Monday, April 25, 2011

The Comedy and Tragedy of the Arcadia Theater

The Arcadia Theater, Kerrville, late 1920s.
With the Arcadia Theater in the news lately, I thought it might be useful to share the old girl's history here again.
According to the reports I've read, the plans for the renovation of the Arcadia have little to do with the history of the building. The City of Kerrville felt it best to sell the historic theater to a person with a history of successful businesses. That person has now partnered with a successful builder. Hopefully this new incarnation of the Arcadia will be a success, too.
I'll admit I was a little dismayed at some of the things proposed for the facility, including leveling the floor and the installation of icons and images from New York City. The first will make it difficult to ever return the Arcadia to a performing arts site; the second, images from NYC, have nothing to do with Kerrville, or of the history of the Arcadia.
But enough of my soapbox; here's a little history of the Arcadia from my files:
On the warm Tuesday evening of June 29, 1926, a flock of folks crowded into a newly built hall to watch the comedy film “Irene,” starring Colleen Moore. They were greeted with “cooled” air and a saga about the life of a poor, beautiful Irish lass
whose dire economic circumstances obscure her royal lineage. She worked as a shopkeeper’s assistant, selling dresses. A local grandee had obtained the job for her there as a model; the villainous shopkeeper had demoted her to lowly clerk. During a grand fashion show, the grandee notes the absence of his protégé, storms to the dimly lit store, costumes the girl and returns with her to triumph, and eventually love – discovered on a rusting fire escape, outside the fashion show.
The scenes of the fashion show were “registered in subdued tones of the Techni-color process, a new idea which has recently been discovered by those who invented the method of color photography.” This probably explains the choice of this movie, a First National release, as the film for that particular evening. The film was in color.
“Irene” was the first film shown in the newly built Arcadia Theater.
The town was very proud of their new theater. There was an older movie house, the Dixie, near the corner of Washington and Water streets, on the northern corner. The Dixie is remembered for its wooden bleachers, where patrons tucked their feet up to avoid the rats that ran along the floor eating popcorn and nibbling on shoelaces. The Arcadia, by contrast, was a movie palace.
Built at a cost of $90,000, the new theater featured high-tech (for 1926) projection equipment (a pair of Powers projectors), a ‘Gardiner Velvet Gold Fibre Screen,’ a Hillgren-Lane pipe organ, and seating capacity for 1,000. The building looked very different then: it featured a Spanish mission façade, and the 16x40 foot ‘arcade’ was accented with rough plaster and hand-hewn beams. In the ‘arcade’ was seven display cases.
Seating was also arranged differently than the seating many of us remember. In addition to the ‘orchestra’ and balcony seats, there were also eight loges with five chairs each. Smoking was allowed in the balcony seats only.
The small stage (8 x 15 feet) was furnished with scenery from Volland Scenic Company of St. Louis, and included a “beautiful mountain and river scene, typical of the country surrounding Kerrville. It is a remarkable reproduction of nature, done in oil.” There was also an orchestra pit measuring 7 ½ x 25 feet; this was the home of the pipe organ.
The neon sign we see frantically flashing in the night sky is not the original sign for the theater. The first was about 15 feet high and extended six feet above the building, with 16” letters. The lighting flashed on and off at intervals, but was not neon; the coloring of the letters was done by placing ‘glass color hoods’ over the lamps, and red and green and amber were the predominate colors. There was a twinkling torch and a ‘flowing’ border driven by an electric motor.
The Bart Moore Construction Company built the building. Mr. Moore was also the president of the Kerrville Amusement Company, which owned the Arcadia and Dixie Theaters, and he would serve as the Arcadia’s first general manager.
Admission prices that first week of performances were 25 and 50 cents.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who owns a copy of the movie "Irene."  This column first appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 23, 2011.

For more information about Joe's book of historic photographs, please click here.


  1. As I remember, the design on the ceiling of the theater reminded me of the Empire State Building a bit, so maybe New York City isn't too far out. I'd love to see it again.

  2. Also, I remember my parents telling me that there was a dinosaur bone on display in the lobby. They said the bone was found during construction of the Cascade Pool.

  3. I was doing some research on my grandfather who was the manager of the United Theatre Equipment Co in Detroit Mi. around the 1916 - 1918 period. he was the inventer of the Velvet Gold Fibre Screen. The screen was known as th L J Gardiner Velvet Gold Screen during the time he was employed by United. He resigned in October of 1918 and moved to Columbus Ohio where he owned the American Theatre Equipment Co. I am posting this only because I noticed the spelling of Gardner in this piece and I am sure that my grandfather would want the spelling of his last name to be accurate as he was proud of his accomplishment.


Please remember this is a rated "family" blog. Anything worse than a "PG" rated comment will not be posted. Grandmas and their grandkids read this, so please, be considerate.



Related Posts with Thumbnails