The above image is how Austin's Palmer Auditorium used to look. The domed building (which looked like a grounded flying saucer), sat on the shores of Town Lake for many years and hosted hundreds of events. When I was in elementary school, school kids from all over town were bused to the auditorium to enjoy performances by the Austin Symphony Orchestra. I saw my first rock n' roll concert (Steppenwolf) there in the early '70s. My high school graduation ceremony (Austin High School, class of 1974) was held there. In college, I saw one-hit wonder flash-in-the pan pop star Gino Vanelli there. You get the idea.
A few years ago the property underwent a radical transformation and was reborn as the Long Center for the Performing Arts. It's a fabulous facility and I've enjoyed several events there including screenings of silent film classics METROPOLIS and THE MARK OF ZORRO (with Douglas Fairbanks). The Long Center is also home to my beloved wife Judy's Pollyanna Theatre Company and all of Pollyanna's productions are staged in the Rollins Studio Theatre, a smaller, more intimate venue located on the lower level of the building. The Rollins Studio Theatre occupies the space that was once the basement of Palmer Auditorium and whenever I attend a Pollyanna show, I can't help but think of the many hours I spent in that exact same space over the years.
The basement (or as I liked to call it, the "bowels") of Palmer Auditorium was home for many years for the Austin Collector's Exposition, a two-day affair held three times a year which featured dealers and collectors of all sorts of pop culture memorabilia: comic books, sports cards, movie posters, toys, books, etc. Bill and Sally Wallace were the local entrepreneurs who ran the event and it thrived for many years during the '80s and '90s.
I was a regular participant in the ACE shows. I paid my money for a table and carted several long boxes full of comic books down there for two-days of selling and deal making. I usually did well enough to cover the cost of my table and make a small profit. Of course, whatever money I made was usually spent on the spot for some other desirable collectible. I often traded with other dealers, many of whom I got to know quite well.
I was accompanied on many of these forays into comic book dealing by my longtime friend Bob Parker. He would usually bring enough stuff from his collection to cover about a quarter of the table (for which he paid me). Bob was good company and we had a good time but over the years he sold less and less of his somewhat obscure material. I remember one year, he didn't make a sale until Sunday morning!
Over the years I saw the same dealers selling the same stuff to the same group of hardcore collectors. It seemed like all of this stuff was just being endlessly recycled from one guy's basement to someone else's attic. And over the years, I saw less people come through the door and I realized less of a return on my investment.
It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Internet (specifically eBay) was rapidly and radically changing the way commerce in collectibles was conducted. At an ACE show, I could only get the price I was asking for any given book, a discounted price or a straight up trade. On eBay in an auction format selling platform, I could get my asking price or higher, depending upon how many bids my item received. Plus, I had to devote three entire days to the event. Set-up was on Fridays and we were open all day on Saturday and Sunday. It made for a long, exhausting weekend. Fun? Yes, to some extent, but not exactly profitable over time.
I threw in the towel in 1996 which oddly enough, was several years before I started selling stuff on eBay. I just couldn't justify the expense and investment of time and energy any longer. ACE hung in there for several more years. It eventually moved upstairs to the larger Palmer Auditorium space but was forced to find a new home when Palmer was closed and the renovation process began. ACE was at the Virginia College building on Hwy 290 for a few years and the last one I went to was at an empty Sam's Club building on North Lamar. I don't know when ACE officially pulled the plug but there hasn't been one in years. Even though I didn't participate in the shows as a dealer, I still attended as many ACE shows as I could. It was a lot more fun to go as a customer. I could pay my money, spend as much or as little time as I wanted, buy some comics and leave. I wasn't trapped in the bowels of Palmer Auditorium for a long, long weekend.
Nonetheless, every time I see a Pollyanna Theatre performance in that space, I can't help but think of how it used to look and those long gone days of comic book buying, selling and trading. The people watching was always first rate, I made some good friends and there was always a ton of cool stuff to look at. Those were the days.