I don’t know what I can write about the historic Texas Theater located at 231 West Jefferson Blvd in Oak Cliff that hasn’t already been said. I don’t know what I can say that will make people give a shit, as most have not given a shit about the theater many times over. My guess is there are two reasons for that. 1: Most people have either never heard of it or have since forgotten it and 2: They’ve never actually been there. I must honestly say that until this weekend, both were true for me. While I advocate the importance of historical buildings all the time, I had never been to this amazing building before. Although I’ve wanted to check it out for a long time, I placed doing so in the far back corner of my mind. Thankfully I was recently reminded of it in a text by a good friend and decided it was finally time to go. Man do I regret waiting so long.
The Texas Theater first opened in 1931 as the first theater in Dallas with air conditioning along with many other state of the art luxuries for the time. Howard Hughes even owned it briefly in the 1930’s and as most people know, the Texas Theater is most famous for being the place where Dallas Police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald (who sat in the fifth seat from the isle in the third to the last row) on November 22nd, 1963 after being accused of killing president John F. Kennedy. After the assassination, Dallas was looking to erase any local attachment to the killing and promptly had the entire interior and exterior of the now infamous theater remodeled. It didn’t take long before advances in technology brought drive-ins followed by multiplexes to movie goers and people slowly began to desert the old theater for other shiny new options. Having held on as long as it could, in the late 80’s the theater was finally forced to close due to declining ticket sales. In an attempt to preserve it in the early 90’s, the building was purchased by the Texas Theater Historical Society. The TTHS even allowed Oliver Stone to in effect restore the facade to the way it was in 1963 for his movie JFK. But as you can imagine, the TTHS doesn’t have a ton of money and with people once again quickly losing interest they weren’t able to keep up the mortgage payments and once again, the theater closed. A former usher turned property developer then purchased it, only to have it severely damaged by fire shortly thereafter and it closed yet again. Facing demolition (this time to make room for a furniture warehouse) another private individual stepped up to save it, but soon his pleas for investors and people to give a shit fell on silent ears and the theater eventually defaulted back to the previous owners. It sat tattered and vacant for many years in the late 90’s and became a popular place for vagrants and varmints to live as well as vandals and weather to continue to destroy. In 2001 the Oak Cliff Foundation purchased the building, started the restoration process and began the search for a permanent tenant. Finally in 2003, the building was added to the National Register of Historical Places. In 2010 Aviation Cinemas Inc. (a company consisting of filmmakers and film industry experts) took over the lease and magic has happened.
The end result of such an ignorant, rocky history is amazing. Once I stepped inside, I felt instantly educated. Standing in this building you can actually feel the history – the good and the bad. You can see all of the hard work, love and care that it took to keep this building alive. There’s genuine class and a gracefulness to this old building that you could never, ever manufacture or find in a modern theater. From the lobby with it’s amazing bright movie poster inspired paintings, to the noble aestheticism of the existing Spanish design, to the theater itself with it’s beautiful not yet opened balcony, to the echo-y acoustics of the huge room, to the clicking of the film running through the projector reverberating through the cavernous, cold auditorium – breathe – this place is simply amazing.
In addition to the amazing space, this is also one of the best damn places to catch an independent film, special 35mm versions of your favorites, rare unedited local screenings, special events or just have a drink, lounge and listen to some BYOVinyl records. Yes… I told you it’s incredible.
So thanks to the very few who knew the potential this building had, the enlightened few who knew the importance of such a place and the few who continue to give support everyone can enjoy this historic work of art – for art -called the Texas Theater.
(photos courtesy of thetexastheatre.com)
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