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
For days after, I rode stick horses and fired wooden pistols with
Gene as we chased all the bad men out of 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.
Theater in Palestine
Old photo courtesy Billy Smith
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
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
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.
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.)