A family tradition

Christmas doesn't arrive in Augusta until the Bisagno Christmas Movie Saturday. The 82-year-old tradition will continue on Dec. 21 when local kids converge on the Augusta Historic Theatre for the free Christmas movie and a visit from Santa Claus.

Multi-generations of Augustans can remember attending the annual holiday event downtown always sponsored by Augusta's theatre family, the Bisagnos.

D.A. Bisagno and his wife Aline started the free holiday party in 1931 in the old Isis Theater (located just south of the present Augusta Theatre) and in the 1940s, as the crowds grew, the event took place in both theaters. That meant more than 1,500 holiday-excited children watching cartoons and eating candy. When the tradition grew larger than the capacity of both theaters, the Bisagnos decided they needed to establish an age limit for the children attending.

During the 1940s the Bisagnos and the Elks Club combined to make it a bigger party for the Augusta kids. The Elks furnished the candy and the Bisagnos, the theater and movie.

Santa Claus could always be found in the lobby or visiting with children outside the theater.

Robert Bisagno, second generation theater owner and manager, was a big part of the family tradition and spent many years helping out with the annual free Christmas party.

On Nov. 17, 1985, the last movie was shown in the Augusta Theatre under the direction of the Bisagno family. After an amazing 50-year run, the historic Augusta Theatre was sold to the Augusta Arts Council. But the Bisagnos continued to sponsor the Christmas fun for the kids.

Dave and Aline are gone now, as well their son, Robert and his wife, Norma. Robert and Norma's children, David Bisagno and Kay Bisagno Bleakley, and their families make sure the free Christmas movie tradition lives on.

"Kay and I want to continue the sponsorship of this tradition started by our grandparents Dave and Aline over 80 years ago. We feel i'ts very important," Dave advised.

Connie Thurman, Augusta Arts Council Board president said, "The Christmas movie has been, and still is, a very important event for our kids and grandkids. The Bisagno family continues to be very generous in sponsoring this wonderful tradition."

At 10 a.m. Dec. 21 the Augusta Historic Theatre will show G-rated "Polar Express" and there will be a visit from Santa. It's still free.

Belinda Larsen can be reached at blarsen@butlercountytimesgazette.com.