News Column

Odessa American, Texas, Celinda Hawkins column

September 15, 2013


Sept. 15--To step in to the Ector Theatre on Texas Avenue is to take a step back in time. As patrons walked to the front door, they walk over a mini-version of Hollywood Walk of Fame.

You can almost smell the aroma of popcorn wafting through the lobby and hear the slurp of soft drinks coming from the fountain during an intermission gone by. Wheat stalks painted in an Art Moderne fashion adorn the walls inside the theater, lined with velvet seats and balcony.

The old projector still sits in the small room perched just above the balcony, with old film reels lining the floors.

"It looks just like it did when I operated the projector in 1959," said Don Stice, who serves as the artistic director for the Ector.

The marquee wraps around from the side to the front of the building. The vertical sign is still in use and is located on the corner of the building starting just above the marquee. Each geometric block along the side and the front has the pattern lined with neon.

The theatre closed in 1985, but the city of Odessa now owns the Ector Theatre and went through a renovation of both the interior and exterior and has been operating it since August of 2001. Main Street Odessa helped with that renovation back then, refurbishing the seats, the wall art, the lights and marquee.

Stice told me he fell in love with the theater more than 55 years ago, when he moved to Odessa. The first movie he ever saw there was "The Alamo" with John Wayne. Just a few years before, in 1951 the Ector opened and "Half Angel" with Loretta Young was the first showing.

I remember seeing "Summer of '42" at the Ector with all my friends -- and if memory serves, we may have watched the Elvis documentary there, too.

Stice and others want to bring back the purpose for which the building was built, while continuing with the live performances.

"It was designed for great movies and acoustically for live music," Stice told me.

But now, celluloid film is turning to gel and old projectors are almost obsolete. So the Ector Theatre needs to upgrade with some new equipment so that they may show films digitally.

The Friends of the Ector Theatre has started a capital campaign to raise money to buy a new digital projector as well as upgrade a few things like the lighting on the marquee and inside around the stage. The Picture Perfect Projector Campaign will hopefully help the theater raise between $10,000 to $20,000 to make these projects happen.

"Perfect is what digital really is," said Stice.

Live performances have been the bread and butter of the Ector for years like the annual Christmas show by Michael Martin Murphey or performances by Vince King the Elvis impersonator. If the lighting is upgraded, even more acts will find the venue attractive.

Stice is helping to organize the campaign headed up by Bruce Beaird, the president of the Friends group. Beaird led the charge to get the Rio Theater up and running, but that never came to fruition. Likewise, the Scott Theater sits boarded up in ruin just waiting for the wrecking ball.

New video equipment will allow them to show movies regularly, like some of the many revitalized old theaters across the state.

The Paramount in Abilene is always a destination for movies and other events, as is the famed Paramount Theatre in Austin. For more than 10 years, a dedicated group of volunteers has been raising money to refurbish the Brownwood Lyric Theatre, too.

The old palatial theaters are our history and many communities across the state, who value their downtowns and their history, have taken on projects to refurbish the old theaters -- the places where our ancestors filled the seats and watched the classics.

And, with dedicated folks like Stice and Beaird at the helm, the community needs to get on board to help the Friends raise the funds.

If you revitalize it, they will come, folks -- it is the right thing to do.

And remember what John Wayne, playing Col. Davey Crockett in "The Alamo" said:

"...There's right and there's wrong. You got to do one or the other. You do the one and you're livin'. You do the other and you may be walkin' around, but you're dead as a beaver hat."

Contact Celinda Hawkins on twitter @OAciti, on Facebook at OA Celinda Hawkins or call 432-333-7779.


(c)2013 the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas)

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