatre's foyer behind the Roxy's concession stand, is now protected by Plexiglas.
Sound West Group helped establish the Roxy Bremerton Foundation to guide the theatre's future. Bainbridge Island-based Far Away Entertainment, which runs several other area theaters, will run movies there and the nearby Admiral Theatre will book live shows.
Michael Goodnow, president of the Downtown Bremerton Association and a city councilman, has been hired as its manager. He's just getting moved in to the same office Cabbie Baur occupied for four decades.
Goodnow sees the Roxy, like Bremerton, as the story of a comeback.
"They have endured," he said, "and are more than ready for their next act.”
Goodnow would like to place an homage to Baur somewhere within the 77-year-old theater. Nothing yet has been set.
"He'd love to know that it's coming back," Lillian Baur said of her husband. "He loved that Roxy Theatre. He was proud of it."