Ex-saginaw teacher plans historic theater redo
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.
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.”