East Texas Throwback: Lufkin's Pines Theater has come full circle in 90 years

Source: Pines Theater
Source: Pines Theater
Source: Pines Theater
Source: Pines Theater
Source: Pines Theater
Source: Pines Theater
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The downtown theater was the way a generation of millions of Americans got their entertainment and news.

"It was the hub of entertainment," said Tara Watson-Watkins, the artistic director for the Pines Theater and the director of the Lufkin Convention and Visitors Bureau. "People came and they spent all day long watching Roy Rogers and watching things as they progressed from the silent movie to where you had live music, to where you went to color to what it is today."

And Deep East Texas residents had their very own community theater - the Pines Theater.

The two-story theater was built in the early 1900s and opened nearly 90 years ago in downtown Lufkin - on September 9, 1925.

During the golden age of Hollywood, the first movie that played there starred silent movie star Gloria Swanson.

The movie was "Coast of Folly.” The movie is now presumed lost. However, according to review at the time, Swanson's flick was quote "mediocre but watchable, unless you have something better to do."

That's okay. At that time, the ticket price for a movie at the Pines was just twenty-five cents.

The Pines Theater was complete with a house pipe organ, and from time to time, it would feature the latest vaudeville show traveling through the East Texas area.

The theater continued to entertain East Texas audiences for decades, showing the latest movies like Roy Rogers' 1935 "Billy the Kid Returns" and the Technicolor Oscar-winning "Gone with the Wind."

Lufkin-native and City Councilwoman Sarah Murray remembers the early years of the Pines Theater.

"My fondest memory of the Pines would be going there and seeing everyone I knew it was an inexpensive way to go and everyone was there," Murray said. "It didn't matter which group you were in with when you were out when we got into the Pines we were all together all having fun."

While most of the movies that played at the Pines were family friendly, there was one that caused some controversy.

"In the middle of the street was Father John Caskey, who was the much revered and much loved priest at St. Cyprian's, and he was carrying this huge poster - BAN LOLITA,"

Murray said. "Needless to say, he didn't change Lolita; it was played, but my mother kept me home and I never got to see it."

As the 60s and 70s moved on, so did most Lufkinites, leaving downtown mostly empty. The Pines Theater showed its last movie around that time, too.

The Pines was eventually sold in the 1980s to serve as a church until 2005. During that time, in 1988, it was added to the National Registry of Historic Places, but it was slowly losing it charm. It was vacant for two year until the city of Lufkin stepped in.

"When the city purchased it In 2007, they walked in and there was absolutely no ceiling, they were up to their knees in water, everything had been destroyed, and it was growing mold, and they saw this vision of what it could be and wanted to bring it back.” Watson-Watkins said.

After three years, and over $1.5 million, the Pines Theater came back to life with a new roof, upgraded lights, new doors and windows, and a redone marquee. The renovations also uncovered some treasures like two old projectors and movie reels.

The upgrades were quickly put to use. Now, the theater not only shows classic movies, but also it hosts conferences, parties, weddings, and special events like this year's first-ever Oscars' party.

The effect of the Pines Theatre's so-called "facelift" has had a major ripple effect through downtown Lufkin in recent years and months. There are new shops, eateries including a brewery, and other renovations taking place.

"I just consider us as the anchor of downtown,” said Brant Lee, the director of the Convention Center and the Pines Theater. “With the refurbishing of downtown and the shopping and restaurants, we're the center hub and the anchor for that and what gets the majority of people of here."

While the Pines Theater doesn't officially turn 90 until later this fall, it's clear that it has come full circle as the hub of not only Lufkin but the Pineywoods  

"I just think it's an honor and a privilege to be a part of something that's 90 years old,” Watson-Watkins said. “Here we are in 2015, and we continue to be the center and the entertainment hub of the city, and we are very, very proud of that."

If you'd like to check out the latest event at the Pines Theater click here.

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