Knox Theater

3212 Knox Street,
Dallas, TX 75205

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Paramount Pictures Inc.

Functions: Retail

Previous Names: Ronile Theatre, Knox Street Theater, Pearl Chappelle Playhouse, Knox Street Cinema

Nearby Theaters

Knox Street Theater

The Ronile Theatre opened on August 1, 1922. It was renamed Knox Street Theater which opened on July 15, 1932 with Johnny Weismuller in “Tarzan, the Ape Man”. By 1941 it was operated by Paramount Pictures Inc. through their subsidiary Hoblitzelle & O'Donnell. It was still in operation in 1950, and by that time was known as the Knox Theater. Between 1971 and 1973 it operated as an adult cinema known as the Knox Street Cinema.

Contributed by Billy Holcomb / Billy Smith / Don Lewis

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

Bob Johnston
Bob Johnston on January 25, 2013 at 11:07 am

It was the RoNile in 1924, but don’t know when it changed.

matt54 on March 3, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Chuck, I sure don’t. Sorry.

Driveintheatre2001 on March 16, 2013 at 11:54 am

Passing along some info I received from Ms Jeanette (Tomato Lady) on this Theatre……… here are the correct facts on first the Ronile which opened August 1, 1922 at 7PM showing Saturday Night, a Cecil B. deMille movie at 3220 Knox. There is a 1924 photo looking east with a pharmacy on the left, then the Ronile next door but the telephone pole blocks the vertical. The Knox Street Theatre opened July 15, 1932 showing Johnny Weismuller (sp) in Tarzan the Ape Man. It had changed hands a few times. Closed in 1952, but then it still showed up at the same address in 1956, Nov. of 1957, 58, 59 and the owner was Beruch Lumet who lived at 4616 Cole. In 1961 he also owned the Lumet School of Acting. This info came from Dallas Times Herald articles. In the Dallas directory by 1962 through 1965 there was no listing and the building was vacant. Then in the 1970s the Allyson Wonderland was in the building, the front of which had been remodeled kind of colored stripes as in Danny’s 1971 photo. Also Phantasmagoria (sp.) was a disco club in it during those years if you look up that bit. Also some time about 1936, it was sold to Interstate. The theatre had originally been one screen with about 500 seats. In 1972 Paul contacted a man named Mr. Roberdeaux offering to lease it and have it as a movie house once again but they couldn’t come to terms and Roberdeaux died.

dallasmovietheaters on November 7, 2013 at 10:45 am

The March 16, 2013 post is probably all that one needs. But just filling in some details that may or may not be of interest: In the fifty-plus year history of the Ro-Nile/Knox Theater, it starts with film and ends with film. And it has live stage and concerts in between. A few highlights:

The Ro-Nile Theater Building was instituted by the Ro-Nile Amusement Company on Aug. 1, 1922 in Highland Park with a Minusa Screen with a jinxed J.D. Wheelan organ. Unfortunately, J.D. Wheelan, himself, was severely burned on April 21, 1923 when an explosion occurred while repairing the organ. One week later on April 28, 1923 before repairs were completed, a second fire destroyed the front end of the theater and the balcony. In 1930, the organ struck again taking a customer’s life when he reached in to get some coins but standing water in the organ pit helped to cause the patron’s electrocution. The Ro-Nile fulfilled a ten year lease and shut down.

Robert Z. Glass acquired the Ro-Nile and christened it the Knox Street Theater beginning in July 1932. Within a year, he bought the Parkway and renamed it the Lawn. He then sued Interstate Theaters for what amounted to a price fixing case. In 1936, Glass had labor issue and stink bombs were thrown into both his Knox Street and Lawn theaters. Glass sold the theater along with the Lawn shortly thereafter becoming part of the Interstate Circuit. During the Paramount consent decree, Interstate divested itself of many theaters in the early 1950s. They simply closed the Knox on January 7, 1950 with “The Doctor and the Girl.” Interstate tried to lease it to a live stage theater group but that apparently failed as on May 18, 1951 father/son team Leo and Richard Craiker took on the Knox Theater as an indy for a year calling it the “home of encores.” That works out to a twenty year lease ending the Knox' film exhibition for some time.

The Knox St. became a live stage and school for acting. The next operators were: The Dallas Institute of Performing Arts / Knox Street Theatre (1953-1956); Lumet School of Acting / Knox Street Theater (1957-1960); Pearl Chappell Playhouse (1961-1963); Speakeasy (1965-6); The In Crowd (1966-7) which was sued for its name and thusly changed; Phantasmagoria (1967-1969); Allison Wonderland (1970); and finally back into film exhibition with the adult X-rated house Knox St. Cinema (1971-1973). The Ro-Nile Theater Building was deconstructed/reconstructed for retail space that was still vibrant in the 2010s. And the Knox’s 50-year plus exhibition era along with the H.P. Village Theater and Varsity/Fine Arts/Park Cities Playhouse 50-plus years meant that all three Park Cities suburban theaters had performance lifespans in excess of fifty years.

MELenns on September 13, 2014 at 7:09 am

Permit me to introduce myself, I am M. E. Lenns, writer, and official biographer of AllisonWonderland, the creator of the Crystalume, the lumiast who owns the AllisonWonderland Concert Lightshow, and former occupant of the AllisonWonderland which was in the Knox Street Theater in 1970. The amazing history surrounding the Knox Street Theater as far as AllisonWonderland is concerned could possibly be summed up with the phrase: “It’s a small world”. Our story begins back in the ‘40s, and '50s. There was at that time in Dallas, a journalist whose name was Louis Mandel. He was an entertainment critic, and movie reviewer for one of the Dallas newspapers. He had a wife Edith, a son Geraud, and a daughter Judith Ann. He was well known amongst the entertainment community in Dallas, and at one time even rented a room in his house to Aaron Spelling, the television producer of such shows as “The Mod Squad”, “The Rookies”, “Charlie’s Angels”, and “Beverly Hills 90210”. Louis Mandel was also friends with Baruch Lumet, who appeared in the films “The Pawnbroker”, “The Group”, and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask”. Baruch Lumet was the father of Sidney Lumet, the movie director, producer, and screenwriter who produced such movies as “12 Angry Men”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Network”, and “The Verdict”. Baruch Lumet was also the Director of the Dallas Institute of Performing Arts and had an acting school, the classes of which were held in the Knox Street Theater. Louis Mandel’s wife Edith and his daughter Judith Ann were both students of Baruch Lumet, as were Jayne Mansfield and William Tobe Hooper who went on to direct “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “Poltergeist”. Louis Mandel’s daughter Judith Ann, married a lighting engineer whose name was Gerry Zekowski, and who became one of the world’s foremost lighting experts and a vice-president of Lightolier, a manufacturer of commercial lighting fixtures. All right, with that said as background, let’s focus on AllisonWonderland. Allison was a studio musician, and graphics artist in Hollywood in the late '50s, working at the H&R Recording Studios. He moved to Dallas 1963, where he was an electrical sign designer with Liberty Industries. Liberty Industries opened a branch in Houston, and Allison moved to Houston to be their art director. He subsequently left Liberty, and started the Prelude Art Studios, The Mob Modeling Group, and Mediassociates Advertising. In 1967 he was awarded second place for his design for The Watergate by CA magazine, the bible of the commercial art industry. He was funded by a patron, Mr. H. Alvin Lott, of the H.A. Lott Contractors and Engineers construction company who built The Astrodome, The Tower of the Americas, and The Summit, among many other projects. Allison designed and did the initial advertising for the Brake Check Brake Centers. But Allison wanted to get back into the entertainment industry, and started the AllisonWonderland Concert Lightshow, performing with such artists as Seals and Crofts, J.J. Cale, Buddy Miles, Richie Havens, Mother Earth and Charlie Neville. He decided that he would like to have a venue where he could perform every night, and so in 1970 he moved back to Dallas, and went to work for Liberty Industries again. He and a fellow named Bruce Varnado, and another fellow named Lynn Weatherford leased the Knox Street Theater, and fixed it up to be a concert hall, lightshow, and old time movie theater. Allison and Varnado lived in an apartment in the balcony. The theater needed seats. Weatherford obtained a bunch of them from the Dallas Independent School District. Allison had two 15’-0" X 15'-0" Polacoat Lenscreen rear-projection screens. Varnado and Allison buit two screen frames in the theater, along with a pair of Klipschorns, and a pair of McIntosh tube amplifiers for sound. The motif of the entertainment was old time silent movies on the east screen, lightshow on the west screen with the popular music of the time as sound. During this time, there were “film festivals” featuring The Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and the screening of the 1932 classic horror film “Freaks”. Also during this time, The AllisonWonderland hosted concerts and had a free stage/open mike where fledgling entertainers could come and perform. One of the free-stagers was a fellow named Kent Skinner, who has gone on to become one of Dallas’s favorite Deep Elm performers and recording artist. Also at the Knox Street Theater was another part of the AllisonWonderland called “Through the Looking Glass”. Allison, being a sign designer designed the sign so that it was installed backwards, making it readable by looking at it in a mirror. “Through the Looking Glass” was the concession area for the theater. It served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with twenty-nine different jellies, six different nut butters, and four different kinds of bread. Allison personally painted the facade of the building with vertical stripes, and up at the top in an oval frame with a portrait of “Mr. ZigZag”. The place became a center of the Dallas hippie counter-culture, being written up in the “Hooka Underground Newspaper” (Hooka being the acronym of “Humanitarian Order Of Kosmic Awareness”). The AllisonWonderland had a house band called “Fair and Warmer”, comprised of Craig Crowell on drums, Grizzly Crowell on bass, and Allison on guitar, keyboards, and lead vocals. Eventually, an offer that was too good to refuse was made for the venue, and after a “good bye” weekend, Allison and his crew, which included Mary-k Ashley Wilson, Chet Bonar, Linda Smith, and the Crowell brothers, moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas where Craig and Grizzly had a home in a little place north of Fort Smith called Figure Five. The AllisonWonderland subsequently moved back to Houston to produce a weekly television show called “Sensatiation” which was broadcast in Houston by KPFT, Channel 26, and simulcast with KLOL Radio. “Sensatiation” was directed by Kenan Branham, with Jay Menier doing the camera work, Pat Fant handling the audio simulcast, and Mary-k Ashley Wilson was the executive coordinator. The show was sponsored by the Globe Discount City Record Centers. It aired on Saturday at midnight till 12:30 a.m. All right, with that as background, let’s get to the “Small World” part of the story. Allison was living in Houston doing Crystalume lightshow performances for private audiences. A fellow named Bill Klaus was an engineer with Bechtel Corporation and was a regular at Allison’s performances. It was one of Klaus’s duties with Bechtel to specify lighting fixtures. Thus it was that he came in contact with Gerry Zekowski, the lighting specialist, who had married Judith Ann Mandel, one of Baruch Lumet’s Knox Street Theater acting school students. Klaus mentioned the AllisonWonderland to Zekowski, and recommended that he take in a performance. Zekowski made arrangements to see a personal performance, and upon the conclusion of the performance, Zekowski told Allison that he thought Allison was the messiah. Allison denied being any kind of messiah, and Zekowski told Allison that he was in no position to tell him who his messiah was. Zekowski subsequently became one of Allison managers, arranging for him to do shows for conventions, business meetings related to the lighting industry, and a performance at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. Eventually Allison went back to Hollywood with the Crystalume and worked with various bands such as Saroyan, which was fronted by Hank Saroyan, a director with Dick Clark Enterprises. While in Hollywood, Allison came into contact with Baruch Lumet, and Allison would take Lumet to his doctor’s appointments. There are many more interesting anecdotes regarding this subject, but they are probably best left for later posts. If there are any of the Dallasites who used to come to the AllisonWonderland at the Knox Street Theater, and have any comments or questions, I would be more than happy to expostulate further. I am currently putting together a “tell all” biography of Allison that will be published posthumously. Till next time Knox Street Theaterers. MEL

DavidZornig on March 12, 2015 at 7:25 pm

1949 photo added courtesy of Patrick Munn.

StephenPaulVanier on July 7, 2015 at 3:23 am

MELenns – what a crock… you have about a dozen sockpuppets and you’ve been going around for ages doing this sort of thing. Show absolute proof there was ever such a thing as the AllisonWonderland Concert Lightshow — that one could actually go to, pay for entrance, and order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from 29 jellies and 4 nut butters.

MELenns on July 7, 2015 at 4:47 am

Hey ***SPV – Actually, the number of sockpuppets number in the hundreds.

As for proof of the existence of the AllisonWonderland Concert Lightshow, click here:

Also, I have one of Allison’s concert posters where he was performing with Seals & Crofts, and JJ Cale in San Antonio, at Laurie Auditorium, at Trinity University. I’ll have to take a picture of it to post. Will do that ASAP. Watch for it.

As to the reality of the AllisonWonderland Concert Lightshow, one only has to read previous posts to this thread to see that the Knox Street Theater was, in the early ‘70s, occupied by AllisonWonderland, but, knowing YOU, this would entail your having to first learn how to read.

BUT, I must comment on the quality of your writing and the improvement that having passed on has made. And knowing YOU, am wondering how you are enduring the fire and brimstone there at your eternal home?

Rest assured that I will alert Mr. Allison to your post. He and I have often discussed how he used to “get your goats” on the old UseNet NewsGroups <alt.solipsism> and <alt.consciousness-4th-way>.

Anyway, nice to hear from you again. You take care, you heah?

And as Mr. Allison would say: “Beware the Obvious, Suspect the Reality”, and then he would add: “Heh heh heh, not genuine AW without this chuckle.”


DavidZornig on June 16, 2016 at 8:00 pm

1932 photo added courtesy of Stella Simms via the Traces Of Texas Facebook page.

dutchfromtexas on October 17, 2016 at 4:07 pm

I used to live on Travis in that time and often went to AllisonWonderland. I liked watching the old Captain Video series. BTW, if anyone knows where those old reels are, I think I read that the CV archive would like them…

BTW, front row was not chairs but bean bags.

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