A Monument to Bonham's Enterprise
Bonham Daily Favorite, April 2, 1995
From early October, 1921, the excitement over the opening of what was promised to be Bonham's most extravagant movie house grew steadily to almost a feverish pace according to some reports. One newspaper reporter stated that in the week preceding the scheduled opening on October 8, the foot traffic as well as a marked increase in vehicular traffic along Main Street in front of the now completed theater building grew to a steady stream of excited onlookers.
Evidently the descriptions of the theater interior had been kept secret so that the grand opening would be a genuine surprise. Advance publicity stated over and over that the new entertainment house was a monument to Bonham's enterprise and support. Every possible need for the actual construction and furnishing was purchased in Bonham when feasible. All of the construction and decorating skills were provided by Bonham persons.
The brick used in the construction of the building was manufactured at the Steger Brick Company and the building construction was done by employees of the Steger Construction Company supervised by Elmer Morelock.
Architectural design and interior design were done by a long time Bonham firm Sparger and Peters, Architects. John Sparger and W.A. Peters were responsible for many of the buildings around the Bonham. Their imaginative approach to functional design was used in many of the buildings around the square.These beautiful touches are still to be seen today in the cornices and other design basics that are visible in our buildings. More of these should become apparent as Bonham develops its Main Street renovation program over the next several years.
Over and over the comments were made, not only by citizens of Bonham but by Mr. Rowley and Mr. Robb, developers of the movie house, that Bonham should have nothing but praise for A.B. Scarborough and Will H. Evans who financed the construction of the building, asserting that nothing was too good for the people of Bonham and Fannin County.
Word did leak out that the interior design in the auditorium would surpass anything that Bonham audiences had ever seen before. The Bonham Daily Favorite reporter was to later declare that the stencilling used in decoration of the theater's walls were among the most beautiful and artistic of any theater in the area. Credit for both the design and application were credited to George Jones and one of his expert workmen, Claude Davis.
The house lights for the auditorium were from a design prepared by a local electrician, Len Morgan. Described as a crisscross pattern creating a geometric design the mechanical aspects of the lights were such that they could be turned on in a variety of series creating many varied patterns.
When the doors opened shortly before 1:00 p.m. on that October Saturday, the stream of eager and excited patrons filed into the dimly lighted theater and quickly found places among the nearly 800 theatrical seats which had been installed. The dimness of the atmosphere had been planned deliberately for a dramatic unveiling of the theater.
On a signal from one of the owners the lighting technician slowly raised the houselights to reveal the beautifully decorated auditorium. The reporter from the paper reported that at first the audience sat in utter silence and then a murmur of appreciation ran throughout the audience .
Totally entranced by the spectacle the reporter could only describe the sensation in his coverage of the event as "when the house was opened and the lights turned up its beauty and grandeur were far beyond the expectation of any of us. It can't be described here, it must be seen with your own eyes."
Unfortunately for us, seventy-four years later, the reporter's loss of words prevent us from sharing in the excitement of the moment. Nothing further in that initial newspaper account or in subseguent articles give a description of the splendors only hinted at by the journalistic accounts.
There is no indication of how many showings of the Wallace Reid epic "Two Much Speed" were presented on that afternoon. Nor were the lengths of each feature and added attractions mentioned. Information was that all afternoon crowds came and went.
The first showing of the evening found the house to be filled to overflowing, the patrons were standing up and down the stairs and in all the available space at the rear and sides of the theater.
It is also unclear from the news accounts as to when the actual dedication took place, at the initial afternoon performance or the evening show. It seems that the evening performance must have been the main attraction. The reporter, in his account, stated that when all the lights had been turned on, Major Rogers, Commander of the American Legion Post of Bonham, was in fine form in his dedicatory speech where "he on the behalf of the American legion of Fannin County thanked the management for the honor conferred on the Legion by naming the new theater in honor of them." At his right was the beautiful post flag of the Rufus K. Anderson Post. Major Rogers said that "this house is a credit to any town or city in the state and it is a monument to the men who built it. A Bonham product."
It was announced that Robb and Rowley, who operated a circuit of movie theaters throughout Texas and Oklahoma, thought so highly of Bonham, its people, and its suppport, would move their general offices to Bonham. The building was leased for many years and the two men pledged to bring the finest of entertainments to the city.
The audience was then surprised that among the first of these special entertainments would be a musical concert presentation by Madame Lenska, leading contralto of the Metropolitan Opera Company of New York. Reserved seats for the upcoming Thursday concert were being placed on sale at Wilson's Drug Store. It was noted that this was the first time ever that Bonhamites would have the opportunity to hear a grand opera singer.
The news account summed up the evening with, "The show is a wonder and all 2000 people who attended the opening will all testify that no disappointments were found and everybody says the beautiful building has demonstrated that Bonham folks need not go away from Bonham for anything in the way of labor or material."
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas