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The Digital Desk


Here’s applause for the old movie theaters

by Don Gammill Modified: April 24, 2013 at 2:05 pm •  Published: April 24, 2013

It’s sometimes hard for me to believe that there actually are so many people who never have watched a movie in a single-screen heater. It doesn’t seem possible that these “movie houses,” so popular in past generations, are now dinosaurs.

In fact, some cities and towns have seen the demise of the multi-screen theaters that replaced them. With the availability of movies at your fingertips at home, the technology keeps the possibilities coming.

Built in 1927, the Ponca in downtown Ponca City was a movie theater like few others. It now is primarily a performance center for live acts.
Built in 1927, the Ponca in downtown Ponca City was a movie theater like few others. It now is primarily a performance center for live acts.
I have great memories of going downtown as a youngster and as a teen and watching a new release on the big screen at one of Ponca City’s theaters. (We also enjoyed another all-but-forgotten site: the drive-in.) It was sometime after college that I noticed the single-screen theaters were fading fast.

I can even remember the last movie I saw in such a theater: “Kramer vs. Kramer.” And, the location: Red River, N.M.

It was with much satisfaction I read colleague Jennifer Palmer’s story about the effort by Stigler residents to raise the funds needed to convert the Time Theater to digital (, thereby saving it.

Here was the problem, Jennifer reported:

“Theater showings have been sporadic at the Time Theater this year, because 2012 was the last year major motion picture studies provided movies on film. Some weekends, the main street attraction remains closed, but when the theater is able to get a movie on film, it opens and shows it.

” ‘It’s just extremely difficult to get 35 millimeter film now,’ ” said Mitzi Woodson, who started an effort to raise money to help. ” ‘But we fought it , and we’ll have our movie theater.’ ”

Theater management, Jennifer wrote, didn’t have the money to convert the theater to digital projection, replacing the old 35 mm film projector to a new system and sound equipment. The conversion would cost $100,000. Townsfolk raised that much and more, thanks to the efforts of 500 donors.

Well done, Stigler.

But Stigler isn’t the only place in Oklahoma where local residents have found themselves in a preservation effort.

In Enid, there is an effort under way to save the Esquire Theater, which has a long history there. (

The Enid News & Eagle reports that plans are for a retro movie night is planned for the weekend of May 3-4 at nearby Convention Hall. There will be one screening each of four classic movies on a large movie screen brought in for the event.

The movies to be show are “Singing in the Rain,” “Casablanca,” “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “Psycho.” Tickets for the shows will be $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and veterans and $4 for students.

Proponents of the Esquire plan hope it will be a successful retro movie theater soon, with the proper equipment to do just that.

Good job, Enid.

Another town that is showing signs of saving a bit of history is Pauls Valley.

Workers upgrade the projection equipment at the Royal Twin Theater in Pauls Valley. (Pauls Valley Democrat photo)
Workers upgrade the projection equipment at the Royal Twin Theater in Pauls Valley. (Pauls Valley Democrat photo)

The Pauls Valley Democrat reports that Michael Brewer, who owns the Royal Twin Theater,  has found a way to “move on from the film reels of days gone by and convert everything over to the digital side.” Construction crews have been taking out the old equipment and replacing it with new screens and surround sound. (

“It’s going to be a spectacular experience for us and the customer,” Brewer told the newspaper. ” … It’s going to be state of the art … People are going to be amazed at the difference in sound.”

This move, as Brewer notes, presents two  positives. One is better entertainment for the paying audience. The other is the ability to keep the theater open by presenting new movies now and into the future.

Here again, it was the efforts of several people in the community that led to success.

You should be proud, Pauls Valley.

Now, it won’t be long until residents in all three cities can sit back and enjoy their “new” old theaters. See you at the movies.


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by Don Gammill
General Assignment Editor and Columnist
Don Gammill is general assignment editor and columnist. A native of Ponca City, he graduated from Central State University (now the University of Central Oklahoma). While in college, he was a sports stringer for The Oklahoma City Times....
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