By Susan Rittereiser
The Aquarius IV, built and owned by Trans-Texas Theaters, Inc., was Austin’s first four-plex theater. Located at 1500 Pleasant Valley Road in southeast Austin, the theater’s grand opening was on May 31, 1973. Double screen theaters had begun cropping up throughout the country (including Austin) during the 1960s to compete with dwindling ticket sales due to television and the flight of city dwellers to newly established suburban neighborhoods. The four-plex theater pushed the double-screen theater concept one step further. It 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. The Aquarius included four separate theaters under a single roof—two 250-seat theaters, a 500-seat theater and a 700-seat theater for a total combined seating capacity of 1,700 seats. Customers could purchase tickets for any one of the four theaters at an inside box office. The opening films were Fiddler on the Roof, Slither, The Legend of Boggy Creek and Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies.
The theater lobby was graced by an eight-foot by eight-foot mural of the Aquarius painted by Austin artist Richard Manz. (AR.2012.004(038). The individual pictured in the center of this photograph is Bob Bru, new manager of the Aquarius 4. Bru was originally manager of Trans Texas’ much-beloved Allandale neighborhood theater, the Americana (now home to Austin Public Library’s Yarborough branch). The other individuals in this photograph are unidentified.
According to Lena Podolnick, who co-owned and operated Trans-Texas Theaters, Inc., along with her husband Earl, the Southeast Austin location was chosen because of the “tremendous growth” at the time along East Riverside Drive and its accessibility to the IH-35 freeway. Lena also told the Austin American-Statesman that she picked the name “Aquarius” as a tribute to Earl and his zodiac sign, Aquarius. The sign of the water bearer, among other things, symbolized progressive or forward thinking, which was representative of the new theater itself and, to her, one of her husband’s greatest attributes. It also made sense given the theater’s proximity to Lady Bird Lake (then called “Town Lake”). The theater closed in 1996 and became a mini-mall, El Gran Mercado, until 2016, when the building was demolished.