Al­most show­time

Ex-sag­i­naw teacher plans his­toric theater redo

The Dallas Morning News - - State - Bud Kennedy, The Fort Worth Star-tele­gram

FORT WORTH — The great Stock­yards movie house of 1930s lore is mak­ing a come­back, but slowly.

The Fort Worth Star-tele­gram re­ports a new owner hopes to re­store the art deco New Isis movie theater. It opened in 1936 but has been closed — dark, di­lap­i­dated — for the past 30 years.

First, about that name: The orig­i­nal Isis theater opened on North Main Street in May 1914, the first out­side down­town. The 1936 re­place­ment added a new at­trac­tion: air con­di­tion­ing.

A for­mer Sag­i­naw High School drama teacher hopes to re­open it un­der the name Down­town Cow­town at the Isis as a per­form­ing arts au­di­to­rium in the mid­dle of new ho­tels at the gate­way to the re­de­vel­op­ing Stock­yards.

“Ev­ery­body says, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if … ?’ and we want to do this for Fort Worth,” said Jef­frey S. Smith of Fort Worth, buyer of what is cur­rently an open-air ruin but with enough orig­i­nal de­tail for restora­tion.

He said he has con­sulted on other theater projects and hopes to raise money on­line and pri­vately to build a 500seat mu­sic and theater per­for­mance space.

Restor­ing a his­toric theater costs be­tween $5 mil­lion and $30 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Trust for His­toric Preser­va­tion. The prop­erty it­self is val­ued at $438,170 by the Tar­rant Ap­praisal District.

In 1936, the New Isis opened with Fort Worth su­per­star Gin­ger Rogers on stage to pro­mote her movie In Per­son.

Next came two Clark Gable movies, Mutiny on the Bounty and Call of the Wild.

For two gen­er­a­tions of north-side chil­dren, it was the place to be for the Satur­day “pic­ture show.”

The late Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame safety Yale Lary used to col­lect milk­bot­tle caps to get in free. West­ern swing mu­sic pioneer Roy Lee Brown led a mid­day ra­dio show on­stage.

In the 1950s, north-side or Di­a­mond Hill-area teenagers would ride the city bus to the Stock­yards. Some par­ents would drop their kids at the 25-cent dou­ble fea­tures and go to shops or more liq­uid attractions nearby.

“In those days, peo­ple used movie the­aters as their babysit­ters,” said for­mer pa­tron and worker Wayne Thomp­son of Fort Worth.

Smith said he wants to re­build Down­town Cow­town “like in its 1930s hey­day” fol­low­ing plans drawn years ago by his­tor­i­cal preser­va­tion architect Arthur Wein­man of Fort Worth.

The lack of park­ing has slowed restora­tion at­tempts at another his­toric Fort Worth movie house, the Rid­glea, but Smith said he has agree­ments for ac­cess to three nearby park­ing lots.

He’d like to show West­ern movies dur­ing the day and host mu­sic or arts per­for­mances at night.

Sev­eral pre­vi­ous restora­tion at­tempts fal­tered be­cause the buy­ers “didn’t want to be in­volved over the long haul,” Smith said.

“Peo­ple have just looked at it as an in­vest­ment,” he said.

“We’re very pas­sion­ate about the project and hope to re­main here a long, long time.”

The New Isis has been wait­ing 30 years.

Pho­tos by Rodger Mal­li­son/the As­so­ci­ated Press

Jef­frey S. Smith poses out­side of the art deco New Isis theater in Fort Worth. Smith, a for­mer Sag­i­naw High School drama teacher, hopes to re­open the theater un­der the name Down­town Cow­town at the Isis as a per­form­ing arts au­di­to­rium in the mid­dle of new ho­tels at the gate­way to the re­de­vel­op­ing Stock­yards.

Holes in the roof have led to the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the in­te­rior of the New Isis theater in Fort Worth. Restor­ing a his­toric theater costs be­tween $5 mil­lion and $30 mil­lion, but Jef­frey Smith hopes to pull it off “for Fort Worth.”

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