Once the heart of the southwest Dallas community—a grand, palatial gathering place marked by a brightly lit sign that spelled T-E-X-A-S, touting top-of-the-line acoustics and appurtenances, the Texas Theatre was opened at 231 West Jefferson Boulevard with fanfare on April 21, 1931. The Texas Theatre was the novelty of long time Oak Cliff resident and entrepreneur, C. R. McHenry, better known in the community as “Uncle Mack.” McHenry’s dream was to build a theater with state-of-the-art projection and sound equipment.
McHenry partnered with four Dallas area businessmen to help him realize this dream: Harold B. Robb, E. H. Rowley, (Robb & Rowley Theatres) W. G. Underwood and David Bernbaum. Together they hired renowned architect W. Scott Dunne to design the Texas. The men spared no expense and boasted that the theater was “fireproof”—constructed entirely of concrete. The theater’s opera seating cost $19,000, the projection and sound system cost $12,000, the 1,240 yards of the finest grade carpet cost $5,000, and the Barton organ, the second largest in the City of Dallas, cost $10,000. However, McHenry was most proud of the cooling and ventilation system, which blew 200,000 cubic feet of air per minute through a water-cooled system pumped from a 4,000-gallon tank. The cooling system made “The Texas” the first theater in Dallas with air conditioning. Billionaire film producer and renowned aviator Howard Hughes briefly owned the Robb & Rowley movie theater chain in the early 30′s during construction and opening of the Texas Theatre.
On November 22, 1963 at approximately 1:45 p.m., nearly 15 Dallas police officers converged on the Texas Theatre in search of a man who had entered without paying. That man was Lee Harvey Oswald—President John F. Kennedy’s accused lone assassin.
President Kennedy’s assassination marked a violent end to the Age of Camelot and forever scarred the American psyche. As the Texas Theatre rocketed into the international spotlight, an urgency to hide, deny and destroy it tore its way through Dallas. Shortly thereafter—in what is coined locally among preservationists as the most comprehensive architectural cover-up of the Twentieth Century—the theater’s vibrant designs, false bridges, towers and campaniles, decorative wood railings, and star and cloud painted ceilings were sealed from public view under a spanish style stucco re-design.
As technology in moving, talking, and color pictures progressed and drive-ins and multiplex cinema became the rave, the Texas Theatre’s patrons slowly moved on to other entertainment venues. Failing to capture a considerable audience, United Artists closed the theater in 1989. In an attempt to save it, the Texas Theatre Historical Society (TTHS) bought the theater in 1990. Acknowledging its importance to the President’s assassination, TTHS allowed Oliver Stone to remodel the exterior façade for his 1990 film, JFK. However in 1992, the Society was no longer able to make the mortgage payments and the theater closed once more. Shortly thereafter, former usher and sign changer Don Dubois of Texas Rosewin-Midway Properties saved the theater from the wrecking ball. Nevertheless, two years later in 1995, it was nearly destroyed by a five-alarm fire, forcing the doors shut yet again.
In 1996, Pedro Villa rescued the theater from demolition when he learned of plans to convert it into a furniture warehouse. However, as Villa’s resources were exhausted and his pleas for investments went unheard, the theater defaulted back to Texas Rosewin-Midway Properties. The tattered and torn building remained vacant for three years, succumbing to vandals, stray animals, and hostile weather.
(Photo provided from the R.W. “Rusty” Livingston Collection/The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.)
In 2001 The Oak Cliff Foundation purchased the building and began looking for a new permanent tenant. Several areas of the building were renovated and upgraded by the OCF. The Texas Theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
On August 31st, 2010, Aviation Cinemas Inc, a company formed by filmmaker and film industry consultant Barak Epstein took over the lease of the Texas Theatre. Epstein enlisted the help of filmmakers Adam Donaghey, Eric Steele and Jason Reimer to begin new cinema and event venue operations at the Texas Theatre.