- Associated Press - Monday, June 12, 2017

KILGORE, Texas (AP) - Ex-Kilgore Mayor Mickey Smith said he was 6 years old when he saw his first motion picture stars at the Texan Theater in 1949.

The Longview News-Journal reports Smith recently watched as the star that accents The Texan’s facade lit up in downtown Kilgore for the first time in several decades.

“This is the first theater I went to,” Smith said. “I got in for 9 cents.”

The Texan Theater first opened in 1931 but has endured two fires, a temporary name change, near demolition and even a period in the 1970s when it was a catfish restaurant, said historian and philanthropist Sue Brown.

The Texan and nearby Crim theaters now are significant pieces of a long-term preservation plan for downtown Kilgore that began in the late 1980s with Brown, Smith and other members of Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation.

More than 130 people watched as Smith, current Mayor Ronnie Spradlin and City Council members Harvey McClendon and Victor Boyd connected electrical lines that lit up the Texan’s facade. The lighting ceremony celebrated about 30 years of work to restore both theaters.

“I hope before I die that I get to walk inside and see something inside those buildings,” Brown said, “because some of us have worked really hard to keep them from (becoming parking lots).”

The Kilgore City Council has agreed to hire a Smith County firm to perform a limited-scope asbestos abatement at the Texan. Special Services Director B.J. Owen said the project will prepare the theater for future use, such as this November when it hosts the Reel East Texas independent film festival.

The venue burned in 1942, but it was rebuilt and reopened in 1944, Brown said

In 1969, the Crim Theater closed its location across Kilgore Street and reopened in the Texan Theater after replacing the Texan’s facade, Brown said. The building then became a catfish restaurant for a period in the 1970s until it closed for several years.

Over time, the Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation obtained a lease agreement for the theaters from the city. Later, the foundation received a planning grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1988 for the Texan and Crim theaters. According to the foundation, an Association of Historic American Theaters architect completed a planning study of both Kilgore theaters, and their roofs were replaced by 1990.

In 1993, the city designated portions of its hotel occupancy tax revenue toward restoring the theaters, and a restoration plan for the Texan was developed by 2000, according to the foundation.

Repairs to the Texan began in 2002, with exterior renovations completed two years later, according to kilgorehistory.org. In 2008, the lease for both the Crim and the Texan reverted back to the city and other local governments.

In 2012, the city spent $3,000 for electrical utilities at the Texan that culminated in the recent lighting ceremony. The only dim moment on the night, perhaps, was that May storms damaged lettering on the facade’s south side, City Manager Josh Selleck said.

Brown credited Smith - the seventh mayor in Kilgore’s history - with saving the theaters from demolition and leading the charge to restore the venues. She also said the most fun she’s enjoyed during the restoration process has been that she has the Texan’s original tile and sidewalks, even though the facade was replaced for a period when it served as the Crim theater.

“We matched it. Those are the original doors. We have all of the interior original doors,” Brown said. “If it hadn’t been for (Smith), they would be parking lots.

“The Crim was close,” she said to Smith while standing in front of the Texan’s facade. “It was being bought, and (the owners) didn’t pay their taxes and y’all got them off the tax rolls.”

“You’ve got the title to this one now,” Smith said.

“The city does,” Brown corrected, “both of them.”


Information from: Longview News-Journal, https://www.news-journal.com

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