Royal Theater

116 S. Sycamore Street,
Archer City, TX 76351

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LouRugani on July 25, 2012 at 4:43 pm

(Mount Carmel Daily Republican Register, October 19, 2007)

A ‘Royal’ Rebirth
by Kristen Tribe

Laughter ripples through the crowd at the Royal Theater in Archer City, Texas (pop. 1,848), as singer Rodney Hayden tells a witty tale. But as he begins strumming his guitar, the laughter subsides, Hayden begins to sing and the audience absorbs every note. “Singer-songwriters love nothing more than you listening to what they have to say,” says Tesha Thomas, producer of the Lite Week Lazy Boy Supper Club at the Royal, a recurring showcase for performers to sing their songs and tell their stories. The Royal Theater has a long tradition of inspiring storytelling, first as a movie house, then as the basis of a famous novel and film, now as host to the supper club, theatrical productions and the Texasville Opry, which presents six performances each year. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry, 71, grew up in Archer City and well remembers going to the Royal as a child. “Most of the movies I saw were at the Royal,” he recalls. “We had to drive in from the ranch. It was the only culture there was, so to speak.” In 1965, the town’s shred of culture was lost when the theater burned; although a cause was never determined, locals always believed it was because someone was smoking in the balcony. Despite its destruction, the Royal became a risen “star” when McMurtry spotlighted it in his novel “The Last Picture Show” the following year. It was memorialized again in the award-winning 1971 movie based on McMurtry’s book and filmed partially on location in Archer City. In 1986, McMurtry opened Booked Up in Archer City, a bookstore comprising four buildings and hundreds of thousands of books. The store proved to be a haven for book dealers, readers, movie buffs and autograph seekers in search of the author. But despite the literary and cinematic attention brought to the town, the Royal continued to lay in ruins until a local theatrical group, the Picture Show Players, decided to rebuild it as a multiuse performing arts center. “A group of people wanted to perform and wanted to see it rebuilt and have an economic impact,” says Archer County Judge Gary Beesinger, 54, producer of the Texasville Opry and himself a member of Picture Show Players. “It was an ‘If we build it, they will come’ mentality.” On August 24th, 2000, the 35th anniversary of the day it burned, the Royal Theater reopened. Since its rebirth, the Royal has regularly hosted a variety of theatrical and musical productions and various other events. Another Archer City native, actress Angela Kinsey, who plays Angela Martin on NBC’s hit series The Office, held her rehearsal dinner and wedding reception at the Royal in 2001. Although the dinner was planned for the theater, the reception was to be outdoors until a violent storm necessitated an emergency move inside. “The winds picked up and everything went nutty,” says Kinsey, who lives in Los Angeles but regularly visits family in Archer City. “People were running for cover and salad was flying through the air.” Despite the storm, her wedding is just one of many fond memories Kinsey has of Archer City. She and a friend often did their high school homework at Booked Up, and she remembers always being curious about the ruins of the Royal Theater and excited to hear about its restoration. “It’s important for every community to have a creative outlet,” Kinsey says. Today, the Royal Theater’s bright blue ticket booth serves as a beacon to storytellers of all sorts, and to those who want to hear their tales. McMurtty, who splits his time between homes in Archer City and Tucson, Ariz., says the Royal is once again a place of cultural significance in an area where ranching and oil comprise much of the economic base. “It’s always good,” he says, “to have a little something to bring the stimulation of art into a small town.”

LouRugani on July 25, 2012 at 4:16 pm

(Kokomo Tribune, August 18, 2000)

Theater made famous in The Last Picture Show' to reopen ARCHER CITY, TEXAS (AP) — In this one-stoplight town immortalized in a 1971 Academy Award-winning film, a national icon is returning to the limelight thirty-five years after the Royal Theater burned down, the front of the stone building – complete with a blue and white marquee, orange awnings and illuminated “Royal” sign – has been rebuilt to appear as it did in “The Last Picture Show,” based on a novel by Archer City native Larry McMurtry. The site of the original 100-seat theater won’t show movies but will be an open-air amphitheater with a larger room next door for bands, plays, dinner theater and art classes. “This,” said project coordinator Abby Abernathy, “would have been simple to rebuild as a movie theater, but for what? To get 100 people in here?” The renovated theater will be unveiled Thursday night, the 35th anniversary of the fire. A fifth-generation resident, Abernathy, 38, bought the property in 1986. When his idea for a restaurant failed to get support, he convinced community leaders to restore the theater as a tourist attraction. The city was beginning to dry up, and we had to re-engineer,“ he said. "Tourism is what we had to offer, because the pilgrimage to the theater was everlasting. People kept coming here for that.” Filmed in black-and-white and hailed as a masterpiece, “The Last Picture Show” portrayed the breakdown of an unhappy fictional one-horse Texas town in the 1950s. Abernathy initially received little support from locals, many of whom objected to the R-rated movie’s sexual material and felt it denigrated their town. But after working on the restoration for several years, Abernathy has apparently convinced many that their link to the past is key to the town’s future. “Now, even the biggest skeptics think it’s a good idea,” Abernathy said. The theater actually burned before the movie was made. Still, hundreds of people each year have made the trek to find the Royal and snap pictures of the rubble. McMurtry, who won a Pulitzer Prize for “Lonesome Dove,” and others in town are not surprised by lingering interest in the landmark thanks to the film, which was nominated for eight Oscars. “The Last Picture Show” had a lasting impression because it’s representative of small-town America,“ he said. "People with small-town backgrounds can relate to it.” The Archer City of today is much like it was portrayed in the film, which was directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starred Cybill Shepherd, Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms. Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman both won supporting actor Oscars. Nearly 1,800 people live in this oil and ranching town in northcentral Texas, about 25 miles south of Wichita Falls. The only traffic signal is a flashing light. The town has a few stores, banks, gas stations and one fast-food chain restaurant, Dairy Queen. “I guess you could say not much has changed here since the 1950s,” said Mazie Berend, who owns The General Store in the downtown square. Berend remembers going to the theater as a child in the 1950s, when a movie cost 20 cents and popcorn cost a dime. She and her friends watched John Wayne and Elvis Presley films, often turning around to see who was necking in the balcony. “Everybody went to the Royal because that’s all there was to do,” Berend said. But that stopped when theater caught fire one night in August 1965. What was left was a charred facade and pile of stones and rubble. “People were upset because it was their childhood memories going up in smoke,” Berend said. The owners could not afford to rebuild, so the structure remained in ruins for decades. Abernathy decided to donate the theater to the nonprofit Archer City Community Foundation, so grant money could be obtained. The foundation then bought the space next door to expand the theater. For the past four years Abernathy has done most of the physical rebuilding himself. The final cost will be about $400,000 and profits from the renovated theater will go back into operating it. “It’s just a dream come true for this town,” said Karla Powell, who owns a jewelry store and floral shop downtown. “Small towns, if they don’t have something to bring people in, then we’re all over.”

Driveintheatre2001 on January 21, 2012 at 10:32 pm

An April 2006 Photo I took of the Royal Theatre in Archer Texas..

Randy A Carlisle — Historical Photographer

DavidZornig on February 13, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Ha! Very good. I will admit, it does look cool.
I’d have filled the front windows with multiple stills from “The Last Picture Show”. So visitors could do their own comparisons on the property.
Wonder if that old Texaco is still down the street. Have to go out West again someday.

DavidZornig on February 13, 2009 at 2:12 pm

Yeah I guess so. You’d think the excavation to pour the ramp-concrete alone, would have undermined a freestanding wall in that condition. Maybe it has specific bracing behind it. But why is the wall even left in that manner? Does keeping the building hollowed out that way have some historic significance?
There’s no visible sidewalk to the right of the ramp anyway. Why such grandiose access to an empty structure? Strange. Must have been some egress code or something.

DavidZornig on February 13, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Wow. One has to wonder why such an exlaborate handicap access ramp, would have been built right next to what appears as the unsafe remains of the Royal Theater’s wall.

DavidZornig on November 20, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Typo: First sentence should read “On "Snapped”.

DavidZornig on November 20, 2008 at 4:54 pm

I knew there was something cool about searching theater’s I catch a glimpse of “Snapped”.

This time I find the actual theatre facade from “The Last Picture Show”, which I always wondered about.

As I’ve posted on a few other CT links, “Snapped” is a show in constant rotation on the Oxygen network.
It routinely starts with establishing shots in the hometown of the various female killers profiled.
Those shots often include the hometown/main street like theatres. More so when the theatre is the same name as the hometown.

With this type of filmaking history, you’d think “Snapped” producers would have milked the Royal’s significance.
This time around the shot of the Royal was only the vertical neon portion of the sign at night, and from a distance for only a couple of seconds.
Had they known of it or chosen to, “The Last Picture Show” connection could have been eerily incorporated into “Snapped”.
Guess these creative opportunities disappear or get passed on, the older these movies get.

Don Lewis
Don Lewis on March 1, 2008 at 10:14 pm

A very sad photo of the Royal Theater in Archer City taken in 1990. The “ROYAL” sign is in storage next door to the original site of the theater

Don Lewis
Don Lewis on November 28, 2006 at 5:01 am

My photograph of ROYAL sign.(taken about 6 years ago)

And the original ROYAL sign now in storage.

TexanTish on July 11, 2005 at 4:07 pm

Just to clarify for everyone, today’s theater (where live productions are performed) is to the LEFT of the original Royal. Look at the picture closely…the facade with the marquee is just that, a facade. You can see the metal structure in the back through the right ‘hallway’ and you can see a pair of gray metal doors through the left ‘hallway’. In the middle, directly under the marquee, is what is used as a box office. You would enter the theater through the gray double doors or the French doors to the left of the marquee facade. The reason your 1988 pic looks so similar to the current pic is b/c the lot to the right (east) of the marquee has not changed. The facade is the original marquee and the building next door is the new theater space. Then on the other side of the theater (to the left in your pic, or to the west) is one of Larry’s bookstores. This little Royal complex (along with the Spur Hotel) comprise the Northeast corner of the town square.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 7, 2005 at 7:03 am

This 1973 photo shows the Royal in the distance as well as a view of the Texaco station that featured prominently in the film “The Last Picture Show."
View link

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 1, 2005 at 4:05 am

Here is a photo I took of the Royal when driving through Archer City in 1973.
View link

Trolleyguy on March 20, 2005 at 8:27 am

The A&E series, “City Confidential” showcased Archer City in its 100th episode. The show centered around small-town crime and corruption, but also focused on the Royal. It has been lovingly restored as a Country & Western night club by Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove and other popular books. He also runs a book store in Archer City, which has helped it to become a sort of tourist mecca.

Of course, everyone wants to see the Royal.

Manwithnoname on January 2, 2005 at 8:29 am

There is a photo of the Royal, circa 1988, in the book “Silent Screens”. It looks to me that the current theater was reconstructed in the same space as the old one. The columns on both sides of the theater are intact and look just the same as the photo of the new theater on the website. Further, the website said the theater was reconstructed and the tree on the right looks the same and in the same position in the vacant lot. The blade sign is in the same location as the bare power outlets in the 1988 shot. If this theater was relocated, they certainly did a wonderful job.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on August 27, 2004 at 8:42 am

I remember making a point of driving here on a cross-country trip just to see the theatre in July of 1973, two years after the release of the film in 1971. I took a couple of photos of the exterior.