Downtown stakeholders reignite interest in theater opportunities


About 125 people gathered under the Texan Theater’s star-light Wednesday – more than just the flip of a switch, the re-lighting of the revitalized downtown venue kindled hope of more to come.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Darlene Nelson.

The Liberty City resident stood beside her husband, James, in the glow of neon tubes accentuating the old theater’s façade – “Texan” blazing in the night on either side of a bright-lit steer’s head, crowned by the building’s signature star – and thought of the past.

“This is like the good old days when I used to go to the show,” she said. “I just wish it was restored, and we could go inside. I can’t wait til it really happens.

“It just brings you back in time.”

This week’s starlight ceremony marked the end of Historic Preservation Month, and Wednesday’s reception was spearheaded by Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation volunteers working with City of Kilgore officials and employees.

In addition to the recently-repaired lights – a portion of which must be repaired, again, following May’s rough weather – the walls of the theater have a fresh paint job. Used for storage the past couple of years after a series of one-off events, the interior of theater was also cleaned out this spring. It’s poised for an upcoming limited scope asbestos abatement, a first step in an incremental renovation process that could see the structure used as a downtown venue.

At this point the 86-year-old theater has been closed almost as long as it was open, and it’s long been a mission of KHPF to restore some of its former glory.

The foundation oversaw the last major repairs to both the Texan and the nearby Crim Theater, KHPF President Amanda Nobles said Wednesday.

“They were a mess,” she added. “What KHPF did was raise the funds to fix the façades and get the theaters in the dry so they would stop deteriorating.”

Learn more about the history of the Texan Theater at KilgoreNewsHerald.com via tinyurl.com/TexanTheater.

“Now they’ve gone back to the city, and we’ve taken on other projects,” Nobles told the crowd. “We’re very proud to be a partner, and we’re excited that you’re here tonight to help us celebrate the star-lighting.”

In addition to representatives from KHPF and City Hall, the star-lighting drew visitors from the Kilgore Main Street Program, Kilgore Improvement & Beautification Association, the Texas Shakespeare Festival, downtown business owners and restaurateurs in addition to residents.

Former Kilgore Mayor Mickey Smith shared some of his memories of the theater and of working with KHPF and the city to breathe new life into it.

“This was the first theater I’d ever been into in my life,” he said. As a boy, Smith was a regular audience member for the lineup of Westerns, joking “We didn’t want to go to the Crim because all the love stories were down there.”

He praised KHPF’s efforts to ensure the theaters, and other elements of the community’s past, remain a vital part of Kilgore today.

“Everything you see around here in preservation is to their benefit and their credit,” he said. Through such efforts, “Our youth learn what we’ve done through the years.

“History is very important and the preservation of it is as well. Right where you’re standing. Right here. Right now.”

Chip Hale of Overton Films outlined his upcoming Reel East Texas Film Festival, aiming to draw out-of-town indie filmmakers to the Texan Nov. 16-18. Mayor Ronnie Spradlin discussed still-developing plans for the building’s future.

“I think it’s great that they’re trying to put it all back together,” said Kilgore resident R.D. Henderson, peering through the Texan’s frosted glass alongside his wife, Shannon.

The recent repairs at the theater (and upcoming work) has been funded with Hotel Occupancy Tax revenues, monies raised from rented rooms at local hotels and motels that can be used for selected purposes, including historical preservation.

“When you keep something alive you hope you have a future for it,” Spradlin said.

He was pleased at the turnout Wednesday, and at the feelings the simple ceremony stirred among the crowd.

“It brought back a lot of nostalgia and good memories,” Spradlin said. He watched as visiting balladeer Bob Campbell’s song of “The Texan” brought smiles to many faces, recalling memories of Saturday matinees and of the silver screen stars that dominated the Westerns. “Just hearing the famous cowboy’s names…

“I just think that shows that the Texan – both theaters – hold a special place in people’s hearts. Where they took their wife on the first date, where they first kissed their boyfriend or girlfriend. A lot of friendships and a lot of relationships were cemented in those places.”