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The hidden secret inside a downtown Fort Worth tower

October 27,2018

Star-Telegram article by Bud Kennedy 

Dark 41 years, a forgotten downtown movie theater flickered to life the other day, and for a few minutes Fort Worth relived the era of downtown glitz, showbiz premieres and “Gone With the Wind.”

The 1930-vintage Hollywood Theater, sealed away for decades like some old movie monster’s secret crypt, opened to daylight for the first time in two generations as a crowd relived past grandeur and imagined a future restoration.

Only an awning outside the Historic Electric Building Apartments hints that the mezzanine lobby, balcony and ornate auditorium of a 1,800-seat theater are hidden behind locked doors at 410 W. Seventh St.

“I love old Fort Worth things,” said Casey Tibbetts, 36, president at the new Guaranty Bank & Trust location next door. He saw the theater and arranged public tours as part of the new bank’s open house.

“When we picked this location, people started asking about the theater. We wanted people to come take a look.”

Like an aging movie star, the Hollywood needs an expensive facelift.

Restoring a typical theater costs from $5 million to $10 million, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The lower auditorium floor and seats are gone, stripped and removed to make room for residents of the adjacent apartments to park underneath.

But the balcony, walls, ceiling and screen area remain, along with the mezzanine, marble staircase and part of the lobby, in a style described in one opening-day 1930 news report as Georgian modernist.

Houston-based owner Tradewind Properties has been advertising the 3,000-square-foot lobby and concourse and 12,000-square-foot theater for lease.

“I personally think it sets up nicely for a performance venue,” said Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth, Inc.

“I was surprised at how intact the features are inside. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the potential.”

It’d need disability access and an auditorium floor. But it could easily become a black-box performance theater or music club.

The Hollywood is inside the Electric Building, built in 1929 by Houston investor Jesse H. Jones for Texas Electric Service Co., now TXU Energy.

The Historic Star-Telegram Building, converted in 2013 to MorningStar Partners, is next door. (The Star-Telegram is now in a different Jesse Jones tower at 808 Throckmorton St., built in 1930 as the Fair Building.)

The Hollywood was built in 1930, just when the industry was switching from silent movies and musicians to “talking pictures,” so it only has a screen, not a stage. The first movie shown was director Frank Capra’s “Flight.”

In 1940, the Hollywood was in the spotlight twice.

In February, it unreeled Fort Worth’s first-run showings of “Gone With the Wind,” to audiences that included Civil War veterans and that stood in lines circling the block.

That September, the Hollywood and the larger Worth Theater one block east co-hosted the city’s first world movie premiere: “The Westerner” with Gary Cooper, telling the story of legendary Texas frontier Judge Roy Bean.

The movie was partly shot at Star-Telegram owner Amon G. Carter’s Shady Oak Ranch. A Houston movie critic described the premiere, hosted by comedian Bob Hope, as classic Fort Worth: “Cowboys in full regalia slouched around in boots, cowboy Stetsons at rakish angles.

“ … The dinner out at Amon G. Carter’s ranch looked like a miniature Academy Awards banquet. … In cowboy outfit and riding his Palomino pony, he greeted the celebrities. … ‘I can think of nothing more appropriate than having the premiere here where the West begins,’ he said.”

It was the night Hollywood came to the Hollywood.

Bud Kennedy, 817-390-7538 @BudKennedy

Location Mentioned: Historic Electric Building