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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

Palestine’s Texas Theater

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
While visiting Palestine a few months back, I learned that the Texas Theater, one of the grand old movie houses of East Texas, has been restored and is now a setting for community stage productions.

The Texas is not only a landmark for Palestine, but for me.

It was where I saw my very first movie, a Gene Autry western, “Mexicali Rose,” sometime in the l930s.

One Saturday night, my father, a sawmill mechanic at the Neches River logging camp of Fastrill, loaded our family in his old Ford and drove to Palestine to see Gene, Noah Berry and Luana Walters perform on The Texas’ silver screen.

For days after, I rode stick horses and fired wooden pistols with Gene as we chased all the bad men out of Fastrill. Today, Fastrill is a ghost town and I suspect it is because the law-abiding ways Gene and I brought to Fastrill bored everyone to death.

Even today, I can still hear Gene’s singing in the corners of my mind.

The Texas Theater, which strands proudly in downtown Palestine, was built in 1928 by W. Scott Dunne, who designed numerous theaters in Texas. The old Spanish colonial style building was created to have the look and feel of an open courtyard under a dusky sky.

The theater had several reincarnations during its lifetime.
Texas Theater, Palestine Texas
Texas Theater in Palestine
Old photo courtesy Billy Smith
It was only open briefly when it burned in 1929, but rose from the ashes in the late l930s, only to burn again in 1939. In the 1940s, it was up and running again, this time as a more modern movie house.

In 1956, the Texas opened its lower seats, both orchestra and mezzanine, for the first time to African-American patrons. Louis Collier, now in his sixties, recalled attending that night’s showing of the “The Ten Commandments.” He recalled: “Every black kid in town was probably there.”

In the l970s, the Texas closed again and soon fell into shambles, but in 1983, Palestine’s people joined together and renovated the theater as a live playhouse. But roofing and plumbing problems led to another closure in 1997. This time, inmates from the state’s Gurney prison unit came to the rescue and made repairs, enabling the theater to open again in March of 2005.

Today, live productions like “The Music Man” and “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” have taken cowboy Gene Autry’s place at the Texas.
All Things Historical
February 4, 2007 Column.
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers

Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a past president of the Association and the author of more than 30 books about East Texas.

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This page last modified: February 9, 2007