Back Story

Oak Cliff business tycoon C.R. McHenry collaborated with Texas billionaire and later Hollywood producer, Howard Hughes to fulfill his dream of an elegant movie house in Oak Cliff. The result?

 

The Texas Theatre.

However, during 1930 construction, silent movies were rapidly becoming relics. Construction halted to redesign the acoustics, and add what was then considered state-of-the-art sound technology and a Barton organ. Thus, the Texas became the first Dallas theater to show “talkies” … and provide air-conditioning — the largest suburban house in the Southwest.

 

Originally, the 1,000-seat Spanish-Moorish motif theater displayed elaborately painted interior walls and plush custom carpeting. With elevated box seats flanking the stage, and specially designed backlighting for the extensive architectural details extending upward to the cloud- and star-painted four-story ceiling, this movie palace was impressive.

 

At the April 21, 1931, opening, Cliffite Billie Paul Mount, an industrious 14-year-old, became the first customer to pass through the theater doors. Hired to pass out fliers announcing the theater’s opening, he received movie passes instead of a paycheck. He arrived early and stood at the main entrance, determined to be the first one into the beautiful interior.

 

And it worked. The now 91-year-old Mount (Sunset High School ’37) is still proud of his accomplishment.  

 

During the ’30s and ’40s, most Cliffites headed to the Texas Theatre at one time or another. With easy streetcar access and a location midway between Sunset and Adamson high schools, it was convenient and affordable Depression- and war-era entertainment.

 

From 1947 to 1969, the Texas hosted the forerunner of what is now the annual Oak Cliff Lions Club “Extravaganza”. After a 35-year hiatus, the event returned to the partially renovated theater in 2008 and 2009.  

 

To the public at large, the Texas normally invokes thoughts of 1963, when presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was captured inside at approximately 1:45 p.m. But to Cliffites of my parents’ generation and mine, the theater is an icon of our growing-up years.

 

The building’s appearance began declining during the late ’50s and early ’60s. But for many of us, it was still the place to be on Saturday mornings if you were a kid, and on Friday and Saturday nights as well as Sunday afternoons, if you were a teen. I enjoyed both.

 

For roughly $1 or so, patrons under 12 could enjoy several hours of food and fun. With admission between 15 and 25 cents, it was still possible to purchase a hot dog, a soft drink, a box of popcorn, a candy bar and a 5-cent pickle, and still have a dime left over to call home and request being picked up by your parents. (No cell phones back then.)

 

I remember going to the Texas to see Elvis do his thing in “Jailhouse Rock”, and a junior high date taking me to see “Judgment at Nuremberg”. And on Sunday afternoons, when almost nothing was open due to the Blue Law, going with friends to see a Vincent Price flick like “House on Haunted Hill” or “The Tingler” gave us something to do, although I’m not sure it was a good time investment. (Doing homework or studying might have been a better choice. No offence, Vincent.)

 

I paid admission there, as a young adult, to see the “Odd Couple”. I believe I even saw “Gone With the Wind” for the first time at the Texas Theatre.

 

Unfortunately, the multi-screen suburban theater changed the landscape. In 1989, the Texas officially closed.  

 

If I could turn back the clock and walk through the doors again, I believe I’d be able to endure another round of “The Tingler” or dodge whatever happened to be lobbed down on me from the balcony. I’d just dig in my purse and pull out a nickel for a pickle … and then a dime to call home.

 

Haven’t been to the Texas Theatre lately? Head there Saturday, March 20 at 7 p.m. to watch a movie made right here in Oak Cliff. “Angels Love Donuts” was written by Oak Cliff natives Leon McWhorter (Carter ’72) and Alan Elliott (Adamson ’70), adapted from a stage play the pair originally wrote for the Tyler Street United Methodist Church drama group, the CrossWise Players. Tickets are $10, and proceeds benefit neighborhood organizations. Call 214.330.8478 or visit crosswiseplayers.com for tickets and more information.


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  • Don Coke

    When I was ushering at the Texas (’43-44), it was in the Robb&Rowley chain, and Jack Hamilton (Fat Jack) was the manager of the Astor theatre (east side of Bishop and just south of Davis and now housing part of the Bishop Arts District). R&R also owned the Midway, Rosewin, the Cliff Queen (close to Jefferson and Lancaster), maybe the Bison (later the Vogue), Sunset (just south of Clarendon Dr. on east side of Hampton) and a couple more. Check with Bob Johnston from all of his time spent in the Dallas Morning News archives. He is the primary monitor of my faulty memory.

  • Amy Cunningham

    The Texas Theatre – I can almost smell the popcorn! Our Oak Cliff Presbyterian kid crowd went there together many weekends. To those of you w/ the question – there was definitely a balcony! I remember the Rosewyn too, and my mother telling me of her high school memories in that same theatre. And what was the name of that great bookstore run by a couple of little old ladies (maybe younger than we all are now?) just down the street? Kings, or something like that. They had books no one else carried. I think I still have some of those in my attic.
    Thanks again for the shared memories. Having lived away from Oak Cliff for so long now, I love having those mental sights and smells brought back to me.
    Amy (Cloninger) Cunningham

  • Danny Smith

    Thanks for the great history lesson and bringing back some wonderful memories, Gayla! Hope to see you Saturday. I’m guessing one needs to get there early to get a seat, huh?

    Danny

  • Bob Johnston

    One side story. “Uncle Mac” McHenry also owned the Midway and Rosewin. When the Texas opened, the Barton organ was moved from the Midway to the Texas.

  • Nancy

    The Texas, as well as the Wynnewood, Vogue and Rosewin were all a part of Rowley Theatres. The manager of the chain was
    John Callahan and the Assistant was Jack Hamilton. Jack was later the maintenance super at Sunset High School. His son, Dennis I think, is still a Cliffite. Yes, Butch was the usher that day and stayed with the Texas for many years
    even after it was no longer part of the Rowley chain.

    Julie (Julia) Postal was the cashier that fateful day and Butch was the usher. Julie called the police when the furniture store employee alerted her that a suspicious man(from news reports of Officer Tippet’shooting)had come into the theatre. But for the alert furniture store employee
    things might have taken a much longer time to unravel and solve these tragic crimes.

  • Trisha Ramsey

    I saw that Jon Ker posted a note on this article and i just wanted to say, those were some oggd memories of Dallas, when i was a young girl here and also, Hello! Jon! Long time no see! Thanks for the great article Gayla, Trisha Ramsey.

  • Alan tucker

    Let’s not forget the drive-ins.(jefferson,astro,chalk hill,hampton road.)Did I forget any?-can still remember the cold nights when your girlfriend didn’t want to get close on the first date-The trick was to not start the car to get the heater going.Of course they then started having heaters to rent to hang on the window.Some nights the windows were so fogged up you couldn’t see the movie(even if you wanted to)

  • Phil Veltman

    Lest we forget….The Heights Theatre in the Westmorland Heights Shopping Center. (building is still there) And how about the old metal suitcase cans that the movies actually were delivered in, outside the front door, of the theatres and no one even bothered them. Remember the movie posters that said now showing or coming soon. The old ones are definitely worth money now.

    I had the privilege of riding the last streetcar across the Trinity, from downtown to Oak Cliff with my brothers and Dad and was one of the first to ride the new Dart Train from Downtown to Oak Cliff. Remember the railroad tracks by Stockard Jr. High that are now the Dart tracks to the Westmorland Station.

    Memory Lane is great. Keep up the good work….

  • Phil Bishop, JFK ’61

    Love to read this stuff. Keep it coming!

    My whole family was born and raised in Oak Cliff. My older sister Kay and my older brother Dennis went to Sunset. When I started HS I had my choice of Sunset, SOC or Kimball. I chose the brand spanking new Kimball. My younger sisters and brother (Diane, Candy and Tucker) all went to Kimball as well.

    There was another theatre in Oak Cliff besides the Texas. It was the one I went to most as a young kid, the Vogue Theatre on Jefferson Blvd. I could walk there fromour house on 10th Street. I think the Saturday Matinee’s were 25 cents. Saw some great movies there like “Creature from the Black Lagoon”.

    Remember the street cars very well and rode them to Downtown Dallas over the old wooden trestles.

  • Frances Phillips

    Gayla, what fun it is to revisit these wonderful memories with you! The Texas Theater was indeed an elegant movie house, but for most of us South Oak Cliff people, the Crest Theater on Lancaster Rd. was the place to be on Friday night!

    Frances George Phillips

  • Wayne Goolsby

    Come on is everybody kidding themselves! I don’t know about those students from the schools that start with an S or A but us Kimball Knights headed straight for the balcony every weekend. If you remembered the name of the show you had the wrong date. I had my first special kiss at the Texas Theatre , you know the one invented in France…Oooh la la those were the days…

  • Larry Click

    Gayla,
    Great column as usual. I had a high school buddy, Allen White, who was an usher @ the Texas while we were in high school, (Adamson). I would go with him, (I think early Saturday mornings), while he cleaned up from Friday nights. Two things stick out in my mind from that experience: 1. He had no key, but would use the fire escape to climb up to a rear window to get in and then come let me in the back emergency exit door. 2. He would turn on the ho
    use P.A. system and by kicking the stage microphone cord around on the floor, could tune in KLIF for us to listen to while he worked. Hadn’t thought about that experience in more than 25 years. (Anyone know the statute of limitations on breaking and entering?)

  • Dale White

    WOW! Talk about memories. I’ve traveled all around the world, spent time in a war, but my most cherished memories are of Oak Cliff, Adamson High School (’63), Rocket Roller Rink, the “Oak Cliff Boys” and Saturdays at the Texas Theatre. I can remember the time that I competed in a Yo-Yo contest on the stage. Didn’t win; I couldn’t do all the tricks others could do. Gayla, thank you for helping me recall those days when life was simple, the streets of Oak Cliff were safe, and those “5 cent pickles.”

    Dale White, Bayfield, Colorado

  • Linda Shipp Moon

    Every month look forward to your article, Gayla! I love pulling my personal memories from your articles! One thing I remember about the Texas Theater was the crying room. If a child began to cry during the movie Mom would take them back to the crying room where she could still hear and see the movie without the child causing movie goers to get upset! I also remember some couples would go to the balcony…where they WOULD NOT watch the movie! (or was that the Wynnewood Theater that had the balcony? Maybe both!) Pretty sure it was the Texas. Love going down memory lane with you…such a wonderful time growing up in the Cliff!!

  • Mark Smythe

    Thanks again Gayla for those memories. Yes, the Texas was the place to meet or see friends on Friday or Saturday night. And yes to my sister Susan, I do remember that long time usher at the Texas. His name I believe was Warren Burroughs and he went by ” Butch “. He was interviewed years ago in what I believe was “D” magazine. The magazine was doing an article on the Kennedy Assassination and Burroughs was working at the Texas and was present when Oswald was arrested that day. Thanks again Gayla for a great article. Mark Smythe

  • Penny

    Gayla,
    Again, thanks for such a descriptive walk down memory lane. Too few people take the time to wander back to those days of yesteryear and yet those times are well worth reflection.
    The Palace was our little movie theater in Jacksonville,TX.
    Saturday morning double features with prizes given away once a month in a drawing between the movies and of course, lots of cartoons.
    I still remember getting a popcorn (only one size back then), a drink, and candy bar all for a quarter. They too had a nickle pickle.
    Thanks again for the best of the times in my mind, our childhood.
    Penny

  • Patsy Summey

    Great information about a big part of Oak Cliff history! Thanks, Gayla, for another walk down memory lane. And thanks for the plug about the World Premiere of “Angels Love Donuts” at the Texas Theatre on March 20th, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon (not 7 p.m.), with valet parking available. The show benefits the Golden Oak scholarship fund and the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics scholarship fund.

  • Lon Oakley

    What a great nostalgic story Gayla. It sure brought back memories of Saturday Kids Show for 25 cents. You could have a feast for a dollar at the snack bar. Please continue to give us this look back at a time when life was certainly less complicated. OUTSTANDING EFFORT!

  • Jon Ker

    Gayla, I so look forward to your articles for they are precious and work their magic on my memories. I am particularly glad to see you referred this time to “The Tingler”, for when I saw you were addressing the Texas Theater, that particular movie was my first thought. If you will recall there was a “special seat” in the theater that was supposed to vibrate and cause you to possibly die of fright. I got there early for the Saturday matinee and sat through 3 showings before I found the right seat. I still do not believe I died of fright though. Bless you for your abilities to remind us so well of fun days gone by.

    Jon

  • Susan Smythe Hallmark

    What I remember most about the Texas theater (besides where Lee Harvey Oswald was caught, was Friday nights. A girlfriend and I would go to see what boys were there!!
    Does anyone remember the name of the usher who was always there on Friday nights? The tall think guy with the black horned rim glasses!! I bet my brother Mark will remember.

  • Benny Kirtley

    One really great aspects of Jefferson Blvd. in the ’40s-’60s for my generation was the advent of all the theaters that were in close proxcimity. On the West end of Jefferson at the Boundry was the Vogue Theater, then the Roswin and then the Texas. My cousins and myself would always go to which ever one had the best serial. My dad and mom loved to go out and eat at Luby’s Cafeteria and then go to the Texas for a movie on Sunday.

    In a kids mind, at least mine, my world was always centered on how much fun my cousins and I could have on Saturday mornings on Jefferson Blvd. at the movies, especially the Texas. Back in the days we used to call the movies….picture shows. Thanks for the memories Gala.

  • Mary Maxwell

    Once again, stirring up old, but very good memories. Movie theaters were a great escape, esp from hot weather. And for the price of a song, those gigantic pickles and those Sugar Babies…Yum !

  • mickey porter

    Great article, Gayla. I remember the “times,” though not in Dallas. Keep up the good work!