Kilgore, TX – What’s in a name? Crim Theater
From The Kilgore News Herald: The Crim Theater that stands on South Kilgore Street has been part of Kilgore since 1939 but its history stretches back to 1920.
The current Crim Theater officially opened on June 21, 1939. Movie theaters in Kilgore, though, have been traced back to 1911.
At its earliest, the Crim was the Cozy Theater, built by Frank Osborn. Liggett Crim purchased the theater in 1920 and installed a player piano he played. When the theater moved in 1923, Crim renamed the theater the Dixie and installed a device called the “Dixiephone,” which he made with Hamp Mercer to show “talking” pictures.
“My Man,” starring Fanny Brice, was the first movie to use the Dixiephone with “The Jazz Singer” following along shortly after.
The name was officially changed to the Crim Theater when C.O. Murphee purchased the Dixie. Fire destroyed that theater in 1931.
Crim purchased the Rex theater building the following year, renaming it the Crim Theater and brought Kilgore a first-run movie house. In 1937 the now combined East Texas Theaters, Inc. and L.N. Crim Theaters, Inc. announced plans to build a new Crim Theater. Construction began in fall 1938 and the doors opened the following summer.
“Built as the ‘flagship’ of Crim’s theaters, it was to be the finest theater in the East Texas area,” the historical narrative states. “It was designed in the streamlined art deco style popular at that time and was called a ‘modern-classic building.’”
According to the book “Kilgore: A Boom for the Ages,” former Kilgore Mayor Roy H. Laird said, “[The] new edifice is a tribute to the future of Kilgore as a metropolis.”
The theater, which cost $150,000 to build, seated a little fewer than 1,000 people and was designed with the audiences in mind.
“The builders ‘spared no detail in which could possibly contribute to the pleasure and comfort of our audiences,’” the narrative states, quoting the theater manager John Knox Lamb.
The seats and carpeting reflected the interior color scheme of the theater and the projection machine – the “Super Simplex” – was just as advanced as the seats.
Although the neon letters on the Crim Theater marquee are lit together, the letters flashed one at a time and then together when the theater was in operation.
Among the out-of-town guests who traveled to Kilgore to commemorate the theater’s opening were representatives of United Artists Corporation, Universal Film Exchange, Columbia Pictures, Monogram Pictures, Metro-Golden-Mayer (MGM) Pictures, Interstate Theaters, Inc., Warner Brothers Pictures, R.K.O. Radio Pictures and Grand National Pictures.
The first ticket sold to attend the opening night black-tie affair showing of “Only Angles Have Wings” was sold to John N. Peterson, of Kilgore, in a public auction attended by about 3,000 people. Peterson paid $613.80 with the proceeds benefiting the Kilgore Daily News Milk Fund.
“The Crim continued for many years as center for the finest entertainment in the style set by its grand opening,” the historical narrative reads.
Grand promotional campaigns led to the premiere of the first-run movies, including “Gone with the Wind,” “Boom Town” and “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Spanish moss draped the marquee of the Crim before the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” and actors even dressed as Rhett Butler, Scarlett O’Hara and other characters to pose outside the theater.
The Crim Theater hosted the world premiere of the 1948 film “Strike It Rich,” which was filmed in Kilgore. The theater’s presence in Kilgore’s social and entertainment scene remained steady through the late 1950s.
Children could pay nine cents to spend the day at the Crim watching cartoons, a newsreel, a serial and two features in the comfort of the air conditioned theater.
When TV entered people’s lives and kept them at home instead of at the theater, the Crim was eventually closed and sold. After a stint as a warehouse, the theater has been vacant since the mid-1960s.
The public’s continued interest in the theater and its significance in the town has led the city to look forways to restore the building.
The Texas-New Mexico office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation supported the goal of restoring the theater and recommended it be nominated to the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
Although the city was able to restore the theaters façade, the interior still looks like that of a vacant theater.
The city has copies of the original architectural drawings to use as reference points for possibly restoration projects in the future, though.
“The possibilities for the old theater are numerous, but immediate action should be taken to preserve it and to insure that it once again may contribute to the life of the city,” the narrative concludes. “It is imperative that a plan for the restoration and adaptive reuse of this building be developed. An architectural consultant needs to develop a phased plan for the stabilization and renovation of the Crim, to formulate a design for appropriate space utilization, and to set a renovation budget.”
Story link, with more photos: http://www.kilgorenewsherald.com/stories/crim-theater,104710
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