Historic Theaters

Reprinted from the Kilgore News Herald: Aug. 8, 2007

Future of theaters rests with local taxing entities


They hosted movie premieres and offered an escape from the mud, dust, and noise of an oil field boomtown.

Today, they look deceptively healthy from the outside. Structurally, they are a mess.

Preserving the old Crim and Texan theaters in downtown Kilgore has – almost – been a central point of historic downtown efforts since the original Main Street Program in the late 1980s. It seems everyone likes the idea of preserving the theaters but nobody knows how to finance it.

The Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation accepted maintenance responsibility of the two structures after the city ended its Main Street Program in 1990. KHPF took on the theaters to prevent them from further deterioration.

Sue Brown, president of KHPF, said she has been involved with the theaters since 1987 and over the years KHPF has been involved to the tune of about $80,000. Brown said studies ranging from environmental issues and to what the theaters could become have all been a part of the history for these two buildings.

“There is a lot of sentimental attachment, I believe, for these two theaters and the people of Kilgore would like to see them useful again,” said Brown.

Both theaters are in constant need of upkeep – from neon, transformers and roof repair to the need for total restoration for the insides of the theaters – and none of it is inexpensive.

“The Texan would be the easiest to get into,” said Brown. “But the cost would still be approximately $800,000 to $1 million.

Both KHPF and the city are looking for grants and matching grants to apply to restoring the interior of the teaters. “KHPF is just a leasing agent. The owners are the taxing entities and the City of Kilgore is the trustee for the two buildings,” said Brown.

“KHPF just wants to work with these entities to preserve the historical aspects of downtown and make these two buildings a useful part of the community,” said Brown.

One study completed several years ago recommended the Crim be used as an auditorium and the Texan as a meeting place.

Both theaters are in need of repair. Leaking roof, moisture problems from sitting empty with no heat or air and even vandalism are problems, according to Brown.

The theaters are now kept up with motel and hotel taxes that have accumulated over the years but when that money is gone, funding will have to come from another source.

Over the last eight months expenses for both theaters totaled $2859, which included approximately $200 a month for utilities. “Usually the average cost for neon repair is $500,”
said Brown.

Leon’s Signs Inc., from Tyler, has been doing the sign work for the theaters since 1989 when they re-finished the original marquee for the Crim.

Michael Mays, electrician for Leon’s Signs, said with equipment this old it is hard sometimes just figuring out where the different transformers are. “I will probably be replacing two transformers and some neon today for the Crim,” said Mays.

“I hope by working with Main Street, researching grants and possibly with support from the community the next step can be taken,” said Brown. “But for these theaters to become more then just a show piece and be working pieces of property it will be up to the owning entities to establish this and operate them once they are functioning,” said Brown.

Fallon Burns, Main Street manager, said responsibility for the theaters falls into a confusing area. “The theaters are owned by all of the taxing entities with Kilgore as the trustee,” said Burns. “The Main Street program has a great interest in restoring these buildings, but it is too early for Main Street to be taking on projects of this size.”

Burns said there are other areas of downtown that need to be addressed now, but the Texan would probably be the first theater to be addressed since it is in the best shape.

“Kilgore city council recently approved putting a new roof on the Crim,” said Burns, referring to a recent insurance claim and settlement. “But there are no formal plans at this time from anyone to address the issue of restoration of the two theaters, which could run into the millions of dollars.”