What was the first movie you saw in a theater? Mine was Hocus Pocus and my three-year-old sister cried to leave. Meanwhile, I wanted to be a Sanderson.
We had my mom rent it for us probably a hundred times over the next year or two until she finally bought us the tape. I memorized all of the lines and rallied the kids in my neighborhood to play witches pre-Harry Potter. To this day, I love Hocus Pocus. It reminds me of a time when I had minimum responsibilities and maximum happiness. The worst thing that could happen was getting my soul sucked out of my body by a musical icon on Halloween.
Movies often remind us of something familiar. They can dig up feelings and memories from the past and help us reconnect with ourselves. They can present new perspectives for us to consider and have a way of connecting us to each other.
As a city-dweller, I have access to multiple theaters within a few miles, but how does my experience differ from those who might have to drive hours away?
On a recent road trip through the Texas panhandle, I made a few stops to learn a bit about a few small town cinemas along highway 287.
THE GEM THEATRE
120 Trice Street
The Gem Theatre was built in 1915 in Claude, TX. Originally a live performance house named the Claudia Theatre, it was later renamed The Gem Theatre and soon opened to moving pictures.
In 1963, the theatre became a local hot-spot and state historical marker after the film, “Hud,” starring Paul Newman, was shot in Claude. The film was nominated for multiple Academy Awards that year, winning three categories including Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Cinematography. Both the outside of the building as well as the indoor seating area of The Gem appear in the film.
The Gem Theatre was renovated and restored after being acquired in 1992 by The Armstrong County Museum.
106 Kearney Street
Amongst the oldest buildings in Clarendon is the Mulkey Theatre. Built and opened in 1946, the Mulkey replaced a previous movie house, The Cozy Theatre, after being destroyed by a fire on the same plot. Based on every film in history with a similar origin story, this theater is definitely haunted.
Over the next 40 years, Clarendon would be known as "Cinema City" due to the Mulkey being one of the few movie theaters in the panhandle area.
Once a place of incredible popularity, the theatre closed in 1986 due to the growing amount of theaters in the panhandle area. The Mulkey would sit neglected until 2008 when the City of Clarendon began the restoration process. The theatre officially reopened in 2019.
Today, the Mulkey holds movie screenings and has future plans to expand to live performances.
ELECTRA GRAND THEATRE
114 N Waggoner Street
The Grand Theatre was built in 1919 in Electra, TX. Originally meant to serve as an opera house, the Grand included an orchestra pit and held up to 1,000 guests. The marquee, however, was added to the building front in the 1930s.
Near the Texas-Oklahoma border, the theater provided live entertainment to many including boxing and vaudeville performances through the 1940s. In the 1950s, the Grand updated their house with cinemascope, adding a large screen to the stage front. Over time, however, the expanding neighboring cities would become more popular for moviegoing. In the 1980s, the theatre would face significant deterioration due to a damaged roof.
In the mid-nineties, the City of Electra acquired the Grand, and in 2008, Electra Grand Theatre, Inc., a non-profit company, began restoring the Grand to its original glory. The Grand Theatre was officially recorded as a Texas Historical Landmark in 2006.