It was popcorn and Saturday mornings, ‘refrigerated air’ and matinees on hot days, date nights and holding hands under the glow of the silver screen.
The façade of the Crim Theater still towers in many memories, and those recollections drew a crowd back to the old edifice Friday for the 80th birthday celebration for the historic structure.
When Mike Jones catches a scene from “Singin’ in the Rain” he’s transported, not just by Gene Kelly’s masterful song-and-dance, but back to the seats of the Crim Theater.
“I can’t remember where my truck keys are,” he joked, “but I remember where I was sitting.”
It’s one of countless movies he watched in the South Kilgore Street as a youngster, dropping his nickels and dimes on shows in the Boom-era building.
“It was a home away from home for the kids who grew up in the ’40s and ’50. Think about the fascination of the movies,” he said Friday, turning pages in an exhibit of scrapbooks next door to the theater. “Most of us had no TVs in our homes. It was one of the two places that had air conditioning, especially in the summer, it and the library.
“We literally grew up in the kids’ shows on Saturdays,” and Jones expects he saw every movie that screened there until the theater closed and the name moved across the street to what is now the Texan Theater: “I can remember watching them in the Crim. I can remember where I was sitting.”
Sitting in the theater’s out of the question at the moment: though the façade has seen plenty of TLC from Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation and others, the interior doesn’t permit visits – for now.
It’s been a longtime goal of KHPF’s Sue Brown, and numerous others, to see a full renovation of the theater come to pass. Brown hoped Friday’s birthday party could spark some new energy to resurrect the building.
That said, “She’s pretty now,” Brown added. “You can’t go in, but she’s pretty.”
KHPF President Jerry Camp was floored by Friday’s turnout as scores of people dropped by to peruse the Crim exhibits curated by Brown, to celebrate the 80-year-old downtown attraction and to swap stories of its heyday.
“I’m telling you, I am shocked. I’m glad to see them,” he said, including the members of the Class of 1954 having a reunion this weekend in the Old Post Office and Texan Theater. “So many good stories are coming out of these people. I know they’re reliving a lot of good memories, seeing these pictures thanks to Sue Brown.”
There are many, many people here, Camp added, for whom the Crim was a major part of their childhood and youth.
“It was a gathering place, a place to come and meet. We feel like it’s a part of Kilgore that needs to be kept up and kept out for the people of Kilgore, especially the young people. They probably think it’s just an empty building.”
Kilgore Community Relations Manager Sonya Waters helped coordinate Friday’s event with KHPF and was glad to see so many people poring over the old blueprints of the theater, historic photos and new images by local photographer Doc Langley.
“People always like to know more about the history of the Crim,” Waters said. “It’s so important to Kilgore. Main Street and the city of Kilgore are so appreciative of all the work that Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation has done with all the renovations of the two theaters in Kilgore.”
She, too, is eager to see the future revitalization of the Crim become a torch its current caretakers can pass to a new generation.
“One big thing we really need is more youth involved,” Waters said. “We have been welcoming young people in who want to know more about the theaters. That’s who we need to engage for the restoration of the Crim and all the rich history here in Kilgore.”