Texas Theatre/Sweetwater, TX

Abilene Reporter-News (Texas)

Tuesday March 15, 2011

BIG COUNTRY; Pg. A09

Curtain opens again on the Texas Theatre Venue holds memories of Sweetwater

By Ron Erdrich. erdrichr

SWEETWATER – New life is coming to an old stage. Over the weekend the Texas Theatre held its first live music show on the restored stage. Colorado City’s own Jay Boy and the Roadhouse Scholars played there Saturday night. The performance marked what Weston Pyburn hopes is a return to something more in line with the building’s original purpose, which was to host vaudeville acts before anyone was sure if movies were going to catch on.

Though attendance was light, it was a good beginning. "Its architecture was always for live entertainment," said Pyburn, who is a member of the nonprofit board overseeing the theater. The theater has been undergoing renovations in recent years after it was purchased by the Sweetwater Texas Theatre Acquisition and Renovation Corp., a group of residents who didn’t want to see the historic 1935 building replaced by a parking lot.

In 2009 the marquee and sign were restored to their original appearance, and other renovations continue. At one time the balcony was walled off to create a second theater where movies are still shown. Downstairs also had a screen, but Pyburn and other volunteers removed it to expose the original architecture over the stage. They also installed new face boards to shield the footlights and pressurewashed each seat.

"We got the old Dr Pepper syrup off the floor, which was pretty thick in places," he said. The projection booth looks more like a wartime bunker, a typical sight from the days when motion picture film was extremely dangerous. "The silver nitrate film was prone to catching fire and blowing up, so this was a fire room with fire doors and concrete," he said. "It’s kind of fascinating; this place was built like a brick outhouse."

On the walls of the balcony near the seats, old graffiti still proclaims an undying affection. "People’s love life is literally carved into the walls up here. Everybody that you can talk to in town will tell you about falling in love at the Texas or getting dumped or working two girlfriends at the same time, one in the balcony and one on the main floor," he said. "Probably half the romance in Nolan County got started in here." At some point, Pyburn said, the board would like to restore the balcony to its original purpose. But for now, he is happy to see the main room being used again. He said he has a regional concept for use of the theater, where the promise of seeing popular musicians in the intimate setting of the Texas would entice visitors to make a trip to Sweetwater.

"Everybody that travels in the music business goes up and down Interstate 20," he said. "We’ve got the location, we’ve got the theater, and I think if we package it (for) a regional aspect, folks in other towns can have a weekend getaway. We can establish ourselves as a music identity

." Like a lot of old buildings, Pyburn said, the theater has a personality, and he thinks now that it is being restored, the Texas’ personality is a cheerier one. "The theater has a feel about it," he said. "I’ve spent a lot of hours in here, and I can tell. If buildings could speak to you, this one’s telling you that it’s getting happy."

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