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.
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.
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
Great Links about Theaters
- Drive-ins.com - Last Drive-In Picture Show
Drive-ins.com: Last Drive-In Picture Show in Gatesville, Texas
- 2 Waco Drive-In Theaters
A few photos of the Circle Drive-In Theater in Waco, Texas near the circle and the Joy Drive-In in Bellmead, Texas.
- Texas Theatres, Picture Shows, Movie Houses, a Gallery of Photos.
Texas Theatres, Picture Shows, Movie Houses, Billy Smith's Texas Theaters Photo Collection featured in Texas Escapes' Texas Theatres Series.
- Flickr: Vanishing Movie Theaters' Photostream
Over 1500 Photos of old Movie Theaters, primarily around Texas
- 2007 Article in the Baylor Lariat about the 25th St Theater
- Cinema Treasures
Non-profit website dedicated to saving classic movie theaters. Includes theater info, news, photographs, virtual tours, message boards, and more.