The Journal Record (Oklahoma City, OK)
Friday May 6, 2011
These Walls: Jewel Theater in Oklahoma City
By Brianna Bailey
Jewel Theater owner Arthur B. Hurst remembers the long two-block walk home from the movie theater in the dark after watching the latest horror flick as a child.
"I would make a mad dash from one streetlight to the next," he said.
A 68-year-old retired truck driver and hair stylist, Hurst still lives in the brick bungalow where he grew up, a few blocks away from the Jewel in northeast Oklahoma City.
Hurst, who has owned the theater since the early 1970s, remembers watching everything from newsreel footage from the Korean War to Alfred Hitchcock thrillers there. It was a major event when the 1956 film The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston showed at the Jewel, he said. A new, larger movie screen was installed in the theater to show the film in all its Technicolor glory.
Today, there are a few small trees sprouting out of the barrel-vaulted roof of the long-shuttered brick theater at 904 NE Fourth St., but the red neon Jewel sign still hangs over the sidewalk.
The Jewel is one of the last remnants of the small black commercial district, which included a grocery store and hair salon.
"It is the last thing in the neighborhood that can continue to tell the story of the area," said Lynda Schwan, architectural historian and national register program coordinator for the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office.
The theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, and bears the distinction of being the only one of three black movie theaters in the city that is still standing.
Hathyel and Percy James built the theater in July 1931. The theater was named after their daughter Jewel, and was one of four Jewel theaters the Percys built. There were also Jewel Theaters in Ardmore, Wewoka and Amarillo, Texas.
The Percys were the founders of Jay-Kola, one of the few black-owned bottling companies in the southwestern United States. The company manufactured several different kinds of soft drinks that were distributed locally.
The theater had been closed for almost a decade when Hurst purchased the building in 1971 or 1972 from a man named Clinton Newton.
Hurst has always hoped to one day reopen the theater and screen old movies and cartoons there, as well as use the stage as a place to give children from his neighborhood to perform. Firm plans have never materialized, however.
Hurst had the neon Jewel sign and awning restored about 10 years ago to help keep the history of the theater, and all of the good times he had there, alive for a little longer.
"I was really pretty exciting for me to be able to go there by myself on the weekends as a kid and eat hot dogs and popcorn; that was my main source of entertainment," he said.