The Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff is one of the area’s oldest monuments to movies.
“We just did an 80th anniversary this past year. We showed the original movies that they showed here on April 22nd 1931. It was a Buster Keaton movie called 'Parlor Better and Bath' in which we showed on 16mm and we charged 35 cents to get in, which is how much it cost to get in that day,” said Barak Epstein who is the founder of Aviation Cinemas. The company currently runs the theater and shows independent films.
The theater was built in 1931 as a part of the Robb & Rowley chain of movie theaters that was briefly owned by Howard Hughes.
"Right around that time Howard Hughes had bought the entire Robb & Rowley chain so he could have a presence in Texas and around here. And basically it was his money that pushed the whole theater chain through the depression. A lot of theaters were opening up and not making it,” said Epstein.
The Texas Theatre was renovated in 1964, though you can still see flares of the '30s design if you know where to look. There’s a wall in the lobby that has never been re-covered, the back stairwells are the same as they were 80 years ago, and the designs embossed on the mezzanine in the theater itself are original. Everything else you’ll see is from the 1964 renovation.
“You know we think it’s kind of cool in its own right. I mean, when we did our lobby renovations and additions, we added the stucco like we did at the concession stand and the bar and the walls. So, we added the stucco to actually match what was here, what was put in in '64,” said Epstein.
Someone could make a movie about the theater’s survival -- it’s been an interesting drama over the years.
“In the later years as the theaters started to go downhill in the 70’s and 80’s it was always on the verge of being shut down you know and turned into a furniture warehouse or something, but I think that there was always some level of community support through those years to, somebody would always come up and say 'Don’t tear it down. You know, I’ve got a couple of bucks I’ll keep it going for a while,'” said Epstein.
In it's storied history, The Texas Theatre is known for three major points.
First, when it was built, it was touted as a ‘fireproof’ theater because it was made completely out of concrete. Second, it was the first movie house in Dallas to have air conditioning. The third, and maybe the most famous, is it's connection with the Kennedy assassination.
Dallas police stormed the theatre in November 1963 looking for a man that didn’t pay.
“This was the place where they caught Lee Harvey Oswald,” said Epstein.
Another piece of history is of course the marquee. It’s a replica of what it looked like in 1963.
The theater is more than a movie house; it’s a place that helps promote the craft.
“We have workshops for screen writing and we do an acting workshop and we’re not just a place to see a movie you can also come here and talk to your local film makers or take a screen writing class. Things like that. We’re trying to be a hangout for the community in that regard,” said Epstein.
The Texas Theatre
231 West Jefferson Boulevard
Dallas, TX 75208