Ora Theater

217 East Park Avenue,
Freeport, TX 77541

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I discovered this theater while browsing the on-line archives of the Brazoria County Historical Museum.

I grew up in neighboring Lake Jackson and had never heard of the Ora Theater.

I encountered the owners who told me it had opened ca. 1940.

Contributed by brucesw

Recent comments (view all 14 comments)

marmer
marmer on March 14, 2014 at 10:44 am

The Velasco opened in November, 1944. There’s quite a lot about it in the Freeport Facts of October and November, 1944. There had been a massive influx of war workers between 1941 and 1944 into the area, so it is completely reasonable that there would have been so many theaters and the finances would have supported construction by late 1944. It was a pretty building, too, as I said it looked more like the Texas City Showboat than the Freeport Showboat did. It had an asymmetrical pylon over the corner entry.

marmer
marmer on March 14, 2014 at 10:47 am

Looks like there are some Freeporters here, (hey, brucesw, buddy!) so I’ll pose the question that I asked Joe in a different thread: does anyone know if Houston/Rosenberg architect Ernest Shult designed the Freeport theaters built by Long? I suspect that he did but haven’t been able to confirm it.

marmer
marmer on March 14, 2014 at 11:01 am

The Freeport Facts, September 23, 1958, says “The Princess Theatre building has been repaired and is being repainted. This is one of the two movie buildings in Freeport and is located on Broad Street.” On the same page there is mention of the Palace Theatre. I haven’t found an address for either but there are mentions of fairly regular church services and revivals meeting in them and vaudeville productions by local organizations (not traveling entertainers.)

marmer
marmer on March 14, 2014 at 11:01 am

I suspect that those became the Freeport and the Port, but I don’t know.

marmer
marmer on March 14, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Oops, wish I could edit! The “Princess Theatre building” entry in the Freeport Facts mentioned above was from 1928, not 1958!

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 14, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I’m pretty sure the Palace Theatre became the Freeport Theatre. The Palace is first listed in the Film Daily Yearbook in 1930, without a seating capacity listed. From 1931 through 1936 it is listed with 500 seats. In 1937 the Palace vanishes, but the Freeport is listed with 500 seats. It sounds like a name change.

The Princess/Port connection is tenuous. The Princess is listed until 1929 with 325 seats. It is not listed in 1930, but reappears in 1931, now with 478 seats and an asterisk, which FDY used to denote houses that didn’t have sound yet. It is then listed in 1932, 1933, and 1934 as closed. It then vanishes. The Port Theatre first appears in the 1941 FDY, with no seating capacity listed. In 1942 the Port is listed with 400 seats. There’s a definite possibility that the Port was the Princess reopened and renamed, but it’s not certain.

marmer
marmer on March 14, 2014 at 4:42 pm

One thing I found interesting while looking around in the Freeport Facts is that there were no movie listings, per se, in the pre-war period. There were articles mentioning movies, and of course no address given. It sounds like the movie schedule was relatively flexible and in between there were church services and other meetings. And the Houston Symphony Orchestra gave two concerts at the Showboat in 1948, so they must have had a big stage or built out a platform over the seats.

marmer
marmer on March 15, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I spent some time in Freeport Facts archives, which only go back to 1928.

The Princess had listings for local vaudeville and dance performances (Blue Triangle Club, Miss Vera Kelly’s students) in 1928. On September 21, 1928, it was “repaired and repainted.” A Pentecostal revival was there in late December 1930 and early January 1931. As far as the address, there is a mention of a “bank building between the Princess Theatre and McClendon’s” on Broad Street in August 1928.

The Palace was on Second Street. There were listings of church services and meetings in 1928. On June 1, 1936, M. N. Bussey bought it from longtime owner J. A. Phillips. Bussey remodeled the building, extended it 25 feet in length, added 105 seats and a new sound screen, and reopened it as the Freeport Theatre on August 5, 1936. The last movie listing for it I can find is in August, 1944. By that time it was called “The House of Westerns” and was showing only Westerns. There is an ad for Darwood Furniture at 119 W. Second Street in the “Old Freeport Theatre Building” on March 15, 1945.

Mr. and Mrs. Bussey built and opened the Ora on East Park Avenue on June 11, 1940. Mrs. Bussey’s name was Ora and the theatre was named after her.

Mr. and Mrs. Bussey also started construction of the Port Theatre in late 1940. It was on West Second Street and was “tile and stucco.” There is mention of a “lower floor.”

The Busseys and their sister and brother-in-laws the A.R. Milentz’s were partners in the Freeport Amusements Company. They sold the Freeport, Ora, and newly completed Port Theatres to J.G. Long on January 25, 1941. The Port opened a week later on February 5, 1941. It must have been air conditioned eventually, an ad in August 1944 called it “The Coolest Spot in Freeport.”

The Busseys remained to manage the Ora for Long, but by April 1941 they were managing the Daisetta Theatre in Daisetta. M. N. Bussey died July 19 1944; on the same page of the Freeport Facts is a death notice for TSgt Chauncey Freeman, who had been manager of the Freeport Theatre until March 1943 when he entered the USAAF. Freeman was killed in action in a B-24 over Germany on June 29 1944.

On November 22, 1945, there is mention of a Lack’s Auto Store in “the building formerly occupied by the Port Theatre.”

Long announced the plans for “new Freeport theatre” and the Velasco Theatre on October 23, 1941. The Showboat opened June 6, 1942, with prewar RCA projectors and sound, air conditioning, and 1000 seats with balcony. The Texas City Showboat had just opened on April 16, 1942, with a similar design by Ernest Shult.

The Velasco Theatre finally opened on November 23, 1944. It was air conditioned and about three-quarters the size of the big Showboat. Apparently it was quite nice at the time. The address was 314 South Avenue A, Velasco. It ended its days as a porn or at least “blue” house, the last listing I can find for it is a showing of Gone With The Wind from April 7, 1972. I believe it was demolished in the 1980s. Further research in county records may reveal more information about the vanished movie theaters of Freeport. Unfortunately, an address for the Port hasn’t appeared. Movie listings didn’t give addresses for the theaters.

marmer
marmer on March 15, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Lack’s Auto Supply: 217 West Broad in December, 1946, so that must be the address of the Port Theatre.

marmer
marmer on March 15, 2014 at 2:53 pm

The Broad Street address of the Port Theatre is now a vacant lot. I’m pretty sure the 119 W. Second Street address of the Freeport/Palace Theatre is also a vacant lot or has a different building on it.

The Ora was showing westerns on weekends only by May, 1953; by March 1954 there is a Bargain Furniture store in the “Old Ora Theatre.”

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