Frank Bullock: Dallas Movie Theaters, Then and Now

Frank Bullock
Frank Bullock

“I read the news today, oh boy …” No, the English Army had not won the war, but Hollywood and the movies are winning at box offices across the country, including Dallas-Fort Worth. Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock (no relation to me), recently opened in wide release nationwide, raking in more than $56 million. This is the highest-grossing October opening ever. Usually, the studios try to open during Thanksgiving to cash in on early holiday spending, or over Memorial Day, to kick off the summer blockbusters.

The record-breaking opening prompted me to remember a few of the Dallas theaters of yesteryear and how the industry, as well as the use of the real estate in some instances, has changed over the years. Starting with the Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas, the granddaddy of them all, which has evolved into a live-action theater, annually hosting the ‘Tuna Christmas’ as well as other unique live events.

The Granada on Greenville, the former Arcadia, where music impresario Angus Wynne III and brother Shannon single-handedly jump-started the Lower/Lowest Greenville vibe, dancing rooftop frogs and all in the ’80s, both originally handled first-run movies for the east Dallas crowd. The Lakewood opened in 1938 and hosted many first-run movies through the ’70s and has a special place in the hearts of Sound of Music fans, released in ’65 then with sing-alongs of the classic flick in the 2000s.

The Esquire on Oak Lawn, circa 1931, just south of Lemmon, where Eatzi’s now sits, closed in the early ’80s after showing classics such as Wait Until Dark in 1967, and Steve McQueen as Bullitt in 1968. The Delman Theatre opened “out west” in 1947 on Lemmon, where the Tollway now intersects. Park Cities Acura currently occupies that space.

Let’s not forget the Highland Park Village Theatre, which opened in 1935. This is where generations have seen every first-run movie imaginable, especially the Disney movies in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. In HPV’s less fashionable times of the early ’80s, Rocky Horror Picture Show was the midnight showcase. The Village theater’s renaissance under recent HP family ownership now represents the most luxurious movie watching experience in North Texas.

It’s interesting to note the 1960’s Dollar Theater location in Preston Center East, a.k.a. The Plaza at Preston Center, is now occupied by the Taco Diner of M Crowd fame. The Gordon McLendon Gemini Drive-in at the northeast corner of Central and Forest now houses the Forest Park Medical complex and a number of quick-service restaurants. Given the Gemini’s history, I find the real estate’s present-day uses quite ironic.

With the advent of the dual screen, NorthPark 1 and 2, Park Central 1 and 2, and eventually multiscreens like Valley View and Medallion (now a Kohl’s), the single screens faded away.

But we are seeing a resurgence of varied auditorium sizes, enhanced electronics and, most important, a grander experience like Look Cinemas, Movie Tavern, Studio Movie Grill, and Richardson’s Alamo Draft House Cinema, it has never been more fun to go to the movies. Grab a date, your family, and go experience the greatest shows on earth while creating your own memories. But don’t forget your wallet.