Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Sad Tale of the Texas Theatre

The Texas Theatre in all it's glory

The Texas Theatre today, all that left

   Just a few blocks west of the Majestic Theatre on Houston seat sits the odd confluence of a modern skyscraper and the a former grand movie palace.  The pairing was a compromise the resulted from a battle between preservationist and progress in the 1980s

   The Texas Theatre, designed by the Bollner Brothers, opened on December 18, 1926. (Remember, the first talking picture did not arrive until 1927.) One of the most important events in the history of the palace was the premiere of the film Wings, which was the first movie to win an Academy Award (see Wings — the Movie). The Texas was decorated in a wild West-rococo style and featured a plaster canopy that assisted the acoustics. The canopy, a Bollner Brothers trademark, was connected to the walls of a Spanish patio. At the center of the patio was a lone star, which stood not for Texas, but was the symbol of the Publix Theatre chain.

The Stage at the Texas

   The Texas also featured three balconies, the top being segregated seating. A third box office and a special concession stand were also provided for black patrons. The theatre also had a pipe organ, but it was removed from the theatre sometime around World War II. Like many other theatres of the era, its walls were adorned by murals. The Texas's walls featured the work of artist Jose Arpa.
   The Texas seated over 2,700, and throughout its existence, it hosted a variety of entertainers from Bing Crosby and W C. Fields to a number of rock bands. It was one of only two Bollner Brothers fantasy-type theatres left in existence, and conservationists felt the auditorium was worth fighting for.
The Lobby of the Texas Theatre

Unfortunately, the Dallas developers felt differently. Republic Bank wanted to tear down the theatre to build a block-long office plaza. Conservationists wanted the theatre to be incorporated into the design and even offered their own plans. The out-of-town bank said a huge auditorium did not fit into its vision.

   The bank offered a compromise by hiring the architectural firm of Ford, Powell, and Associates who would incorporate the facade of the old theatre into the new building. The San Antonio Conservation Society offered its own solution. First, it offered $12 million to purchase the theatre. When the offer was refused, the society hired its own architect to draw up a new set of plans. The society commissioned noted preservationist Michael Graves, who designed a skyscraper that not only saved the theatre, but incorporated some of the Texas features into the new building. Once again, the Conservation Society's offer was turned down.

   After a series of court battles and protests, the Texas Theatre finally was torn down. The facade was saved, but many felt the final solution was a poor compromise that served neither party's interests. The loss of the movie house has been intensified now that the other downtown theaters have been renovated.

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