The Steelworks YMCA Clubhouse & Movie Theater, once located at the corner of East Abriendo and Canal Street, was a popular place for locals to attend silent movies and early entertainment from Hollywood. With the opening of the Steelworks Center of the West CF&I exhibit, they are hosting a Silent Movies revival night July 12, 2019, to give modern day residents of Pueblo a taste of what entertainment would have been like in the day.
They will show three movies that were very popular in the day, including Steamboat Willie (1928), The Boat (1921) and Safety Lost (1923):
STEAMBOAT WILLIE: According to the Museum of Modern Art, Steamboat Willie opened in New York in November of 1928, a date that would become known as Mickey’s birthday. Disney’s Steamboat Willie is a landmark in the history of animation. It was the first Mickey Mouse film released and the first cartoon with synchronized sound. It threw silent animation into obsolescence, and launched an empire. Previously, there had been little to distinguish Disney’s cartoons from those of his competitors.
He was facing bankruptcy when Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer, with long sequences of song and dialogue, took America by storm in 1927. Sensing that sound movies meant big business, Disney decided to stake all on his talking mouse. Critics came to see in Mickey Mouse a blend of Charlie Chaplin in his championing of the underdog, Douglas Fairbanks in his rascally adventurous spirit, and Fred Astaire in his grace and freedom from gravity’s laws.
THE BOAT: In this silent movie classic, hero Buster Keaton completes a hand-made boat named “Damfino” in his basement and is eager to get it out and onto the water and enjoy it with his family. Unfortunately, the boat is too large to get out of the basement and the ensuing efforts to get the boat out of the basement result in the collapse of his family home. With the boat finally out, our hero takes it down to the water and sets sail, only to have it sink.
The movie follows his and his family throw the Venice, California canals, to the Pacific Ocean, where the boat I barely seaworthy. During a storm, he radios a Morse Code call for help, but when the navy or coast guard operator asks who it is, he answers, “d-a-m-f-i-n-o” (in Morse Code). Finally the family realized they are in two feet deep water at a deserted beach and the family escapes to where? Buster said, ‘Damn if I know’ (mouthing the words to the camera, no intertitle is used).”
SAFETY LAST: This 1923 American silent romantic comedy film starring Harold Lloyd. It includes one of the most famous images from the silent film era: Lloyd clutching the hands of a large clock as he dangles from the outside of a skyscraper above moving traffic. The film was highly successful and critically hailed, and it cemented Lloyd’s status as a major figure in early motion pictures. The film’s title is a play on the common expression, “safety first”, which places safety as the priority to avoid accidents, especially at workplaces. Lloyd performed some of the climbing stunts himself.”
Watching movies at the Steelworks YMCA (a partnership between CF&I and the YMCA) was just one of many popular activities in the day for CF&I employees and their families. According to the Steelworks website website, the building opened in March of 1920 with a cafeteria, library, eight-lane bowling alley, barber shop, movie-theater, women’s department, reading room, and auditorium for lectures and theatrical performances. Social dances were also offered on a regular basis.
Physical activities included groups playing basketball, billiards, boxing, wrestling, gymnastics, tennis and volleyball. Classroom space was also available to those employees and their families wishing to learn a new trade or take up a hobby. Lessons for children included tap dancing, ping pong, and lessons in how to play the harmonica.
Forced into receivership along with other CF&I operations in 1933, the YMCA closed its doors to all programs including its swimming pool and a “pay when you work” membership drive began in an attempt for the facility to be self-supporting. The membership program was not a financial success, despite having 28 -33% of the payroll as members.
In 1950, CF&I closed the Steelworks YMCA due to the lack of funds to maintain the facility. In 1955, a local resident purchased the building and renamed it the Pueblo Athletic Club where he proposed flying lessons, hunting and fishing trips and boxing matches. Plans to use the building fell through and the building was seized for back taxes. In 1963, the building’s ownership reverted back to CF&I, and the building was razed (demolished) that December.
The silent movie night, shown in collaboration with the Steelworks YMCA exhibit, “CF&I At Play” currently at the Steelworks Museum, is Friday, July 12, 2019 from 7pm-9pm at the Steelworks Museum Community Room, 215 Canal Street. Cost is $6 per person/ 10% off for members, $20 for family of four. Popcorn, drinks and snacks will be available for purchase. You can RSVP to Victoria Miller, 719-564-9086 Ext. 108.
Photos – The Steelworks YMCA building, Mickey Mouse, Buster Keaton and Sybil Seely in the Boat, the iconic shot of Lloyd hanging from the clock.
Story compiled by Jenny Paulson, with information direct from Wikipedia, MoMa. and Steelworks.