Greek Epic: The Latchis Family and the New England Theater Empire They Built by Gordon Hayward tells the story of the Greek immigrant Demetrios Latsis (changed via immigration officer misspelling to Latchis) and the four generations of the family.
Like many Greeks who came to America in the early part of the 20th Century, Demetrios left his wife and children back home in search of work. He started out as a peddler with a fruit cart and eventually built a business and brought his family to settle in the US.
The family history is an inspiring success story. The Latchis family making a name for itself opening movie theaters in New England. More than a dozen cinema marquees were owned by the family.
Today, the Brattleboro, VT Latchis Memorial Building is a testament to the legacy of the four generations of this Greek-American family.
The Art Deco hotel and cinema with four screens is now owned by the nonprofit organization, Latchis Arts which bought the building in 2003.
Hayward wrote in the introduction to the nonfiction book, “This book happens to be about one Greek family, but it is a story written millions of times over all across America in the lives of immigrant families.”
Though not every immigrant family is as successful as the Latchis and their chain of 14 cinemas in three states – Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.
Hayward noted that it was the Latchis children who encouraged Demetrios, then running a successful store on Main Street, to diversify. Their first movie theater opened in 1920, showing the Douglas Fairbanks silent film When Clouds Roll By. Talkies were shown in 1927.
Born in 1864 in Kastanitsa, Greece, Demetrios could never have achieved the level of success he did had he stayed at home.
In fact, the village was only connected to electricity in the 1970’s, around forty years after Demetrios’ death in 1932. In honor of his memory, his children built up an entire block of Brattleboro.
With a hotel, restaurant, stores, and a movie theater with a 1,200-seat capacity, the “town within a town” as described in contemporary ads, was ahead of its time.
The theater featured decorations based on Greek mythology in hand-painted murals and a ceiling painted to resemble a starry night sky.
It opened the day after a hurricane, September 22, 1938, illustrating the family’s dedication that the show must go on.
The booming movie business of the Depression and World War II years began to fade with the arrival of TV and eventually all the Latchis movie theaters would be sold.
The last to go was the Brattleboro theater preserved by Demetrios’ great-grandson Spero Latchis until 2003 when the Latchis Arts organization purchased the building.
The recent history of the building as it underwent renovations could be a movie itself. A tractor-trailer crash into the marquee, and flooding from Tropical Storm Irene led to six weeks of cleanup and repairs.
Renovations began in 2013 and as Hayward observed the community support was essential to keeping the beloved theater open.
A book launch was held on October 15 at the Brattleboro Literary Festival at 10 AM at the Latchis, which served family-made baklava and locally-produced Greek yogurt. More information is available at latchisarts.org.