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.

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