Old Central Texas Theaters

Going to the theater as a kid or teenager builds such vivid memories. It's like remembering where you were when you first heard a song. The smell of the popcorn and the upholstery in old musky theaters is forever implanted in your mind. Growing up in central Texas, around the Waco area, I've seen a lot of changes to the theaters over the last 30 years. All the theaters I went to growing up are now either completely demolished without any visible trace of them left, or they remain standing in much needed repair.

As a kid into my teenage years, I remember seeing movies at:

  • The Lake Air Drive-In- I was very young watching a movie at this theater in the backseat of our car with my parents. This is now the site of the Richland Mall.
  • The Circle Drive-In- Open from 1947-1982. I remember seeing the Drew Barrymore movie "Firestarter" at this theater. This site is now the home of an insurance company and Treasure City Flea Market.
  • The Joy Drive-Inn- I saw many movies at this theater in Bellmead, Texas on the Old Dallas Highway. I remember seeing "Rabid" there. This site now overgrown with trees and shrubs.
  • The local indoor theaters back then were the Ivy Twin Cinema at Baylor, the Lake Air Cinema next door to the Lake Air Mall, the Diamond Point Theater at the end of Valley Mills Drive. The Diamond Point Theater opened in October 1974 and was the first multi-screen theater in Waco.

Copyright(c) KCC Big Country 25th St. Theater Sign
Copyright(c) KCC Big Country 25th St. Theater Sign

25th Street Theater in Waco, Texas

The very first movie I recall seeing in the historic 25th Street Theater in Waco, Texas was "Island of the Blue Dolphins". Since the movie came out in 1964, I'm assuming what I saw was a re-release.

The second movie I remember seeing at this theater was "Ode to Billy Joe" with Robby Benson. I went to this movie in 1976 with two girlfriends in the summer before I turned 14. What I didn't realize until I was researching the years on these movies was that Max Baer Jr. was the producer and director for "Ode to Billy Joe". Max Baer was best known as Jethro on the "The Beverly Hillbillies".

The very first movie my first husband and I saw together on a date at the 25th Street Theater was "Star Wars". "Star Wars" ran for 14 weeks at this theater in the summer of 1977.

Some brief facts about the 25th Street Theater in Waco, Texas:

  • Construction Began on the Theater in 1944

  • Opened in November 29, 1945 with a showing of the musical "Thrill of Romance" with Van Johnson & Ester Williams. Admission was 40 cents on the weekend and 30 cents for weekday matinees. Children were 12 cents.

  • Originally had 780 seats but was reduced to 646 after the screen was enlarged twice

  • Was a big deal in its day, with air conditioning and state of the art sound equipment

  • The Roman Charioteers Murals found on the interior walls was designed by Eugene Gilbo.

  • It is rumored that Elvis Presley snuck in to watch a movie here on one of his many visits to Waco while he was stationed in Ft. Hood, Tx in the 50s.

  • Closed in July 1982 after the development of local malls and multiplex theaters took over Waco. The last movie shown was the re-release of Walt Disney's "Bambi".

  • Had the first THX Sound System in Waco

  • The only 70 mm screen Waco has ever had.

  • It was renovated and reopened Labor Day weekend 1986 as a progressive nightclub with state of the art light, sound and video system, 32 ft video screen, dance floor, 2 bars, Class 4 Argon Laser light system, robotic trussing and own TV show called "The 25th Dimension".

  • Closed again in 1992.

Copyright(c)KCC Big Country  Historic 25th Street Theater in Waco, Tx  This is how it looked in Aug 2009.
Copyright(c)KCC Big Country Historic 25th Street Theater in Waco, Tx This is how it looked in Aug 2009.

The Best Theatre in West, Texas

There's really not much I can personally add about this theater other than what you see on the plaque that is displayed in front of it. I've never been inside, although the place has intrigued me for over 30 years. If you've read some of my archectectural-related hubs, you'll understand how much buildings like this "whisper" to me. They have so much hidden within their walls that I long to know about. I'd love to hear from anyone in the Central Texas area that knows anything about this theater.

In April 2010, it was announced that remodeling has begun on the Best Theater as part of The Main Street program in the town of West, Texas.

Best Theatre in West, Texas

Copyright(c)KCC Big Country Best Theater in West, Texas
Copyright(c)KCC Big Country Best Theater in West, Texas
Copyright(c)KCC Big Country  Sign at Best Theater in West, TX
Copyright(c)KCC Big Country Sign at Best Theater in West, TX

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Comments 22 comments

Smireles profile image

Smireles 7 years ago from Texas

This was a walk down memory lane. I remember most the drive in theaters of my childhood. This was fun. Thanks!

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

You're welcome, Smireles! I remember my dad always asking my mom to whip us up some popcorn to take with us. My dad always thought popcorn made on the stove at home was better and cheaper. Yes, that's true, dad, but did it occur to you that the popcorn would be COLD by the time we got it to the movie and the movie started? LOL

John Chancellor profile image

John Chancellor 7 years ago from Tennessee

You sure bring back some memories. I suspect that we remember those old theaters a bit better than they actually were.

I still remember the film getting off track and the images fluttering while the attendant tried to get things back on track.

When I have gone back to where I grew up I am amazed at how "run down" things are now. I know some of it is age but I also suspect that I had a more romantic image of how things were.

One thing I am certain of is that life was much simpler and we were probably a lot more content with life back then.

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

Thanks John. You're right. I think part of what makes things change over time, is the growth of trees and bushes. When you give each of them 30 years to grow, they seem to overtake things. I found this particularly noticeable on a road my school bus used to travel down as a kid. I remember thinking I don't remember this road being so narrow. It wasn't as a kid. The trees have grown on both sides adding to the illusion of the road shrinking.

I keep reminding my teenage daughter that someday she'll be looking back at things in the same way. She's already seeing changes. It's cool though.

dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

I really have an affinity for theaters. I remember when I was a kid, I wanted to go and see, "Return of the Jedi" with my brother, but my mom refused and told me I was too young! I finally forgave my mom for it when it was re-released when I was in college!

Though nothing close as your theaters, there still is an awesome vintage theater where I grew up that is still operational. They've kept up with the upkeep (lol) and the only thing they really changed was that they divided the huge theater in two. Great memories. Thanks, Big Country.

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

You're welcome Dohn! Thank you for stopping by and adding your Jedi memory! Maybe you can write a theater hub?

Carmen Borthwick profile image

Carmen Borthwick 7 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

Going to the movies is a great escape! I used to walk 20 miles (return) as a teenager to go to the movies for a couple of bucks and a small popcorn I recall was about 35 cents. It was a wonderful way to spend my hard earned baby sitting money, an hour paid for my popcorn! That was in the /60s and doesn't seem as though it was that long ago.

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

A lot has changed since then though. My husband, daughter and I went to a matinee movie recently. It cost $17.25 to get in. Then I bought 1 large drink and 1 small buttered popcorn. The drink & popcorn were $10.00. Almost $30 for a matinee movie.

Thanks for stopping by and adding your memories Carmen!

TamCor profile image

TamCor 7 years ago from Ohio

What a wonderful hub to read, KCC! My mom and dad used to pile my brother and I into our station wagon, and head out to the drive-in--it was so much fun. My mom for several years kept us "under 12" years old, so we could get in free, lol.

I went to my first cinema when I was about 16--I saw "Jaws", and was scared silly! But I'll never forget how fascinated I was by that old, single movie cinema...

Around here, most of the drive-ins are gone--only one remains, that I know of. But there are a few of the small cinemas still around in neighboring towns, which is kinda neat!

Anyway, thanks for the memories(as Bob Hope would say, lol)...it was great! :)

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

I'm so glad it brought back some memories for you too,TamCor! And thank you for sharing them!

Carolyn Tobola 6 years ago

Jim Tobola,owner of the Best in West, was my "Pop", grandpa. What a memory treasure! In my collection of pictures, there's one of "Pop", as a young man standing proudly in front of his BEST!

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 6 years ago from Central Texas Author

Carolyn, I would love to have more information about your grandfather's theater! Anything you'd like to share about the theater, including photos would be great. I'll add them here. If you have a lot of info, I could actually dedicate an entire hub (article) to just that. Email me by clicking on the "Contact KCC Big Country" in the upper right-hand corner under the monkey avatar. I'd love to hear from you!

Mike Jacobus 6 years ago

I am one of the founders of McLennan County Paranormal Investigations and we will be doing a Ghost Hunt in the Best Theater in West Texas sometimes in March 11. Would you like to tag along and see what turns up? Also would want to know if you have any additional information about the theater that will help us in research?

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 6 years ago from Central Texas Author

Without a doubt or hesitation, YES! I will see what other info I can get. I'll contact Carolyn (see above).

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 5 years ago from Central Texas Author

The Best Theater is being investigated by the McLennan County Paranormal team tonight. They have been tweeting live while on location. Wish I could have gone along.

jerry shults 5 years ago

i have bought the old Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth , and it is going to be a National Registry property......i am looking for old Texas theater pics to frame, and maybe blow up , to decorate the office and retail center.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 5 years ago from Central Texas Author

How exciting, Jerry! Decorating with old Texas theater pics is great idea too!

McLennan County Paranormal Investigations 5 years ago

We had an interesting investigation. Heard boots walking upstairs where there is no upstairs. Recorded the sound of spurs walking across the floor, gunshot,billiards breaking,the sound of an old time piano, and a lot of spirit voices. Also all saw a shadow of what looked like a child. Very interesting place.

escapewaco 4 years ago

Where was the Waco theater?

Debbie 19 months ago

You didn't mention the old Waco Drive In. It was on the north bound access road of I-35. Across from where the Flying J is now.

Kevin 16 months ago

A few years ago you posted Santa sighting in Fort Worth Texas. Santa in a red corvette. I would like to let you know that sweet Santa has retired and his nephew now dawns the red suit and rides on a motorcycle!

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 16 months ago from Central Texas Author

Great to hear, Kevin! I will definitely be watching out for him ! The article you are referring to is still online here: http://hubpages.com/holidays/Santa-Sightings...

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