Future of Odessa’s Ector Theatre Uncertain as City Reviews Development Plans

Photo courtesy Charles Henry via Creative Commons

Photo courtesy Charles Henry via Creative Commons

In our culture of “bigger, better, newer, faster,” historic theaters may well be one of America’s most endangered buildings.

There are at least 160 of these beauties in the Lone Star State, once the center of a city’s entertainment district. But now these Arcadias, Palaces, Majestics, Paramounts, and Pioneers often sit in states of disrepair.

Some municipalities or private groups have stepped up and renovated these architectural treasures, like the Pines Theater in Lufkin, the Historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, and the Crighton Theatre in Conroe.

But all too often, these buildings are demolished to make way for new development that looks flashier and brings in more rent per square foot.

In Odessa, the Ector Theatre is at the center of just such a situation now, with a proposal to make it part of a new downtown hotel and convention center, a $73 million project. Dallas-based Gatehouse Capital, a real estate investment company, made the proposal for development of the area that would include retaining the historic Ector image, but details are sparse.

The Odessa City Council approved a 90-day, $192,000 study on Jan. 13 by Gatehouse and third-party companies to examine the options for the theater, and nothing is off the table yet. Jump to read more!

Photo courtesy Charles Henry via Creative Commons

Photo courtesy Charles Henry via Creative Commons

The 700-seat Ector Theatre, located at 500 N. Texas Ave., opened in 1951 as a single-screen cinema. It closed from 1985 to August 2001, when it was spruced up and reopened for community events, performances, and to show classic films. Toni and Don Stice and the nonprofit group Friends of the Ector Theatre currently operate the Ector.

Its colorful marquee is beloved by many community members, and in light of the current situation, Odessa resident Vickie Maddox started a Facebook page called “Don’t Mess with Our Ector Theatre” on Jan. 19. It has 978 “likes” and lots of information on the history of the space (Elvis once performed there), and how to contact city council representatives to express concern for the theater’s preservation.

The Odessa American reports that in a meeting with Gatehouse, RKTL designer Diego Rodriguez Renovales said the possibility of incorporating the theater into the hotel would depend on cost, city council’s preferences, and overall design plans.

“Our proposal is to try to keep the Ector Theatre, we don’t know what the feasibility of that is … but we want to keep the signage and the architectural features,” Renovales is reported as saying during the meeting.

The Odessa American also quotes District 1 Rev. Roger McNeil as saying, “If it needs to go, it just needs to go,” regarding a feasibility study for the theater and a need for asbestos removal.

In East Dallas, a similar situation exists with the Lakewood Theater, where property owners are talking to possible tenants for the now-empty space. The theater is one of Dallas’ sole remaining single-screen movie palaces in anything resembling its original condition. Like the Ector, the Lakewood Theater does not have historic designation—which means protection from demolition or radical changes. And like the Ector, the community has expressed strong interest in maintaining the integrity of the space.

Lakewood Theater in East Dallas. Photo courtesy A. Vandalay via Creative Commons

Lakewood Theater in East Dallas. Photo courtesy A. Vandalay via Creative Commons

For now, it’s a wait-and-see situation in Odessa, with residents like Maddox trying to create awareness of the theater’s importance to the community.

What do you think? Should the Ector Theatre be preserved as part of the area’s development? Is it worth the money and effort to save historic theaters?