Cowtown Goes Hollywood: “Fort Worth’s Newest Movie Cathedral”

The opulent Hollywood Theater was the third and last of the “movie cathedrals” to open on 7th Street’s Show Row, joining the Worth and the Palace on April 17, 1930.

The Hollywood Theater building was built as an annex to the 1929 Electric Building. Both buildings were designed by Wyatt C. Hedrick in the then-popular art deco style. And both were financed by Houston capitalist Jesse Jones, who in the late 1920s went on a building binge—the Great Depression be hanged!—in a four-block area of downtown Fort Worth. His Fort Worth Properties Corporation built the Electric Building and Hollywood Theater, the Medical Arts Building (1927), the Worth Hotel and Theater (1927), and The Fair Building (1930, now home of the Star-Telegram).

Aerial photo shows the locations of the four buildings built by Jones from 1927 through 1930. Two of the four survive.

electric jones 11-27-27 dmnThis ad by the gas company in the November 27, 1927 Star-Telegram congratulated Jones on his first two Fort Worth buildings: the Medical Arts Building and the Worth Hotel and Theater.

President Roosevelt in 1933 would appoint Jones chairman of the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation, making Jones so powerful that he was sometimes called “the fourth branch of government.” Jones also later was secretary of commerce.

worth-medical arts smithThe Worth Hotel and the Medical Arts Building in 1940. (W. D. Smith photos from Fort Worth in Pictures.)

holly-jones-to build-11-27-27Also on November 27, 1927 Jones announced plans to build the Electric Building between the Medical Arts Building and the Worth Hotel. Fort Worth Power & Light would be the primary tenant, but FWP&L would soon become “Texas Electric Service Company.”

holly jones to build 2-18-29 dmnOn February 18, 1929 the Dallas Morning News announced that Jones would add a theater to the Electric Building, which was still under construction. Note that “the old Southwestern Hospital building” stood on the site of the theater.

lamar at 6th sanborn w photos Southwestern Hospital had opened in 1907 as the sanitarium of Dr. Clay Johnson of Chase Court. The Electric Building was built on the site of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church.

hollywood double ad 1930On April 13 the Star-Telegram printed a two-page spread on the opening of the “palace of enchantment.”

holly the fair ad press 16This ad in the April 16 Press by Fort Worth Properties congratulated its new Hollywood Theater but features a sketch of Fort Worth Properties’ The Fair Building.

holly press 16 to openThe April 16 Press reported that the opening of the theater would be illuminated by floodlights and documented on film. The new theater would be christened with a bottle of water from Lake Worth. The article pointed out that the first movie, Flight, was “all-talking” and described the interior of the theater. The theater cost $250,000 ($3.5 million today).

holly press tonight 17This ad in the April 17 Press used the word sound three times. The Hollywood boasted that it was Fort Worth’s first theater designed to show only talkies.

holly st 18 1 opening overThe April 18 Star-Telegram described the opening ceremony as a “swank society night performance” attended by “five hundred invited guests, many of them in evening clothes.”

holly press 18 gordonAlso on April 18 Press columnist Jack Gordon described the opening of “Fort Worth’s newest movie cathedral” “in the best Hollywood premiere fashion.” The Plaza Theater he mentioned was at 110 East 10th Street. The Majestic was at 1101 Commerce Street.

holly press 18 where to goAccompanying Gordon’s column was this “where to go” guide to local theaters. The Majestic and Hippodrome (1106 Main) were still presenting live performances. Note that in 1930 the Poly Theater was on Avenue F (Rosedale today) where the Varsity Theater would later be. (“2006” should be “3006.”)

hollywood pc 1Show Row by day: the Hollywood, Worth, and, out of view on East 7th at Commerce Street, the Palace.

Show Row by night at Christmas 1952. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.)

hollywood pc 2This postcard shows the Hollywood Theater as the northern annex. To the left of the theater can be seen the 1914 Chamber of Commerce Auditorium.

shows smithBy 1940 the Worth, Hollywood, Palace, and Majestic, along with the Bowie, Tivoli, Varsity, and Parkway, were Interstate theaters. (W. D. Smith photo in Fort Worth in Pictures.)

hollywood electric wideThe Electric Building and Hollywood Theater annex today.

The 1970s were not kind to Show Row. In October 1976 Majestic Theatres, the company that had leased the Hollywood Theater for three years, announced that it had lost its lease and would close the theater, which was then showing “films appealing predominately to black audiences.”

The Hollywood closed at the end of October.

With the closing of the Hollywood Theater, Show Row went dark after thirty-one years.

But unlike the Worth (1927-1971) and Palace (1919-1974), the Hollywood building still stands, now converted into apartments. But the theater’s stage, canopy, foyer, hallway, lobby space, balcony stairs, auditorium doors, and six hundred seats of the auditorium survive. Now and then there is talk of bringing the theater back to life.

Some views of some of the surviving opulence that was the Hollywood Theater:

entry electric companyThe entrance on West 7th Street.

holly foyer detail 2holly foyer detail 3Details of the foyer.

holly hallway to lobbyHallway from the foyer to the lobby.

holly hallway lightHallway ceiling light fixture.

holly lobby ceilingCeiling of the theater lobby.

holly stairsStairs lead from the lobby to the balconies, some of which survives.

holly lobby ceiling detailLobby ceiling detail.

holly from stairs to doorsOn the left are the stairs leading to the balconies; beyond are the doors from the lobby to the auditorium.

holly doorsAuditorium doors.

holly lobby wall detailLobby wall detail.

The Hollywood Theater is now a drive-in theater. Well, in a way. The lower level of the auditorium is now a parking garage for tenants. Below are details of the ceiling of the Hollywood Theater auditorium/parking garage:

holly parking detail 3 holly parking detail 2 holly parking detail 1

(Thanks to the staff of the Historic Electric Building for access.)

Posts About Cinema in Cowtown

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27 Responses to Cowtown Goes Hollywood: “Fort Worth’s Newest Movie Cathedral”

  1. sally and tom campbell says:

    We have enjoyed this post and pix every time we see them. There is so much left of this place, but so much expensive stuff to fix. Will these pix remain lovely “Ruin porn” forever?
    Oh, well, ruins do inspire poets. What rhymes with “Detroit,” “ghosts,” “Fort Worth,” “Popcorn scent? I could go on and on.

    • hometown says:

      Thank you, Sally and Tom. It is indeed a hidden treasure that should be given a second life.

  2. Emma Boyd says:

    Who did you have to contact in order to get access to the staff of the Historic Electric Building?

    • hometown says:

      I was escorted by a woman of the building management staff, but I do not recall her name. (817) 877-0433

  3. Margo Wortham says:

    These pictures are priceless, thank you for sharing, this is the downtown Fort Worth I remember with joy.

  4. Roger smith says:

    I worked in the Hollywood as usher and projectionist.

    • mohamed says:

      Hello,

      Where can I find pictures of the inside of the theater, from when it was live.

    • hometown says:

      Mohamed, the UTA Library has the photo archives of the Star-Telegram and commercial photographer W. D. Smith. Maybe there are some photos of the Hollywood there. I have not seen any.

  5. Leaha says:

    Actually the auditorium is still mostly intact. Only the lower level seating was removed to make the parking garage. It’s honestly quite breath taking in the auditorium.

  6. Logan says:

    New owners are going to try to lease what’s left of the theatre. See the listing on line. It includes some great pictures. I was lucky to see all the pics when I was talking with the owners rep. Let’s hope the city and public steps up and supports it and make something happen.

  7. Logan Baker says:

    Half of the theatre is still there, just sealed off. No lights, dust, critters, etc. I need to pressure my friend to get me in. He’s seen it and says it’s amazing and sad.

  8. Logan Baker says:

    Any photos of the sealed off areas? I saw some on another site years ago but I cannot find them. Thanks

    • hometown says:

      Logan, the areas I was escorted through by management are not normally open to the public (except the tenant parking garage). If more exists, I was not told about it.

  9. Logan Baker says:

    Just saw this, wow! I love all the old downtown theatres. I have 8×10 photos of the Hollywood, Worth, and Palace. I would love to find interior photos of these theatres. I have a friend that says he can get me inside of what remains of the Hollywood. He’s a procrastinator! The mezzanine, balcony, and part of the screen area are still there. Love the post!

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Logan. Yeah, several of my photos of what remains of the interior of the Hollywood are at the bottom of the post.

  10. Jerry says:

    To everyone surprise the Hollywood theater is still there it was just walled up. I walked through it today and took pics. It’s amazing. The stage and balcony.

  11. earl belcher says:

    Good work, Mike. Thanks for your work in keeping the record straight. There are elements in this dump, I mean cess pool, I mean city, that would delete this from history. Tear it down, put up something fast and cheap. Then tax, tax, tax. Of course, my good buddy DR. J. FRANK NORRIS was against movies, ice cream, etc., anything that might cut into his offering take.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Earl. Kids today would not believe the kind of movie theaters we attended. If we tried to describe such places to kids, they’d think we were talking about cathedrals.

  12. Mellinda Timblin says:

    Do you know if any of the theatre signage was saved? Are there museums for that sort of thing?

    • hometown says:

      The staff of the Historic Electric Building is too young to remember the theater and did not know much about its history or disposition of its relics.

  13. Ramiro Garza says:

    Thanks Mike, I had not realized it was two separate entrances (7th and 6th). Still a shame nobody has done anything with the foyer/lobby of the old movie house. Vaguely remember it. Why go downtown when you could walk to the Poly, right?

    • hometown says:

      It’s a complicated building/buildings with doors on three sides. I can’t recall that we could hear the movies through the wall in the Star-Telegram building.
      I don’t think I started going to the downtown theaters until I started driving and dating. Until then it was walking to the Poly Theater for me.

  14. Ramiro Garza says:

    Hi Mike. Excuse my ignorance, but those pictures at the end of you article, are the lobby of the old Hollywood theatre right? The confusion is that I thought the theatre itself was now a parking garage for the Historic Electric Building apartments. So I guess the parking is everything but the old lobby, which as you stated is showing its age. You ought to show those pictures to the Bass brothers and shame them.

    • hometown says:

      The foyer, hall, lobby, and balcony stairs of the theater remain fairly unchanged. The auditorium of the theater–where you sat to watch the movie–is now a parking garage. Because the theater had such a high ceiling they were able to add a second floor for parking, with some of the original auditorium ceiling ornamentation remaining on the top floor of the parking garage. The foyer is on West 7th. The parking garage entrance is on West 6th. That long hall leads from the foyer on West 7th through the tall part of the building to the short annex behind the tall part. So, people live in the Electric Building but park in the attached theater annex.

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