Comments from dallasmovietheaters

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dallasmovietheaters commented about Lucas Theatre on Oct 1, 2013 at 9:12 am

It’s hard to imagine a more unsuccessful theater in Dallas' history than the Lucas Theater. Roy Lumpkin opened his first theater with 700 seats with crying room for babies. Its first film was “Leave Her to Heaven” on Monday and Tuesday May 13/4, 1946. (The first showing was private and the second open to the public.) Lumpkin couldn’t find an audience and within a year, the theater was in the hands of Bill McLemore. McLemore then sold it to Arcadia owner P.G. Cameron for $100,000 including three lots adjoining the property. Cameron reportedly expanded the number of seats and brought his son in to manage the theater. That wasn’t the right formula for the theater.

In June of 1948, a new operator, L.R. Robertson, installed an air conditioning system and remodeled the theater with neon lighting and murals painted by Don Vogel. The remodeling didn’t help as the Lucas was sold to Columbia Pictures' veterans L.A. Couch and A.M. Witcher who took on the theater In January 1949. The theater stumbled and was closed briefly that Fall. It was taken over by the Coronet’s Alfred Sack. The Coronet was doing so well with a combination of revival and art films that it decided to rebrand the Lucas as a revival house called the Encore Theater. It opened it on November 24, 1949 with “Rebecca.”

Even with the master showman Sack at the helm and Judy Garland’s mom brought in by Sack to manage the theater, they were unable to turn around the theater. The Encore was sold to G.L. and J.W. Griffin who took on the theater that summer. The Encore was a dud as the theater closed after its double feature of “That Midnight Kiss” and “Dear Brat” on Oct. 10, 1951 with a promise of repairs that would find the theater open soon. However, padlocks on the door and notices of a Constable’s Sale told a markedly different story. It was auctioned off, seats, equipment, and all by auction Feb. 5, 1952. Hammond Coffman was the winner of the Encore and announced it would re-open for business in March of 1952 with cowboy pictures and renamed as The Western. This doesn’t appear to have transpired as by November, Coffman had converted the theater into a sound stage and created the Coffman Film Company. KERA investigated the property as a potential studio in 1960. The property then became MPI Studios, followed by the St. Clair Talent Agency and then a long run as the Spectro Photo Lab.

In just five years, this theater had two names with plans for a third, seven owners, two air handling systems, and never found a consistent audience. One of the Dallas' least treasured and most unsuccessful movie theaters of all time was quickly put out of its suffering as a film exhibition location.

dallasmovietheaters commented about Capitan Theatre on Sep 30, 2013 at 10:58 pm

The picture of the Capitan Theater is from March 21, 1953 when the theater went to art films including foreign films and revivals. The large theater was run by Lewis and Susman with a capacity of 1,150 seats. The theater at the corner of Henderson and Capitol opened August 23, 1946 with “Do You Love Me?” Within six months of the theater’s opening, a high profile murder case occurred when a man was murdered when he was seated by his ex-wife by his ex-wife’s current husband.

The Capitan changed managers from Lee Roy Ball to William Lewis in 1948 as it tried to find its footing and relied heavily in matinee bookings on children’s and family fare. With theatrical tastes changing and general box office woes plaguing theaters all over the country, the Capitan rolled the dice and became an art house on March 21, 1953. Another innovation was that the theater banished popcorn from the concession stand and switched to higher end chocolate. The first film was a sell-out but competition for the art house especially the Varsity/Fine Arts in University Park and the Coronet in Dallas dogged the Capitan as the art concept faltered badly.

Less than a year into the art run, William Lewis resigned from the theater on January 6, 1954. The Capitan closed less than two years into the art concept on January 1, 1955. Not quite nine years was all the theatrical life of the property as it was converted for other purposes.

The building was sold to Charles Weisenburg who converted the property into the rather unique Capitan Bowling Center which opened on March 1956. The unique space of the theater allowed for two floors of bowling, each with ten lanes. Neighbors protested the lanes when it went 24 hours in 1958 demanding soundproofing and greatly reduced hours of operation. A bowling alley boom overpopulated the city of Dallas and in December of 1962, Weisenburg shuttered both the Capitan Bowling Center and the Industrial Lanes. The oldest lanes in the city, Hap Morse Lanes and Mickey Mantle’s Lanes also closed. Weisenburg closed the lanes and sold the building.

dallasmovietheaters commented about Century Theater on Sep 29, 2013 at 9:30 pm

The Century Theater was built as a cinema for African American audiences. It’s listed at both 2300 and 2302 Metropolitan as it took up multiple lots. The $45,000 theater’s architect was W. Scott Dunne of the Melba, Texas, and many others, and owned by Palace Realty. Construction began in 1937. A fire July 9, 1941 closed the theater for a period of time. The theater re-opened in 1952 and closed thereafter.

dallasmovietheaters commented about Stevens Theater on Sep 29, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Scheduled to be built in 1941/2, the theatre was delayed in part by WW2. The $100,000 Oak Cliff theater became Robb and Rowley (R&R) Circuit’s first post-war theater. Originally scheduled to be nestled in a triangular tract just off of Stevens Park at Colorado and Hampton, the delayed project moved just to the north to 2007 Fort Worth Avenue. Corgan and Moore as the architects. It opened January 24, 1946 with Shirley Temple’s “Kiss and Tell.” R&R was ambitious positioning the Stevens as the first run house and moving its Texas to second-run status. That move proved to be unsuccessful.

The Stevens was demoted from first run to second run then dropping matinees as the theater struggled to find its audience. R&R closed the theater January 18, 1958 following a double feature of Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Land Unknown just a week shy of its 12th anniversary. Second life for the theater occurred that summer when two teenagers — Gary Gilliand and Don Shaw Jr. — reopened the theater July of 1958 for a short period. Another life came for the theater with a new manager in 1960. The Stevens closed yet again but found its niche when it reopened in 1961 by Manuel Avila who successfully rebranded it as a Hispanic theater with both film and occasional live Latin variety shows.

During the film licensing era, the Stevens ran into some problems in the early 1960s with the Dallas Movie Classification Board for running many films without submitting them for classification. The board got a Spanish speaking member aboard to help move the process along. When the Teatro Panamericano changed its name and tried to go upscale catering to a new audience, the Stevens surged in Dallas with Hispanic audiences. Avila continued to bring Hispanic films to the area for more than two decades including both subtitled American films such as Vaselina (Grease) and a heavy slate of imported films as the theater continued into the 1980s.

Avila was honored with a group of Mexican American business owners in 1985 by the Mexican America Legal Defense and Educational Fund for his contributions to the city of Dallas for then nearly 25 years of operation. And he sponsored a Stevens Theater baseball team. The theater finally closed after more than four decades and has since been demolished.

dallasmovietheaters commented about White Theatre on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:35 am

The White Theater opened to the public for business January 6, 1934 showing “Saturday’s Millions”. Operated by M.S. White, the original owner of the Dal-Sec, the theater opened with seating for 1,000 patrons. The theater was at 2720 Forest Avenue at the corner of Forest Ave. and Oakland (which would be now MLK Blvd. at Malcolm X Blvd.) and served as a neighborhood second-run house. The Dallas Morning News described the White clientele as the “crossroads of Dallas where toughie and gentleman, gentile and Jew, mingle in harmony in sort of community center.” By the end of the theater’s 21-year run, “toughies” had the upper hand and “harmony” was clearly gone as the theater’s descent was rapid and crime-ridden.

White’s operation of the White was not quite two years as on August 31, 1935, Interstate Circuit bought the White, Forest and Dal-Sec. Interstate opened “In Caliente” as its first show with Joseph Luckett moving from the Melrose to manage the White Theater. Luckett inaugurated midnight shows every Saturday beginning in 1938, experimented with an all-Yiddish film and had live stage shows as added attractions on weekends. His connection with the neighborhood and family night offerings led people to call him simply, “Uncle Joe” as he ran the theater into his 80s up to Interstate’s selling of the theater. (“Uncle Joe” would also manage the Forest Theater in 1949 along with continuing his duties at the White and retired at the Forest at age 87.)

On August 27, 1952, Interstate sold the White to A.J. Vineyard who had a four-day celebration and would also celebrate the 20th anniversary of the theater in the summer of 1954. The celebration would be the last festive event for the White. Multiple armed robberies at the neighboring liquor store had to have taken their toll as Vineyard, himself, was a victim of one of the liquor store robberies. The theater, itself, also was robbed at the box office. So it’s not surprising that Vineyard left the White Theater’s high crime rate area almost immediately after the anniversary celebration and he bought the Trinity Theater rebranding it as the Ewing Theater in August of 1954.

W.M. Burns took on the theater and – under the White Theater nameplate – it ended badly with negative publicity when an 8-year old was locked in the theater overnight and was injured trying to escape. Burns attempted to rebrand the theater as the Elite Theater catering to African American audiences starting in July 1955. Almost immediately, labor protests appear to be the death knell for the short-lived Elite Theater as union protestors picketed at its outset. The Elite Theater also held African American church services at the property under Burns leadership through December 1955 which appears to be the end of the theater’s life. In 1956, the property became split up using the marquee for the Elite Restaurant and another section used for a pawn shop. The Elite was renamed the Seashore Restaurant a decade later. The property was offered for sale in 1965, apparently sold, demolished, and appears on the DCAD in the 2010s as 2720 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. — a vacant lot worth less than $20,000.

In sum, the White/Elite Theater staggered to its ending at just 21 years yet — due to the declining neighborhood fortunes — even that was about a year or two longer than it should have been operating.

dallasmovietheaters commented about Dal-Sec Theater on Sep 25, 2013 at 9:27 am

The Dal-Sec Theater was in the Second Avenue business district at the corner Dallas Street adjoining Fair Park nicknamed Dal-Sec by some locals. Its design was by architect W. Scott Dunne who designed Dallas' Interstate Circuit properties Melba and Arcadia, as well as the Dal-Sec’s nearby neighbor, the Fair Park Amphitheater and the venerable Texas Theater in Oak Cliff. The Dal-Sec was run by M.S. White who also opened The White Theater at Forest and Oakland. The Dal-Sec became part of Karl Hoblitzelle’s circuit on August 31, 1935 when Interstate bought the Dal-Sec, White, and Forest theaters. The Dal-Sec remained an Interstate property until April 1951 and was a second run neighborhood house. It would then be operated by Howard Hiegel who seemingly ran no advertisements but kept the theater going until 1969. The theater’s demolition was part of the Fair Park area expansion in the late 1960s and into 1970 as the city tried to increase parking around Fair Park.

Arguably, the Dal-Sec’s main claim to fame was that it becomes a peripheral party in two legal battles, one of which altered the film industry. A 50-50 merger between Hoblitizelle and Paramount placed the Dal-Sec and many others in the Hoblitzell and R.J. O'Donnell portfolio within the Interstate Theatre Circuit in 1933. Business practices between the exhibition arm half-owned by Paramount and the production/distribution of Paramount films was closely scrutinized.

The U.S. v. Interstate Circuit (1937) challenged Interstate’s practice of controlling admission prices and the exhibition of second-run features in second-run houses including the Dal-Sec. But the more important case came a decade later in Edelman v. Paramount, a legal challenge that was brought in the courts, and a Justice Department investigation U.S. v. Paramount that led to the famous consent decree in which Paramount agreed to to separate itself from domestic theater exhibition selling out joint ventures such as Interstate and Publix. Only the Dal-Sec and Varsity were ultimately targeted within Dallas for dispersal within the reformulated, post-Paramount decision Interstate Circuit. Those properties had to be excised within three years of the 1948 decree.

The Dal-Sec was sold to Howard Hiegel who took over on May 1, 1951 while the Varsity became part of the Trans-Texas Circuit. Hiegel had operated Dallas' Avon Theater but had sold it earlier in the year and took on the theater for almost two decades. He probably could have eked it out for two full decades had it not been for the city’s redevelopment plans. But the theater’s last years were such that Hiegel said that he shed no tears when the city-mandated end came. In 1961, the theater was robbed of thirty cents and the manager was battered while the nearby Dal-Sec Drug Store suffered at least three separate armed robberies as fortunes and property values had turned in the neighborhood.

The theater soldiered on through lean economic times and high crime rates until 1969 when a combination of Fair Park expansion combined with highway development led to the demolition of the property. Hiegel said that the dollars weren’t rolling in and he had expected the city’s ambitious planning. Just five years earlier, the theater was endangered as a cross-town freeway was going to go through the property. The Fair Park expansion, however, was the death knell as the city bought out more than 300 properties in all and much of the Dal-Sec businesses including the theater which were closed and the buildings demolished. The only reference to the opening date was that the theater made it 45 years which would place its opening in 1924 though there’s not much evidence of that actual opening date as the theatre’s regular advertisements were from Sept. 1930 into the 1950s.

dallasmovietheaters commented about Fine Arts Theater on Sep 24, 2013 at 11:13 am

The Varsity Theatre was an atmospheric Venetian Garden inspired theater operating in C.W. Snider’s conceptualized Snider Plaza just blocks away from Southern Methodist University within University Park. It opened Oct. 3, 1929 just weeks prior to the stock market crash. Renamed the Fine Arts in 1957, the theater moved from art, retro, and international cinema to adult films in 1974 during the porno chic era. Renamed as The Plaza Theater as a legit, live theater in 1982 and finally as the Park Cities Playhouse in 1993, the theatre was out of business in 1996 and its auditorium demo’d for retail space a year later.

In the summer of 1928, the city of University Park approved of a plan to allow a 1,011 seat Varsity Theater with seven floors to be built in Snider Plaza. The architect was N.E. Bucklin and was based upon the concept of having attached retail stores and parking for 600 cars in an underground parking facility pegged at around $700,000. That ambitious plan did not come to fruition, however. The theatre construction was delayed until 1929 and by the time the project was complete, the Varsity was a modest $200,000 playhouse with 800 seats and had neither the seven stories of multi-use property nor the underground parking garage. It was operated by Paul Scott who also ran the Haskell Theatre and was equipped with RCA’s Photophone sound-on-film standard. SMU students were the employees under Scott as C.W. Snider was a friend of the campus.

The theatre opened with “In Old Arizona” on Oct. 3, 1929. In 1935, the SMU connection brought foreign language film to the Varsity (although the Melba had beaten the Varsity to the foreign language front showing a German and a Russian language film previously). “Sous les Toits de Paris” was the first of those presentations in conjunction with the University’s French Department followed by “Topaze” and “Les Trois Mousequetaires”. The theater found a niche and also began to show a heavy load of British imports and additionally started Spanish language films starting with Juarez and Maximillian and German film in 1936, as well while keeping first-run and second-run Hollywood fare during the weekends and most weekdays.

Though French films continued into 1937, an article about the downturned business of art films and international films stated that Dallas' Little Theater was abandoned as Dallas' moviegoers were bailing on art cinema. The same article noted that the Interstate Theatre Circuit had taken on the Varsity and decided to update the theater. It was hypothesized that there were “more high brows in Snider Plaza than anywhere else in Dallas” and that the Circuit might stick it out a bit longer with art cinema. Interstate did have occasional ties with SMU but leaned the Varsity away from foreign film though would play art films for the rest of the time it operated the film.

in 1938, Interstate added a stage at the front of the theater for monthly stage shows and more live acts including dance shows, minstrel shows and live animal acts. This move proved fortuitous decades later when the theater became a live event only house. And in 1940, a new marquee and tower were added along with new seats, a redesigned lobby and foyer. The nearby student body led to the theater attracting unannounced sneak previews of films beginning in the 1940s.

Late in the 1940s, Interstate’s control over the Varsity was under scrutiny. The cases of Edelman v. Paramount, a legal challenge that was brought in the courts, and a Justice Department investigation, U.S. v. Paramount. As the case began, Interstate announced a regular art cinema policy including foreign language productions every Thursday and Friday. Meanwhile, U.S. v. Paramount led to the famous consent decree in which Paramount agreed to to separate itself from domestic theater exhibition selling out joint ventures such as Interstate and Publix. Only the Varsity and the Dal-Sec were Dallas-area theaters forced into dispersal within the reformulated, post-Paramount decision Interstate Circuit. Those properties had to be excised within three years of the 1948 decree. The Dal-Sec was sold to Howard Hiegel who took over on May 1, 1951 while the Varsity became part of the Trans-Texas Circuit and in 1953 it went full time art and revival at a good time for international cinema exhibition in the United States.

Satisfied with the results, Trans-Texas rebranded the Varsity as the Fine Arts on January 15, 1957 and remodeled the theater including its third different marquee. Its first film was Riffifi with proceeds going to charity. It added a Fall Film Festival in 1959. The rebranded Fine Arts had some amazing successes. For instance, Blow Up played 11 weeks at the theater in 1967. The art cinema craze was waining at the same time that multiplexes were arriving. The U.A. Ciné about a mile away would be the continuing art house while the Fine Arts went a new direction just as the North Park Cinema was opening about 2.5 miles away. In 1974/5, during the porno-chic period, soft-core X-rated films “Flesh Gordon”, “Linda Lovelace for President”, “Around the World with Fanny Hill”, and many others were booked at the Fine Arts as well as Dallas' Granada Theatre, et al. This did not sit well with University Park which passed an ordinance banning X-rated films in 1977 within 500 feet of a residential area, church or school. The City of Dallas went after the Granada with a more successfully written ordinance. Trans-Texas successfully fought the University Park ruling which was found unconstitutional later that year.

The soft core porno exhibition at the Fine Arts continued amazingly for almost eight years until 1982. A business owner lamented that the situation of a family-oriented residential and business area with a porn house in its highest visibility sight “provides probably the greatest contrast in the whole state of Texas.” One picture of a family walking under “Lusty Princess” which was playing with “Garters and Lace” summarizes the situation under Photos. In March of 1982, the Fine Arts was purchased and the porno chic exhibition was over June 30th and the theater became the Plaza Theater on July 1, 1982. Though the Plaza Theatre was a live venue, its first major booking was the USA Film Festival in 1982.

The renovations to the Plaza’s live venue look took over a year and cost one million dollars. It wasn’t the success neighbors had dreamed of as the not-for-profit theater was empty for stretches as people tried to save it as the decade of the 1990s opened. Meanwhile the “New Fine Arts Theater” opened on Mockingbird hoping to lure clientele from the Fine Arts' halcyon days.

The Plaza Theater was given a hasty renovation in time for its November 1993 relaunch when it became the Park Cities Playhouse. With United Artists opening its high tech and successful UA Plaza, the name change wasn’t the worst idea. First-hand account from this writer can tell you that it wasn’t uncommon to bump into the likes of Charlton Heston, the Smothers Brothers or Penn & Teller when they were appearing at the theater. Though that incarnation under Ben Capelle and John Wall was ambitious it was unsuccessful financially and the theater went back to vacant in 1996 after sporadic offerings. The theater was purchased and its owners explored film exhibition but hit a dead end. So in 1997, it was over for the Varsity/Fine Arts/Plaza as the theater’s marquee was removed and the theater completely gutted after both the economic feasibility and historical preservation efforts failed. The auditorium was demolished in 1997 officially ending a 67-year mostly active run.